The Netherlands'

Transit Problem 

By FILIP DROZDZ | November 10, 2019 

Cover Photo by AlmereTours

I have somehow managed to spend 502 euros on transport in my first two months in Amsterdam. 

I can hardly recall a time I have been too prodigal with my transportation expenditures, maybe with the exception of weekly nights out. On the other hand, one might argue that being a student and not sticking to this tradition would be, mildly put, a sacrilege. I was led to the conclusion that my irresponsibility wasn’t at fault for my excessively high bill, it was a system that should be blamed. Of course, I am fully aware that I could have taken further precautions to avoid this unpleasant situation, but it doesn’t mean that the system itself doesn’t have flaws.

From 2009 to 2016, the Netherlands has been facing charges of discrimination against foreign students based on unequal access to subsidized transportation. The lawsuit was filed by a student from the UK who came to the Netherlands for an exchange in 2008. The charges were discarded, but it did spark a new dialogue.

The Dutch government’s defense revolves around the claim that transit discounts for Dutch students are part of their study grant. Exchange students may be provided with allowances from their home countries. Therefore, they are not eligible for discounts in the Netherlands.

This argument alone was enough for the Dutch government to win the case, however, the Attorney General suggested that vague argumentation on the part of the European Commission, which assumed the role of the accusatory party, accounted for their defeat. With proper reasoning, this legal proceeding could have been resolved in favor of the European Commission. The problem in question is not insignificant; it just has been swept under the rug.

Let’s have a look at some data. According to the results of the ‘Incoming degree student mobility in Dutch higher education 2018-2019’ report published in March, 2019 by NUFFIC, 11,5% of students enrolled in higher education institutions in the Netherlands come from abroad. Furthermore, the trend implies that there will only be an increasing number of international students taking up seats in the Netherlands’ lecture halls.

As of 2018, there were only four countries in the EU with a higher GDP per capita than the Netherlands. Based on that criteria, the Netherlands is the 12th wealthiest country in the world. It also ranks as the 16th country in the world in terms of the cost of living index. It would be difficult for any average citizen from most countries in the world to sustain themselves in the Netherlands.

The problem is more evident in Amsterdam than anywhere else. As the capital as well as the financial and cultural center of the Netherlands, it is only understandable that the cost of living in Amsterdam is the highest in the whole country. 

Amsterdam is also where most international students come to study. It is no secret that finding reasonable accommodation here is a challenge on its own. This is why many foreigners decide to live further away from the city center or even in different cities in the area. However, that choice alone entails additional costs for them. 

For instance, personally, I live in Haarlem. In order to commute to Amsterdam, I need to pay 4,50 euros for a train each way. There is a monthly subscription that would allow me to travel between Haarlem and Amsterdam freely without extra costs but it costs a whopping 130 euros – certainly a steep price tag. 

As an exchange student on Erasmus, I have been granted a scholarship from the European Union but it is rather insufficient; I received 1800 euros for 5 months of exchange. That translates to 360 euros per month. It doesn’t even come close to covering all my expenditures including rent, utilities, and transportation, not to even mention the luxury of food or water. 

There is some kind of a bitter irony in the fact that one of the most inclusive cities in the world would place such financial strain on so many young people that live and study in Amsterdam. 

There are thousands of students in the Netherlands who are determined to be here for the long term rather than just a few months within an Erasmus program. These students are not granted any money from the EU, they also have to pay their own tuition. Oblivious to the setbacks, people still choose to come here anyway to pursue a better life, and for a higher quality of education.

Taking all of the above into consideration, I couldn’t think of a better word than ‘injustice’ to describe this phenomenon. The injustice that it has become our responsibility to take on this fight. This is why I strongly encourage you to sign this petition for change.

Photo by - Trams standing in front of Amsterdam Centraal waiting for their turn to depart.
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