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I was riding Tram 14 a couple weeks ago, heading home from my volunteer job, when I spotted a sign that caught my eye. When I realized that every sign in the tram was exactly the same, it gave me a sad chuckle. The sign that was plastered all over the tram was for a discount of 80 percent on the purchase of an OV-chipkaart. “OV” stands for Openbaar Vervoer in Dutch, and it means public transportation in English. A chipkaart is basically a debit card, and in this case, it’s a debit card for public transportation credits. The OV-chipkaart is relatively new to the Netherlands, and it’s supposed to replace the ubiquitous strippenkaart, which is the current per-trip, paper-based payment system.

From what I’ve read in the papers and online, the main reason the whole country is moving to this new system is to crack down on people who ride the trains, trams and buses without paying. Of course the public transportation companies are marketing it in a more positive light—that it will soon be possible to travel all around the country using just one pass. (A strippenkaart works on all the trams and buses, but not all the trains.) Unfortunately, the OV-chipkaart has been controversial since it’s introduction to the public a few years ago, mainly because it seems worse than the current system.

The Netherlands began a phased rollout of the card in Rotterdam in 2005, and it has slowly extended this to other cities over the past few years. During this time, however, the card has been plagued with problems and negative publicity. A little over a year ago, German hackers cracked the transport card’s security system, enabling them to alter cards and travel for free. And last spring, students in Nijmegen (a city near the German border) accessed the data stored on the disposable versions of the cards. Neither of these developments has put Dutch travelers at ease with the new system.

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