The Netherlands Competition Authority (NMa) has under strict conditions approved the transfer of trip information services from Dutch infrastructure manager ProRail to Dutch Railways NS. NS has guaranteed that its competitors will have access to trip information under the same conditions as will have NS. It has thus been ensured that all riders in the Netherlands will be offered the same quality of trip information, irrespective of which public transport company they choose.
This transfer was prompted by a commitment made by the Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment in 2011 to the Dutch House of Representatives to bring all information services for train riders under one roof. Train riders in emergency situations were previously often given conflicting information regarding their travel plans, particularly during the winter period on days with heavy snowfall, leaving them in the dark about their travel options. The trip information service used to be part of ProRail. NS, but also its competitors Connexxion, Veolia and Arriva, which mostly operate regional lines outside the densely-populated western part of the Netherlands, pay ProRail for handling trip information. After the transfer, the trip information service will be fully owned by NS. As a result, NS becomes responsible for all monitors and service announcements at train stations in the Netherlands. For this particular service, regional operators thus become dependent on their biggest competitor NS.
The NMa’s investigation revealed several potential antitrust concerns. There is a possibility that, after the transfer, NS will try to give itself advantages, for example, by unnecessarily raising the costs for trip information that it charges its competitors or by not maintaining the desired level of quality. Another potential concern is that the transfer could lead to NS obtaining business-sensitive information about its competitors, which could be strategically used in future tenders. Having been warned of these concerns, NS and ProRail subsequently adjusted their transfer plans, and agreed to a number of strict conditions. These conditions mandate that NS is required to offer other transport companies access to the trip information service at the same price and quality as NS itself, and that it cannot pass on too high costs to its customers. In addition, it will be ensured that NS cannot access business-sensitive information of its competitors. These steps will thus make sure that competition on the transport market will not be potentially restricted as a result of this transfer.
On January 1, 2013, the NMa will merge with the Netherlands Consumer Authority and the Independent Post and Telecommunications Authority of the Netherlands (OPTA), creating a new authority: The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM). This new authority aims to ensure that markets work in order to protect consumer interests. To this end, the ACM will focus on three main themes: consumer protection, industry-specific regulation, and competition oversight.