NETHERLANDS: A letter of intent under which national passenger operator NS could take a 49% stake in Den Haag bus and tram operator HTM was signed by the two parties and the city council on September 25.

The deal could help to improve integration and travel information to encourage modal transfer from car to public transport. A third of rail passengers in Den Haag already use HTM services to or from stations.

NS already holds a stake in QBuzz, which operate buses in three northern provinces and Rotterdam. NS also has a cycle hire subsidiary, and is a partner in the Greenwheels car hire scheme.

Council-owned HTM employs 2 400 staff and carries 137 million passengers/year, around 70% by tram. It is in the middle of a route upgrading programme, but lacks substantial financial reserves.

'Co-operative ventures are needed for HTM to innovate and grow its passengers numbers and so become less vulnerable in the long term', according to Managing Director Dirk le Clerq. 'The modern passenger wants good connections between the tram, bus and train as well as to travel in comfort'.

Transport users' group ROVER broadly supports the proposals, saying it could lead to better co-ordination of timetables and fares. The trades unions are also supportive However, politicians from the left-wing SP party have expressed concern about financial consequences for the national government and NS, as well as working conditions at HTM..

NS has begun an examination of the HTM accounts, and expects to reach a definite decision before the end of the year.