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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Amsterdam’s airport connections

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AMSTERDAM – Though I’ve now been through Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport a few times, I only just recently noticed this sign. As you’re waiting for your luggage to appear on the conveyor belt, you can use that time to figure out how you’re going to get into the city centre (your most likely destination). The sign tells you how much the trip will cost for various modes of transportation and also how long the trip will take, as well as the service frequency. The only thing missing from the sign at Schiphol is information on cycling to and from the airport; this despite the fact that all around Amsterdam there are signs for cyclists showing the direction and distance to the airport.

In this case, it is obvious that the rail link into the city is the cheapest and fastest option, though there are actually no dedicated airport trains. In addition to being the country’s main international airport, Schiphol is also a significant rail hub, and so the national rail operator routes many of the trains in to and out of Amsterdam’s Central Station through Schiphol. The result is an average frequency of 10 minutes, piggy-backing airport travelers on trains to and from destinations outside of Amsterdam.

And to make your rather idle time while waiting for luggage even more productive, you can also buy your train ticket in the baggage claim area. Once your luggage appears you’re set to walk out the doors and onto the nearby train platforms, ticket in hand.

The connection information is a great feature to have in an airport and really quite helpful for travelers new to the city. Sure, your guidebook may have all this information in it, but has it been updated recently and do you even have a guidebook? At Toronto’s Pearson Airport, it’s not as easy to figure out the public transit options – let alone do a comparison – and in Terminal 1 the TTC stop can be tricky to find. With the rail link from Downtown Toronto to Pearson looking probable, there will be even more options to get to the airport and a sign such as this could be very helpful for visitors to Toronto.



  1. Everytime **everytime** I get off the plane at Pearson, T1 I get lost trying to find the TTC stop. The signage is dreadful and I go to the wrong level everytime. Somebody once here posted something conspiratorial that GTAA gets a taxi levy from every trip out, but not from the TTC. The crummy signage makes me believe.

  2. Once again this is another example of something that would be so easy for other airports, like Pearson, to do. Simple wayfinding is not rocket science. (Or should I say, aeronautical science?)

    I find it maddening that people spend millions of dollars and years of work to launch a new aiport terminal, but they neglect basic things like this example from Amsterdam.

    Like Shawn, I always get confused trying to find the bus stop. My secret is to follow or ask directions from younger people who aren’t carrying any bags – they are usually service industry workers or airport support staff who are heading home from a shift on TTC.

  3. Also the sign is in English, in a non-English country.

    I’m assuming that there are similar signs in Dutch and in the other European languages, ie. French, German, Italian, Spanish, etc.

  4. Another noteworthy system is the one connecting Hong Kong’s airport to various stations along the MTR network.

    You can get to Central HK Island in about 23 minutes for about 100 HK$. Less if you travel in a group and buy your return ticket the same day. The train stops in 4 or 5 different stations throughout HK and is completely automated.

    Getting back to the airport is even simpler. From Central HK you can buy your ticket, check your luggage and even get your boarding pass… all in the same place!

  5. It’s *so* not 20 minutes by cab from Schiphol to downtown Amsterdam. Maybe if there are no other cars on the road…

    Yeah, what’s wrong with the signage at Pearson’s Terminal 1? Even knowing where to go I still get confused. There is a dead spot with no sign at all, and you have to *know* to keep walking. Fine if you live in Toronto, but it’s impossible to explain to visitors. In Terminal 3 it’s much more obvious where to go.

  6. This sort of sign could be very useful at Pearson (and since baggage delivery isn’t always speedy, people would have time to read it). I’m not sure most people know about the full range of options with TTC, GO, Mississauga Transit, and Brampton Transit. For what it’s worth, the GTAA has said they want to boost transit connections to the airport.

    The T1 TTC stop is hard to find, though I think that’s partly an architectural matter too — the arrivals level feels like the ground floor, so it’s counter-intuitive that you have to go down a level. But yeah, having airport signs actually say “Public Transit” or, even better, “TTC”, would really help.

    As for the Schiphol sign being in English, the small European countries tend to be very pragmatic about the fact that most visitors won’t speak the local language, but will understand some English. (There’s a “train tickets” sign in the second photo that looks to be English-only.)

  7. It’s been said, but yes, the signage for public transit at Pearson is horrible. So is the location of the bus stop (as far away from anything in the terminal as possible). So is the fact that you can’t buy tickets anywhere. So is the fact that the bus makes an enormous twirly-doo between terminals 3 and 1 on arrival, for reasons which I understand involve safety of arriving at the intermediate stop, but which seem unfortunate to me nonetheless.

    I take the bus to and from Pearson quite often (and will tonight, in fact) but it could be so much better. This sign is a great example of how.

  8. That sure is a useful post, since I’m heading to Amsterdam airport in a couple of months!

  9. The Schipol rail link is phenomenal. I remember touching down at 8pm and being at my hostel at 8:30pm!

  10. Bob mentioned the issue of buying TTC tickets at the airport — apparently, the currency exchange booths in both terminals are now TTC ticket agents.

    That’d be another thing that people don’t know about to mention on the sign… 🙂

  11. I agree, wayfinding at Schiphol was great when I was there a few years ago.

    The best thing about Schiphol’s rail links isn’t so much that you’re a quick train ride away from Amsterdam, but that you can catch trains to most other cities in the Netherlands without first having to go to downtown Amsterdam and then take a second train to your destination. When I travelled to Rotterdam a while back, I hopped on a train at Schiphol and was in my hotel room an hour later.

    To emulate the Schiphol example here, GO and VIA trains should fan out from Pearson to Kitchener, Hamilton, Niagara, Toronto, Ottawa, and beyond. And they’d need proper signage. Maybe someday.

  12. Its a great airport and all the trains have lots of room for bikes and suitcases.AND its easy to get to the train. I have taken the cab a few times (the cabs are so much cleaner there too) and found it to be pretty quick as well.

  13. Well, the TTC stop may be poorly marked, but at least you have a proper TTC connection (non-rail, but still) serving the airport. Here in MTL, the signage is well marked indeed, and the airport is a stone’s throw from a railroad station (two, actually: Via and the commuter trains), plus the the Dorval bus station hub.

    But could they get it together to offer good service? Oh, no. The bus stops at the airport only once every half hour — extremely irritating since it’s all of a 3-minute ride over to the bus station, where you must wait for another bus that takes you to the Lionel-Groulx métro station on the west side of downtown, and then, finally, the métro itself to get downtown.

    With the recent renovations to the airport, they’ve even got a train station all ready beneath the terminal… just waiting for the (admittedly huge amounts of) money to connect the airport to the city.


  14. Surprised that no one seems to have mentioned the HUGE price differentials between the Amsterdam link and Blue22. Once you do the currency conversions, the airport to downtown link in Amsterdam is about 1/4 of what is being proposed for Blue22. (In fact, the taxi vs rail-link comparison in Amsterdam shows taxis as costing over 10x what the airlink cost is.) I’m not necessarily against Blue22… but the pricing being proposed will mean that it will end up with far fewer potential passengers than if it had been more reasonably priced. Leaving aside the whole diesel issue, I don’t see how anyone can call this an ‘environmentally friendly’ proposal.

  15. The pricing is a function of the mode of rail transport. As mentioned in the post, Amsterdam uses regular commuter trains to ferry the passengers downtown. This is similar to, say, NJ Transit from Airtrain Newark or LIRR from Airtrain JFK. Both of those options are in the $8 to $11 range depending on timing. However, take a premium train like Amtrak Northeast Regional/Acela from the very same Newark Airport stop and you would pay $40, a 5x increase for a trip that takes the same time over the same route.

    Another example — Gatwick Express costs $28 to $40 (Cdn) for the ride to London. The same trip on regular British Rail is $17.

    I have no problem with Blue22 in principle — if they think there is a premium market there for business and other first-class travelers, great, let them chase it. The problem is that Pearson lacks a regular rail transit connection to keep them honest. Whatever tracks are built for Blue22 should also be allow for GO service, or get the Eglinton line built as an underground metro alternative. Either way would give a budget option for airport workers and those who have the time and inclination.

    One other note — signage at Schiphol is renowned for its clarity. The same graphics firm that did it was hired to redo signage mess at EWR, JFK and LGA a few years back and the results were superb.

    More on airport signs (suffice it to say that YYZ does not appear on this page):