I've just returned from a trip to the Netherlands where I had to make several ad-hoc train trips. Buying tickets from the automatic machines is very much encouraged, to the extent that there is a 0.50 Euro surcharge when buying tickets over the counter.
This isn't too bad. However, the ticket-office may not be open yet by the time you have to travel (I guess this would apply mainly to smaller stations) and it appears some stations don't even have ticket-offices. This still wouldn't be so bad, unfortunately the machines only take coins or cards (= bank surcharges), not notes. Even the ones at Schiphol airport don't take bank notes, I ended up queuing and paying the 0.50 (although there maybe note-coin changer, too tired to think to check). It is 'legal' to get on the train without a ticket and buy it of the conductor but this is where it stings (or should I say stinks?)there is a 35 Euro surcharge. Yes, this is on top of the ticket price.
My advice is to try and check in advance what your ticket is going to cost, when the ticket office is open and either buy your ticket prior to the day of travel or carry sufficient coinage for your trip.
Yeah, it's definitely become more and more of a hassle for non-locals over the last couple of years. (Everyone in the Netherlands uses bank cards to pay for everything, since there's no surcharge for us on that whatsoever, so most of us don't mind.) I do know they've started phasing in ticket machines which accept notes as well as coins, but even so you often have to look around to find the one new ticket machine amidst a bunch of old ones.
(Also, iirc the Schiphol ticket machines are unique in that they at least accept creditcards.)
In fact, pay for service is becoming the rule in many European countries. So much that you often pay to call companies to buy or get information about their products. It is very strange that in some countries, free phone numbers are offered, to encoursage customers calling in. But in other countries (such as the Netherlands and Switzerland) you are often discouraged from making such calls by having to pay for the call.
In Switzerland, for example, if you want to buy tickets to a show, you have to pay about 1 Euro per minute for the honor of buying a ticket. Amazing.
That was another thing I noticed over there actually, paying to ring a company. Although I typically don't mind paying for service, I thought this was very peculiar. This would mean, for instance, if I wanted to ring around for the best insurance policy I would get charged by each company I ring when they will potentially get business from me. I would certainly ring the ones that wouldn't cost me for the call first.
Here in NZ, although we have a small population, competition is fierce and the larger companies all have 0800 free-phone numbers. Although it must be said that calls for potential new business are answered very quickly whilst ringing service desks (e.g to report a fault with a phone-line or satellite TV) can often mean a several minute wait until "our next friendly customer service representative is available"
[ Edit: Edited at Sep 17, 2006 11:49 PM by floydbloke ]