Monday, 9 April 2012

Tragedy in Brussels

We have a transport strike in Brussels at the moment. Very sadly, a bus inspector who was called to the scene of a collision between a bus and a car on Saturday morning was struck in an altercation and he died as a result. This is a dreadful thing to happen, nobody should have to be in fear of their personal safety as they go about their daily business.

From this awful tragedy, some lessons might be learned, we hope.

In Brussels, if one is involved in an incident with a bus, the bus driver is always right. Even if he has pulled away from a bus stop without indicating or checking his rear view mirror - it is incumbent upon car drivers to always give way to a bus whatever the circumstances. My 7 year old son and I had a nasty close shave just a few days ago when a bus took a sharp right turn and came partially over the pavement, missing us by inches. The driver was talking on his mobile phone and not looking at all where he was going - as he drove away he was blissfully unaware of the near miss that we had just had. I have been spat at by a bus driver because I had the audacity to complain when, whilst watching me get off the bus, he deliberately closed the doors on me. Maybe I was moving too slowly for his liking, but I was nursing a broken knee at the time, my leg was in a brace, and I was not too sprightly. I have seen doors being closed on baby's pushchairs at least twice. I once complained when a bus parked across a pedestrian crossing whilst my son and I were crossing a busy roundabout . Rond-Point Schman -  forcing us out into the road to negotiate heavy traffic at rush hour to reach safety.. My remonstrations to the driver earned me a sneer and a raised finger.

I would have thumped that driver if he had accepted my challenge for him to get out of his bus, there is no question about that.
Tram drivers and metro drivers are no better.

None of this excuses violent behaviour, and nothing can justify the killing of an innocent man going about his work.

After the Schuman incident I complained in writing, and pursued the complaint vigorously. I was told by the transport company, STIB, that it appeared to be a training issue, and that the driver would be spoken to. I am not entirely confident that he was actually spoken to, let alone given any kind of advice about his appalling attitude and behaviour, as STIB has no concept of, or indeed interest in, customer service.

But can you imagine the frustration that the paying public and motorists feel when we are treated with indifference and even contempt on an almost daily basis? When lives are endangered due to the incompetence, indifference, and negligence of partially trained staff? I would have struck that bus driver at Rond-Pont Schuman, if he had given me the chance. He raised his finger not just at me, but at my son, who was then 6 years old. I was furious almost beyond the point of self-control. In the light of Saturday's events I am so relieved that there was no violent confrontation - this is a lesson for all of us as to how quickly events can get out of control and can end tragically.

There is a culture of contempt for the customer, and for the public in general (especially other road users) within STIB. This culture can lead, as I have experienced myself, to frustration, anger, and raised tempers. An innocent man, a 56 year-old with a family, who came to Begium from Albania in search of a better life, has unwittingly, and undeservedly, paid for it. And that is a tragedy indeed.

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