‘De Lijn’s worn out buses held together by duct tape’
Bus drivers of public transport company De Lijn are frustrated about the poor condition of the busses. The rolling stock is old and worn out, and there is a permanent lack of mechanics and spare parts. “Some buses are held together by duct tape”, they claim. Newspaper Gazet Van Antwerpen could collect some – anonymous – testimonials.
“I think half of the buses of the Zurenborg depot in Antwerp have serious defects. Small defects are piling up. We shouldn’t hit the road with such buses, but we have no choice. Otherwise, there is no bus.”
“We have to hand in a report after each ride, to indicate possible shortcomings, but sometimes it takes six records before something happens,” another witness says. The most common flaws are air leaks, oil leaks, body damage, loose driving mirrors, problems with the engine’s cooling, non-functioning air conditioning, or heating, not to mention hygiene. “A bus of the Zurenborg depot is only washed every eight weeks.”
De Lijn used to have its breakdown service. When a bus broke down, a van with two mechanics on boards arrived for on-site repair. Now, the buses have to go to Depannage 2000, and it takes days to get them back.
According to the drivers, all these problems are due to the savings of the last three years and the lack of technicians. De Lijn has a large staff turnover; technicians often see a job at De Lijn as a stepping stone to a better-paid career Antwerp’s port, for instance.
This means, in practice, most drivers have become real handymen. When a problem pops up during service, they mend it themselves. “Not one driver hits the road without a roll of duct tape in his pocket.” Passengers have complaints as well. They complain about damaged seats or strange noises.
“Still, a lot of colleagues feel connected with the company they’re working for,” the drivers ay. “Every day, they try to make the best of it, but they often feel let down by their employer.”
The reaction of De Lijn
In a reaction, De Lijn admits 2019 was a challenging year. Difficulties, however, were detected, and a plan is made to tackle all problems. “It is difficult to attract technicians, and we feel the competition of the harbor, but we want to evolve to a more competitive incomes policy,” De Lijn says.
The company also wants to emphasize that safety is a priority for drivers, passengers, and other road users.
Safety, however, is an issue. According to figures of Flemish Minister of Mobility, Lydia Peeters (Open Vld), 17 buses or streetcars of De Lijn are daily involved in a traffic accident. Last year, the number of accidents went up to 6 500, the highest since 2017.
The unions, therefore, call on De Lijn to invest more in the training of the drivers. Traffic is becoming heavier and heavier, and the drivers are under pressure of time. “They feel like a hunted game, which is not conducive for a safe style of driving,” concludes Jo Van der Herten (ACV union).