De Lijn keeps on struggling with exodus of drivers

Flemish public transport operator De Lijn continues to face a shortage of drivers. For example, of the 356 drivers De Lijn recruited in 2021, almost a quarter had already left before the end of 2022. So for this year, De Lijn has to look for 900 new drivers all over Flanders.

In general, you can say that almost one in four drivers at De Lijn quits within two years. In 2020, De Lijn hired 641 drivers. However, 562 remained (-12%) after one year, and after two years, 525 (-18%), writes the newspaper De Standaard, which checked out the figures.

1% of rides canceled due to lack of drivers

Of course, staff turnover also impacts De Lijn’s rides. Last year, just over 1% of rides could not be run due to staff shortages, a fourfold increase compared to 2020. When you know that De Lijn’s buses and trams run around 11 million rides a year, that amounts to the cancellation of about 110 000 rides.

Especially in Antwerp (3%) and the Waasland region (4%), quite a few rides disappeared from the schedule, and in early November, the frequency of some six tram lines was even reduced in Antwerp. Leuven and the Flemish outskirts around Brussels are also problem regions as far as drivers are concerned.

Old age pyramid

According to Ann Schoubs, the director general of De Lijn, the transport company has an old age pyramid, meaning many people retire yearly. In addition, it faces an incredible number of leavers. Throughout the corona period, there was minimal outflow because people chose security, but in early 2022, the number of leavers among drivers and technicians went up to 6%, which is usually 4%.

So, this year, De Lijn still needs 900 new drivers out of 5 900 drivers, and probably the same number in the years to come. Schoubs also points out that the success rate of candidates throughout the recruitment process is about 30%. So, De Lijn should get some 3 000 candidates in for 2023 – quite a challenge.

The company sees potential among non-native speakers, such as (Ukrainian) refugees, among others, although it sees fewer dropouts among candidates regarding language. That is why De Lijn is looking at how they could acquire a basic knowledge of Dutch. Part-time contracts might also be a solution.

Make job more attractive

In De Standaard, the ACV union says that many people, especially those with young families, drop out due to unpredictable shifts. The union also points to the difficult ‘split’ shifts – driving a part of the shift in the morning and another in the evening.

The plan around basic accessibility, the new public transport system whose network should improve from 1 July, exacerbates this, according to ACV, as it assumes more trips during rush hours and fewer outside them.

According to Flemish MP Els Robins (Vooruit), the profession of bus driver urgently needs to be made more attractive through better working conditions and higher wages for staff.


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