Belgian public transport sector desperately looking for drivers

Belgian public transport companies continue to struggle to find drivers. MIVB/STIB, NMBS/SNCB, De Lijn, and Walloon counterpart TEC are all struggling to find drivers for their trams, trains, and buses due to stiff competition, with the transport sector also facing driver shortages. The big fear here, of course, remains that the supply quality will come under pressure.

For instance, Walloon public transport company TEC is still looking for 294 drivers. For now, it seems as if the number of bus lines will not be reduced because recruitment is going in the right direction, and all vacancies are expected to be filled by the end of the year.

Most dire in Namur-Luxembourg

According to the newspaper La Libre Belgique, 202 new drivers have been hired and trained at TEC since the end of last year – 153 are operational, and 49 are still in training.

The lack of drivers is most dire in the Namur-Luxembourg (88) and Liège-Verviers (85) regions. At TEC Charleroi, they are still looking for 56 drivers; at TEC Hainaut, 38, and in Walloon Brabant, 27 are still missing.

For the time being, due to the increased recruitment campaigns, bus services are not put at risk, even if it is sometimes as being on tenterhooks as the start of the school year approaches – part of the supply, on the other hand, is run by private operators.

Nevertheless, Walloon Transport Minister Philippe Henry (Ecolo) acknowledges that if “there is no plan to reduce the current summerly on certain lines, the lack of drivers could result in certain projects being shifted in time or even certain services being punctually not provided based on absences and the lack of reserve staff”.

Same story at De Lijn

At Flemish counterpart De Lijn, all vacancies are also still unfilled. This year, for instance, De Lijn needs to find 900 new drivers. By the end of April, 330 had been recruited.

The search is particularly difficult in Antwerp, Leuven, and the Flemish periphery around Brussels. De Lijn chooses to structurally curtail certain lines with shortages so travelers are not faced with a bus or tram not running at the last minute.

Last year, De Lijn had to cancel 1,52% of all journeys due to driver shortages, almost twice as many as in the previous years. The difficult search for new drivers, according to De Lijn, comes as the labor market situation remains tense and the aging of De Lijn’s staff continues.

Less tense situation at MIVB/STIB

MIVB/STIB was still looking for over 600 new staff early this year to develop the public transport offer in Brussels. The bulk of these 600 vacancies are driver staff, with over 200 bus drivers, 130 for the tram, and about 50 for the metro. Operating new vehicles, building new lines, and increasing frequency require additional staff.

Last year, 705 new staff joined MIVB/STIB, compared with 858 in 2021. Other recruitments would have to be added due to internal mobility, retirements, and voluntary departures. This should create about 700 additional vacancies to be filled, bringing the number of recruits to 1 300 for 2023.

Meanwhile, MIVB/STIB has been able to fill almost all vacancies for this year, “but of course, we will still need new driving staff next year, as we do every year”.

High ambitions, not enough train drivers

Of the 400 vacancies for train drivers in 2023, railway company NMBS/SNCB could now fill 150. At the end of June, it was still looking for 250 drivers, most of them in the province of Antwerp.

NMBS/SNCB announced 1 600 vacancies at the beginning of this year. Meanwhile, about 1 000 candidates have been selected, most of whom have started. Like the companies in the port, NMBS is also struggling with a tight labor market. The railway company has some 3 000 drivers on 3 800 trains.

The lack of railway staff is a recurring problem at NMBS/SNCB. Last year, the railway company had a record number of canceled trains – more than 38 000. But ambitions for the railways are huge: there are plans to substantially increase the number of trains, provided, of course, there are enough drivers.


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