One of the features of living in the Netherlands I like best is mass transportation. Well, I should specify trains, because bus drivers are going on strike. Again, and bus service is getting less and less dependable.
It looks like another round of bus strikes is coming on Wed., 27 June, with bus service canceled for at least 72 hours. Or longer.
On the CNV Vakmensen (Bus Professionals Union) website, officials state that negotiations failed last week, and the strike is on. Some Dutch media have reported there’s still a chance for a settlement. But monitoring the bus availability is second nature for my family because this is at least the third strike (I’ve lost count) this year.
We really depend on that bus. The bus equals freedom for my 17-year-old daughter Lale, who loves jumping on it to go hang out with friends on summer break.
My wife/co-CEO Cheryl and our colleague Nancy Church just got back to where we live in Leenderstrijp from a quick trip into Eindhoven that was partly business. Driving everywhere has no appeal because A.) gas is expensive and B.) parking is a pain. Every 1.60-plus euro liter of gas we buy and every 2.50-euro per hour parking garage is money off our bottom line.
So, yeah, it hurts when buses stop rolling, which often ripples out to issues with NS trains because some of the trains in Limburgh and other provinces depend on union members. Which means we end up having to drive to pick up and drop off stranded friends family and – more than once – strangers from Amsterdam to Maastricht.
How did we get to this?
As far as I can see, there are no “Good Guys” in this showdown, though I have to say the unions have a strong argument.
CNV Vakmens states bus drivers are so rushed they don’t even get restroom breaks.
The FNV union’s website states drivers want an extra 5-minute break during a workday of more than 6.5 hours. Now the drivers get only two 15-minute breaks during an 8-hour day.
They also want a wage increase though working conditions seem to be the main, unresolvable issue.
Still, one has to wonder why all this wasn’t anticipated way before now and resolved.
Union officials know commuters are going to blame them.
From CNV Vaksmenen website:
The aim of the actions is a new collective agreement for 12,000 employees in public transport, with a good salary increase and concrete agreements on tackling the workload. “We realize very well that a strike in public transport has major consequences for passengers. Yet we hope for some understanding for this. This is not only about the drivers, but also about safety and service for the passengers. The grids are just too tight, it’s too much of a rush, that can and should be better. “
I’m thinking the bus companies such has Hermés want to do what they can to avoid taking buses off the streets as well as inconveniencing and alienating their rider base.
Sometimes the bus is more practical
The biggest impact of a strike is always on commuters. And pain for commuters could mean more people simply giving up and driving in this very populous, very compact little country. Which seems to be the opposite of what policymakers want.
The Independent news site this week has a post about a proposal by Netherlands Deputy Infrastructure Minister Stientje van Veldhoven to pay people to bicycle to work, an initiative to ease road congestion.
“Let’s get out of our cars and onto our bikes,” van Veldhoven is quoted as saying as she proposed paying adults 19 euro cents for each kilometer they cycle as part of their commute. Or, if government officials won’t go for that, she wants to subsidize bike purchases with the goal of getting 200,000 people out of their cars and cycling 3 billion kilometers.
Unfortunately, Eindhoven isn’t Amsterdam, Utrecht or Den Haag. Everything here in Brabant is more spread out, so biking everywhere isn’t practical for everyone. We don’t have trams and subways, so the reality here and in other large Dutch cities is that buses are a great option. Sometimes the only option.
We have a suggestion: Minister van Veldhoven could spend that tax money to bring both sides of the bus crisis to the table to talk about how to get more buses and more bus drivers and get the Netherlands rolling again. Because the thing I like best about being an expat in the Netherlands is – no matter what – this is a country that never stops moving forward.