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How the NMBS failed to provide proper service, which is a habit in Belgium that the government can’t - Random thoughts [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

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How the NMBS failed to provide proper service, which is a habit in Belgium that the government can’t [Apr. 30th, 2017|11:31 am]
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[Current Location |To Ghent and back, Belgium ]
[feeling |annoyedannoyed]
[music |Spiritual Front "Darkroom Friendship"]

First, some essential background information to this story.
In Brussels Central station, the NMBS decided they needed to do engineering works. Which is fair enough, if they have to be done, they have to be done.
They decided they would do these over the weekend leading up to May 1st, which is a 3 day bank holiday weekend. It’s notorious a tourist weekend, so whether or not that this was the best choice for an engineering works date or not is something up for debate to start with.
That aside, the issue is not with them “improving” (whether it really is an improvement will remain to be seen) things, it’s with how they handled things.
Which was VERY, VERY badly.

People knew the works were going to happen. In the Brussels region posters with the barest minimum of info had been up for months. There was a note on the trains if you looked them up on the website. We knew it was going to happen.
Even the media, on Friday, warned people Brussels-Central station would be closed.

What people didn’t see coming, is that the NMBS decided NOT to provide replacement busses. No, if you had to be in the center of Brussels, you were left with two options.
Either you went to the Brussels North or South (Midi) station and you walked to the center (totally doable, but you need to know the way) OR you took a metro. And you paid for that out of your own pocket, on top of your already overpriced train ticket.
Does that sound fair to you? It doesn’t to me.
EDIT: the NMBS told me on twitter that apparently those MIVB (metro) tickets ARE free. BUT that was not what I heard on the radio on Friday AND several fellow passengers yesterday were also informed that they would have to buy a ticket, because I heard them complain about it. So even IF the tickets really are free (which would be the right thing to do), the communication about that could be better.

What people also didn’t see coming, is that mystery trains suddenly appeared without rhyme or reason, and that some trains suddenly had different stops. It _seemed_ like the NMBS was dealing with that by putting up info stands in big stations, we’ll get to that later in this post.

I had to take 2 trains to get to Ghent yesterday. I _can_ take a train via Antwerp, BUT out of experience I know that that isn’t the most efficient way. The NMBS site claims it is, but in reality it isn’t. Also, I was traveling with Lora, who lives near Louvain, ergo, going over Louvain was legit the only option.
(Because it would make no sense to her to go to Antwerp first to go to Ghent if she could take a direct to Ghent from Louvain, especially as she would have had to buy a ticket Louvain-Antwerp and then Antwerp-Ghent in order to do that specifically).

Anyway, what I noticed, arriving in Louvain, was that there was a 9 past train going to De Panne which stopped in Ghent. When I had looked up the trains from Louvain to Ghent earlier in the week, on the NMBS website, this train was NOT listed. Lora had also checked the times, and she didn’t see it listed either.
That said, it was 10 minutes earlier than the train we had planned to take, AND had a lot less stops, so I found Lora and we ran to that platform (making sure we were on the train with plenty of time to spare).
At that point we thought, and that was extremely silly of us, that the NMBS might have foreseen the issue, and decided to put in some extra trains to popular destinations.

Of course, when I looked outside, I noticed that all the posters on the tracks with the weekend time tables had big blue notice stickers over them. Making it IMPOSSIBLE for people to check times for the trains they needed, whether they had to be anywhere near Brussels or not!
Because you know, the NMBS just thinks you should be able to access the website where-ever and whenever. Because you know, it’s not busy enough as it is at the ticket booths in the weekend.
THAT right there was the first sign something was very, very wrong about the entire situation.

We got to Brussels-Airport, the first stop of the train, relatively on time.
Sadly, when people started piling onto the train, it became abundantly clear that the tourists going to the center of Brussels had NO clue what was going on.
And understandably, several were none too pleased finding out they would have to get off at either North or Midi and find out more there.
I felt really bad for people sitting near the doors, because they were asked all kinds of questions they didn’t have the answer to either, and some people got pretty grouchy at them.
I feel this the NMBS epically failed here, because they should have provided better tourist info, and also they should have made sure that conductors were doing the rounds on the train, or at least calling out information over the train speakers. But on our train, the conductor had hauled himself up somewhere and we didn’t see him or her for the entire journey!

Speaking of which, we spent FOREVER just standing parked in Brussels North and Brussels South, only to arrive in Ghent over 25 minutes late.
If we had taken the train we normally would have taken, well I don’t even want to know how much too late we would have been. Spectacularly loads I imagine.

That said, we got there, and we found Claire, and went into town (more about that next week in a non ranty post).

When we got back to the station, it was in the evening. We didn’t really feel like being stuck in that Brussels mess again, so we asked the info stand, which was manned by 4 NMBS employees, whether under the special circumstances, they would allow us to go via Antwerp.
Which wasn’t an issue for me because I had a rail pass, but Lora had a regular ticket.
And guess what: even though the trains were misery, it was NOT allowed.
No letting travelers take another route to make their life easier whilst the NMBS made it harder…

I find that that in itself is unacceptable.


Wait for it, it gets worse.
My question to the NMBS info people was literally “would we, under the special circumstances because of Brussels Central, be allowed to go to Louvain via Antwerp and take two trains instead of one via a normal train ticket?”
One of them proceeded to explain to another WHY this was a legit question.
Another one checked on his phone whether or not it would be allowed and the one right in front of me looked at me, looked me up and down, got the most ridiculous letchy smile on his face and said, in a very sexist and disgusting way “what, because you lost your partner?”
(In Dutch he said “want ge zijt uw life kwijtgeraakt of wat? Lief is romantic partner, so yeah, hence that translation).
This sort of crap does not amuse me.
Not in the slightest.
I don’t like to be treated like a piece of meat. I don’t like it when guys figure that women can’t do ANYTHING without their partner holding their hand.
I am 100% perfectly capable of taking a train, even one to another country, and then navigating in another city entirely using their public transport.
However, I am NOT psychic, and I thus don’t know what’s going on with the NMBS rerouting trains left right and center.

So I told him, politely, I would like an answer without ridiculousness.
He just said “take the train to Louvain”.
Which was NOT the answer to my question at all!
The lady behind the desk at this point was still explaining to clueless colleague WHY we asked our question in the first place.
So excuse me NMBS, but shouldn’t you at least put people behind the INFO desk who have a damn clue?
Because 2 out of 4 clearly didn’t.
Luckily, the guy with the phone, who had been looking things up (hurrah for that guy!) found that one train, 12 minutes later (yes this entire exchange took 10 minutes) found that one train had been re-routed, was going to Louvain but NOT via the crazy “Brussels loop”.
So we took that train. And it got to Louvain only 5 minutes late.

So out of 4 people manning an info stand, 1 was efficient (thank you again kind sir!), one was also pretty efficient but lost a ton of time informing her colleague (I feel for you lady, I really do), one didn’t have a clue and one was a sexist asshole.
And especially that last one is INEXCUSABLE.
Just no.
Even if he claims he was “joking” he should know better than to make sexist jokes at customers.

Shout-out though to the very kind gentleman at the Louvain ticket desk, who was getting one question after another of people how to get places, and who kept on being friendly, professional and efficient (he looked up Lora’s connection when we got to Louvain).
And shout-out to the super friendly conductor who was manning the train from Antwerp to Liège who stopped to have a friendly conversation with me in the sunshine whilst his train was waiting to depart and I was waiting for my connection to Louvain.
You gentlemen are a ray of light in the utter darkness that is the NMBS otherwise.
So yeah, I am very disappointed with how the NMBS is handling things. In the end, our delays were pretty minimal, comparing to the horror it clearly was for others, especially tourists that came in via plane to spend their vacation in Brussels.

That’s another thing, the politicians keep on doing all these things to make Brussels an attractive tourist destination. Here’s a tip: stop the NMBS from pulling shit like this, because you can be 100% certain that the word of mouth on this from people going back home is NOT going to be positive.