Monday, September 15, 2008

No Shirt, No Service

 id=See the driver of this vehicle? You don't? - that's because he's behind the glass door. And if you have exceptionally good vision - which I don't - you just might be able to see the little graphic sign which can best be interpreted as "do not speak to the driver" to the left of the door. Of course, I can't see it - because my vision is pretty crappy - but, then again, I've stood directly in front of it and still couldn't see it.

Bus, electric bus and tram drivers in Bratislava are sequestered from the public. Why? I wondered. It seems that since operators don't handle money - for yet another sign reads "the bus does not sell the ticket" (sic) - perhaps there is no need. Of course, this is in marked contrast to the drivers in Spain with whom bus patrons often engage in loud & lively conversations from the back of the bus. I can't help but think that theirs is a lonely existence.

It is also possible that drivers are locked away from the public because of their manner of dress. Or perhaps that's just wishful thinking on my part. It seems that here, drivers neither wear uniforms nor subscribe to any sort of dress code.

In Bratislava, every day is Casual Friday.

Although I confess that I found the lack of uniform a bit odd, my jaw pretty much hit the pavement when I saw my first (of many) driver - a veritable Ralph Kramden - with open shirt and a hairy bare belly hanging over the steering wheel or sporting what my mother might call a singlet and what Pán Kocúr would call a wife beater. I'd probably settle for a sleeveless undershirt but call it what you will, it doesn't exactly scream professionalism.
I asked my students about their drivers' lack of uniform and they laughed uproariously and looked at me as if I were mentally feeble - an expression I've long ceased taking personally. As they had never heard of uniformed bus/tram operators before, they suggested that perhaps the reason behind it - although they clearly didn't believe me that such uniformed animals exist in other parts of the world - was lack of funds.

Which brings me to the fact that, as I stated earlier, drivers don't handle cash. Payment for a trip about the city is made either by a monthly pass or by a ticket which passengers buy at an often jammed or out-of-service automatic vending machine situated at each stop. The price for a ticket is based on the length of time one travels - since Bratislava is a ridiculously small city, most people can biff across town on a 10-minute ticket, which runs for the staggering price of 14 crowns (or .45 €;) - the price of a half litre of local draught beer. Thirty minute trips run about .59 €. Once on the bus or tram, the passenger validates his/her ticket in yet another automated machine and the clock starts ticking.

Although technically people are on the honour system, abuses - yes, they do happen - are dealt with by regular and random checks by Transportation Henchmen. Should they catch you, fines are rather steep at 1400 crowns (or 46 ) - the price of 10 half litres of local draught beer.

Having said all of that, my students confessed that - depending on whom I asked - 60-75% of Bratislava's ridership ride for free. One of my students claims to have
been ticketed 3 times in her life. True, she's only 28 years old, but still that's a pretty good record. They are all uniform (no pun intended) that transit prices are too high and no system has ever been devised whereby a transit authority could compel its passengers to pay. I suggested that a fare box or validation machine be posted at the front door and that the back door be closed off altogether. They la id=ughed uproariously and looked at me as if I were mentally feeble - an expression I've long ceased taking personally. Do you know how slow that would be? they screeched. Nobody would put up with it!

With a population of about 400,000, I doubt the lines would be that onerous.

So I guess the corollary to this is, if people actually paid for their fares, then perhaps Dopravný Podnik Bratislava could afford uniforms for their bus drivers. Or at the very least prepare a leaflet which outlined an acceptable dress code for its drivers. Or maybe - just maybe - take care of its vehicles' rampant exposed bits of wire and hydraulics, bits which should probably have some sort of protective covering on them. Or here's a thought: post handy little bus & tram routes at the bus stops - maps can be so helpful. I mean, I'm more or less willing to put up with the graffiti rampant on buses and trams, and I confess that I rather like the fact that the piggy-backed trams are often 40 years apart in age and completely different colours but please - I beg you - put shirts on the drivers.


Cath said...

They should put those good ol' boys on their travel brochures.

Mačka in Slovak said...

They do! - why do you think we came here in the 1st place?

Cath said...

Seriously . . . the cabbage rolls and coffee.

Jillian said...

Bratislava sounds like Boston! Although the T drivers here wear uniforms, some stretch it a bit...okay, a lot. And my city of about 600,000 has huge problems with people hopping on free - although they do what you propose (that is, close the back doors and have people swipe their passes/pay cash at the front), drivers often get fed up with long lines and just open the doors. People wave their passes in the air, as if that proved anything.