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There may be many more incidents that did not make it to the media.

The discussion surrounding public transport in Belgium is taking a new turn with recent events and comments that put the spotlight on the functioning of De Lijn, the Flemish transport company. Knack journalist Stijn Tormans recently spoke out about De Lijn's inadequate door policy, which he believes contributes to an increased number of incidents on buses and trams. Tormans' call for a review of these policies is fueled by both personal experiences and broader social and political issues, including racism and the quality of public transport.

A recent incident in which a Muslim woman in Antwerp was not allowed to leave the bus through the front door and was subsequently approached by the driver about her headscarf, with the words: “Take off your headscarf, we are in Belgium”, has heated up the discussion. This incident, while not isolated, sheds light on the larger issues of discrimination and the need for a more inclusive and accessible public transportation system.

De Lijn applies different rules for this getting on and off on buses and trams, which not only creates confusion among travelers but also leads to frustration. On buses it is mandatory to board at the front, while on trams boarding is at the back, except for older PCC trams where boarding is still possible at the front. Getting out through the front door is usually not allowed, unless the driver decides otherwise. This door policy seems inefficient and, according to Tormans, contributes to an unnecessary increase in tensions between travelers and staff.

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"I also took the bus on Saturday to find out what ordinary people experience."

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Veldstraat
Photo: © Pitane Blue - tram stop Veldstraat Ghent.

"Open all doors to get on and off - your travelers are beyond toddler age. And no, this measure will not ban racism or improve the world, but maybe just a little bit."

And no, this measure will not ban racism or improve the world, but maybe just a little bit. In response to the criticism, Minister of Mobility Lydia Peeters (Open VLD) has indicated that she wants to gain personal experience with public transport. However, her statements, intended to show empathy for the everyday traveler, were not well received everywhere and caused ridicule on social media. It once again illustrates the gap between political decision-making and the everyday reality of using public transport.

Tormans emphasizes that although a change in the door policy will not eliminate racism or improve the world, it would be a step in the right direction towards a more accessible and more user-friendly public transport. The proposal to open all doors for boarding and disembarking seems like a simple measure, but it could have a significant impact on the user experience and potentially contribute to a reduction in incidents.

This incident and the subsequent discussion shed important light on the broader social issues facing public transport in Belgium. This is not only about physical accessibility, but also about social inclusivity and the role of government agencies and politicians in ensuring a safe and pleasant travel experience for everyone.

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Stijn Tormans

Stijn Tormans article about the challenges within public transport in Belgium, in particular De Lijn's door policy, is an essential contribution to the ongoing discussion about mobility, inclusiveness and civil rights. By highlighting specific incidents, substantiated with personal testimonies and a critical look at political reactions, Tormans succeeds in not only addressing the issues but also emphasizing the urgency for change. 

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