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The Rotterdam transport company Trevvel, charged with transporting the elderly and students, is under political pressure on the eve of a new tender round.

With criticism from various quarters, including the Rotterdam Council, local media, and specifically from council members Mina Morkoç (GroenLinks) and Naoufal Akhatab (DENK), who describe the situation as “a big mess”, the company is once again under a magnifying glass. The criticism comes at a time when the municipality of Rotterdam is assessing the market for the new transport contract and a decision has to be made about the tender.

The current problems are not minor. Complaints about the service, such as punctuality, communication and customer friendliness, have not done Trevvel's reputation any good over the years. This was previously confirmed by the results of a telephone survey among stakeholders such as healthcare institutions and schools for special education, which showed that only a small majority assess Trevvel's services as sufficient or good. Specific points for improvement include punctuality, telephone accessibility and the attitude of the drivers.

difference in vision

The criticism was not without consequences. Incidents in transport and the departure of then director Ron van de Peppel due to a difference in vision on the policy to be pursued had exacerbated the situation. Despite these turbulent times and the negative publicity, funding from the municipality continued to flow, even during the COVID-19 pandemic when the number of complaints decreased, but this was due to less transport need.

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Sven de Lange

Almost all parties were enthusiastic about the tender for target group transport. 'Very innovative' is how former councilor Sven de Langen described the contract with Trevvel for which he became responsible in October 2017.

In response to the criticism, the municipality of Rotterdam had independent investigations carried out into both the functioning of Trevvel and municipal management. The results show that, despite the criticism, Trevvel meets municipal standards and even performs above average within the taxi industry, according to the councilor. However, this did not alter the fact that there was room for improvement, something the ombudsman also emphasized in the independent reporting center Trevvel. This showed that in addition to negative experiences, there are also positive experiences, such as helpful drivers and careful journey processing.

fresh wind

In the meantime, the carrier had exchanged its headquarters at Villa Trompenburg on the Kralingse Honingerdijk for a more modern housing on the Bahialaan and CEO Stef Hesselink received the keys to the new head office. Van de Peppel's departure also created new leadership within Trevvel Rotterdam, which caused a stir both inside and outside the organization. 

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Arno van Haasterrecht
Photo: © Pitane Blue - Arno van Haasterecht

Arno van Haasterecht, previously active at DHL, took over the role in August 2019 general manager bij Trevvel, where he replaced interim director Aad Romijn. His background at DHL Parcel Service Benelux, where he was responsible for the daily operations within the B2B NL network, promised to bring a breath of fresh air to Trevvel's organizational structure.

With the arrival of Arno van Haasterecht, a striking shift in management style and operational approach was experienced. In the early days of his appointment, van Haasterecht dominated media attention, not so much because of policy changes or innovative strategies, but as the central figure who responded to the burning questions about the situation within the organization.

In addition to his initial role as general manager, van Haasterecht took steps to restructure operational management, which resulted in the nomination van Raoul Verheij as the new operations manager. Verheij, also a former DHL employee with extensive experience in managing complex processes, took responsibility for all direct operational activities within the organization.

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vertrek

Verheij's appointment marked a new phase for Trevvel. However, despite the positive reception of his leadership in the workplace, Verheij's stint at Trevvel was short-lived. His departure, announced just months after his appointment, left many within the organization disappointed. The reasons behind his sudden departure were not widely communicated, leading to speculation and uncertainty among staff.

Meanwhile, there was a heated debate in Rotterdam about the future of student and target group transport, a crucial issue that had divided the city council. The core of this discussion was again the services provided by Trevvel. This dossier not only put political groups on edge, but also exposed a deeper social problem: the need to support the most vulnerable groups in society.

motion

Group leader Ellen Verkoelen of 50PLUS took the lead on this issue by submitting a motion aimed at persuading Trevvel to intensify its cooperation with subcontractors and transport providers. This is to significantly improve and guarantee services before the target date of November 1. The motion, baptized as “Trevvel Samen”, aimed to directly improve the mobility of the elderly, a group that, according to Verkoelen, is extra vulnerable to social isolation as a result of reduced mobility.

The underlying motivation of the motion was to challenge an earlier decision by the council to restrict the freedom of movement of the elderly in favor of student transport. This decision was a thorn in the side of 50PLUS. Verkoelen accused Leefbaar, one of Trevvel's opponents, of trying to silence 50PLUS at the insistence of their own councilor.

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The fact that the motion was rejected during the council meeting of September 29, 2022 does not mean that Trevvel's problems have been solved, on the contrary.

The case of Trevvel and the municipality of Rotterdam highlights the complexity and sensitivity of tenders in public transport, where the interests of vulnerable groups weigh heavily. Since the tender in 2018, in which Trevvel emerged as the winner, complaints have been pouring in. This issue, which particularly affects vulnerable children who miss out on education as a result, attracted the attention of the consumer program Radar.

On Monday, October 10, Radar gave extensive attention to a situation where children are picked up late or sometimes not at all. Minister for Primary and Secondary Education, Dennis Wiersma, expressed his shock about the reports. In addition, many users complain about inaccessible customer service at Trevvel, which makes communication difficult.

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Dennis Wiersma is shocked by all the stories about the current state of student transport.

At the heart of Rotterdam's approach to tackling the ongoing problems with student transport was a unique political proposal that has received both praise and criticism. The city is introducing a reimbursement scheme that encourages parents to provide their own transport for their children to school. This measure was a direct response to the ongoing criticism and operational challenges facing the transport service.

drivers

Student transport in Rotterdam, an essential service for many families, was plagued by a dire shortage of drivers. This problem, which came to light just before the summer holiday period, caused uncertainty and frustration among parents and students. In response to this situation, Arno van Haasterecht took on a prominent role in the media to provide explanations and reassurance. 

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Ronald Buijt
Alderman Ronald Buijt (Livable Rotterdam)

“An incredible number of measures have been taken at the level we are now,” Buijt told Rijnmond in response to the latest incident in which 5-year-old Mete escaped the attention of the transport company driver. “We are talking about millions of movements per year. There's plenty to like about Trevvel, but it's such a tall order in such a complicated market. Every carrier has to deal with this."

The reimbursement scheme, which started in January 2023 and ran until the summer holidays, offered parents the opportunity to receive financial compensation if they chose to transport their children to school themselves. For children living more than 13 kilometers from school, a reimbursement of 38 cents per kilometer was offered.

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Councilor Ronald Buijt of Leefbaar Rotterdam, the political party that helped shape this measure, suggested that the problems with student transport are deeper than just a shortage of drivers. He emphasized the need for flexible working arrangements for parents, giving them the opportunity to take their children to school in person. 

The introduction of this scheme has led to mixed reactions. On the one hand, it was seen as an innovative solution that offers parents more flexibility and autonomy. On the other hand, concerns were raised about the accessibility and feasibility of the scheme for all families. Nevertheless, the arrangement showed the willingness of the municipality of Rotterdam and Trevvel to explore new avenues in tackling complex urban challenges.

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Stans Goudsmit - Children's Ombudsman

The Rotterdam Children's Ombudsman Stans Goudsmit wants a solution for the autumn holidays, or else the municipality will compensate parents who arrange their own transport.

In recent years, organizational turbulence within Trevvel has caused emotions to run high. Constant change of software suppliers, disagreements with subcontractors and taxi drivers, and frequent personnel changes have significantly affected the stability of services. 

planning

In response to the ongoing problems, Alderman Struijvenberg announced that there was a need for a thorough analysis of the situation. “How often and on which routes do things go wrong and how can we change that?” Struijvenberg wondered. His goal was to get the facts clear and to provide transparency to parents and other stakeholders. He also emphasized the importance of timely communication about changes in the schedule, so that parents are not faced with unpleasant surprises. The complaints ranged from unavailability of the accompanying app to incorrect information about the schedule. To improve services in the short term, discussions are being held with ten alternative carriers and a number of companies that already work for Trevvel.

tender

The political discussion surrounding the tender and the quality of transport in Rotterdam continues fueled by council members such as Dennis Tak, who advocates more openness and more frequent reporting on customer satisfaction and punctuality, among other things. He also questions the question of whether transport should be awarded to only one company.

The situation surrounding Trevvel and target group transport in Rotterdam is exemplary of the complexity of public procurement and the challenges involved in providing essential services to vulnerable groups in society. While the municipality and the parties involved are working on improvements, the question remains how services can be optimized without losing sight of the human dimension.

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