When coming back to Brussels after having lived 2,5 years in Puerto Rico, I suddenly started to appreciate the STIB (MIVB in Flemish; the public transport company of Brussels) which I used to hate so much. Before moving to the Caribbean, I thought that the buses and trams of Brussels were completely useless; never running on schedule, and the metro network was ridiculously underdeveloped. Well, we know that everything is relative and once I had something even worse to compare with*, Brussels wasn’t too bad after all!
I am so lucky [sounds like the beginning of an Abba song] that my current home and work place are perfectly situated by tram stops that are well served by two working tram lines. On the contrary to the useless tram line No 92, which also passes close by our home. It is always full and always late (there is a direct correlation, of course). Fortunately I don’t have to take it too often… My friend S told me that on Tuesday she counted 10 (TEN!!) No 92 trams that were blocked outside her office window! Why? Because a big SUV was parked on the street and its side mirror was blocking the trams to pass**! Only, only in Brussels… (actually, it sounds like something that could have happened in Puerto Rico as well)
The problem with many of the tram lines in Brussels is that they share the same lanes as the traffic. And as traffic in Brussels is extremely chaotic and disorganised, the trams very often get stuck. And if they don’t get blocked because of the traffic, they break down… I saw one tram driver last week who had to get out and manually close the tram doors that had jammed because of the cold (this was underground, mind you). He muttered something about Romania having more modern trams than Belgium! For some reason the same tram lines that are not separated from the traffic, seem to be the ones served by the old trams that are more likely to break down.
The interesting thing about my favourite tram line that I take every day to work (except today as I’m on sick leave) is that most of it runs underground. Moreoever, the parts of the line that run above ground are mostly separated from the car lanes. Probably some of reasons why it works so well, without many delays, as well as the fact that it is served by new, modern trams!
It took me quite some time as a newly arrived to Brussels to realise what the so-called pré-métro was. I remember seeing the M-sign at la Bourse (the stock exchange building in the centre of Brussels), which I thought was very confusing as I knew that there was no metro line there. I once went underground to explore the Bourse station and was surprised to see trams below ground. So, Brussels has two underground public transport networks – one being the metro and the other the pre-metro which is for all the trams that run below ground in the centre.
*) I know that I wrote quite positively about public transport in Puerto Rico in the linked post from January 2008, but there were many times when I was despairing over how late the buses were. I remember once when a friend and I waited more than one hour for a connecting bus… And a few times I even gave up waiting for the bus and went home again (only worked of course it it was the first bus that was late and I didn’t have to be somewhere).
**) If I had been the tram driver I would have just smashed the bloody mirror – but I guess there are some rules and regulations…
***) SDF = Sans domicile fixe (also known as sans-abris – without shelter) or homeless person