“Je ne suis pas en ligne…”
You could see the bright yellow lights on the front of the bus where normally the end of the line would be written. Sorry, I am not in service… Bus not taking any passengers. Yes, in what has become a disaster for the average, non-car-owning, bicycle-less, bus-taking college student and foreigner who knows no one who owns a car, la grève des bus me fait vraiment chier. (Pardon my French!)
It happened over a week ago: a bus driver attacked in the troubled North neighborhood of Amiens, a stone (?) thrown at her window, and who knows what else. Starting on Friday, November 23, the bus drivers went on strike – either refusing to drive their buses or driving them around without taking passengers anywhere. To make matters worse, you could see the odd bus still doing its job, but usually heading off to a godforsaken part of Amiens you have no reason to see or the very bus you need, but in the opposite direction, with you knowing that it’ll take another hour and a half to turn around. One bus for every hour, and you see the very one glide away maliciously as you arrive a second late to the bus stop. Or, even worse, the very bus you need, arriving on time to your bus stop, only to have it pull up beside you and the bus driver get out, with no replacement driver in sight. To see the buses parked here and there around the city, when you have an exam that day and a forty minute walk uphill in the freezing cold.
It really hasn’t been as bad as I have made it out to be. Generally, I am rather sympathetic with Socialism as a whole and with the efficacity of unions in France to make their voices heard when things aren’t as they should be. France is known for its famous grèves, such as the complete shutdown of the university system in the Spring of 2009 (the last time there was a university-led strike; several French people have told me, “We are due for another one soon”), or the standstill of public transportation that can take place on a national or local level, with trains, planes, buses, and metro systems halted. It causes chaos, it’s particularly effective, and it gets the point across very very quickly. If such a thing were to take place in the States, there would be cries of “anarchists” and less of an overall tendency to be in solidarity with those on strike.
The particularly annoying aspect of this strike is that it has lasted over a week, without a clear resolution. This weekend, the bus drivers and the direction of the bus service (i.e. people in charge) are appearing before a judge. If you were to have looked on the website concerning the state of our local transportation, the general “sorry, buses will be running again soon” would usually appear inaccurate or misleading, because what the employers wanted was not necessarily what the bus drivers agreed to do. Over the past week, I must have walked over 25 kilometers. I walked to pay my rent, walked twice to teach my tutoring session in English, walked three times there and back to the university for class. I’ve walked to the train station twice, down to Saint Leu a hundred times, and up my five-story apartment (with no elevator) more times than I care to count. Luckily Amiens is such a walkable city, with whole roads for “pedestrians only.” But now I am seriously considering renting a bicycle…