COVID-19: Meet one of our frontline heroes, René Seegers, bus driver in the Netherlands

2020.31.07
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« When I received a phone call in mid-May from my supervisor that we could get back to work on June 1st, I found it difficult to control my joy and emotions. I was as happy as a child, I was dancing in the living room, » says René Seegers laughing.

« It was mid-March when the part-time employees at Transdev subsidiary Connexxion in the Netherlands were informed that they would not be driving a bus for a while. It was the start of the COVID-19 crisis, and with a drop of around 90% in the number of passengers, there simply wasn’t any work for them. « I thought I was ‘safe’ with such a vital profession, but unfortunately that only lasted a day. Still, I understand, it’s been a logical decision for the company. »

René is one of the many drivers who have strengthened Transdev’s ranks over the past year. He started in the Haarlem-IJmond region in the Netherlands in September 2019. 

I really wanted to work in this area, » he says, sitting in the sunshine outside the rest stop in IJmuiden. He points between two blocks of flats to a building in the distance. « That’s where I’ve recently moved in. I thought it would be great to do this work in the area where you live, the area you know. And that hasn’t been disappointing.

After half a year of driving the bus, the daily activities changed a bit. « I was at the point where I was driving around relaxed, actually. I knew the stops, the lines, the routes. It felt really familiar. » Then came the COVID-19 measures, such as physical distancing to separate the driver from the passengers. « That took some getting used to. Suddenly less contact with the passengers, less talk with the nice people in the front. » René also noticed that the situation was being abused: « I’m allergic to fare-dodgers, so if someone doesn’t want to pay for their trip ‘because there’s no ticket sales’, that’s a mistake ». But René didn’t have long to really get used to the situation, because soon he was furloughed. « That was quite a blow. I had already lost a good job due to the bankruptcy of an employer and because I became ill myself, so I could already see the rain hanging over me. The uncertainty at that moment was very difficult. »

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« It does something to you, sitting at home » the normally smiling René now says seriously.

My husband works in healthcare, so I spent most of the 9 weeks at home alone because he was busier than ever. Filling in the days in a useful way turned out to be the biggest challenge.  When a lot of people used the lockdown period to take care of their house, I was in a house that had been ‘finished’ just before because we just moved in. Fortunately, I am very sporty and have used the time a lot to maintain my health. Which is very important in this profession, because as a bus driver you don’t get a lot of exercise during your work . 

René is also very pleased with the management’s communication during this period: « I received weekly calls asking how I was doing. I also received regular updates via email and there was also good contact with the members of the regional committee, who made a strong case for us ».

Coincidentally, one of the committee members in question, Alwin, drove past at that very moment. « Everyone thinks the same thing; the part-timers are just as much part of the driver group as anyone else, » says Alwin from his opened window.

René is happy that sitting at home in uncertainty is over. « I really couldn’t have had better news. » On June 1st he went back to work, the day the facemask requirement came into effect. « I had set myself on the idea that the atmosphere among the passengers might be a bit grimmer, but fortunately it was not so bad. But just like for me, passengers also must get used to the facemasks. My very first passenger in months got on my bus without a face mask, so I told him that he is not allowed to travel that way. Miraculously enough, a facemask suddenly appeared out of his pocket, » laughs René. « And this is why I enjoy it so much; no day is the same in this beautiful profession. »

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