A Safe, Secure and Nuisance-free Public Transportation Experience: How Ghent is Inspiring Mutual Respect
Ticket controller to teen: "What really annoys you about taking the bus?"

With these words, another chapter of a programme dedicated to encouraging Ghent's adolescents to respect public transportation while boosting safety and security begins.

Now in its fourth school year, the "Trammelant" programme reaches an estimated 2,000 children each year through approximately 15 school visits in Ghent and the surrounding areas.

Trammelant (which literally translates to "hassle" or "fuss") is made possible in part thanks to assistance from the EU's CIVITAS Initiative ( CIVITAS funding helps cities achieve a more sustainable, clean and energy efficient urban transport system through various technology- and policy-based measures.

Tim Surmont, the leader of the Trammelant programme in Ghent, said "To increase the safety and security of public transportation, we developed Trammelant. It preventively inspires the students, rather than delivering repressive lectures. I believe more in preventing bad behaviour. Although it is more time consuming, it's better to stop something that hasn't already happened, than to try to punish troublemakers."

Trammelant's approach turns traditional education approaches inside out: instead of delivering pedantic sermons to the 14, 15 and 16 year old students, the De Lijn team that runs the educational programme engages in true dialogue. The teen participants are asked open questions: "What do you like about the tram? How could ticket controllers make life easier for you?..." and teens also ask open questions of the controllers. The De Lijn training team discusses what they do not like about passenger behaviour, stopping short of saying to the teens "DON'T do XYZ". De Lijn's research shows that students do not react well to being scolded, or being told, for example, "It's against the rules to spray paint." Rather, talking to them respectfully, in an adult fashion, is far more effective.

Programme Components

The first step in the three-stage Trammelant orientation is a classroom visit. A team of three De Lijn employees visits a school. Two ticket controllers and one driver engage in a structured role reversal with the students. Through this discussion the adolescents come to appreciate that they are respected by the trainers.

Next, the class, which is usually composed of about 20 students, makes a day-long visit using public transportation to the De Lijn depot situated on the outskirts of Ghent. En route, students witness a controller conducting a ticket check. Home to 80 trams and 130 buses, the depot provides the ultimate hands-on learning experience. Every visit comprises a variety of activities, which are decided based on the interests of the participants.

Students experience a real "emergency stop" on a tram, and see the required behind-the-scenes operations of such a stop. Through this exercise they realise all of the consequences when an emergency stop is pulled.

A visit to the mechanics area reveals to students the work involved in removing graffiti. In fact, the teens are invited to deface a surface with spray paint - and then attempt to clean it. With this demonstration, they realise the work involved by mechanics crews in cleaning up graffiti-covered surfaces.

"This is a very hands-on, and very visual activity, and perhaps one of our most effective demonstrations," said Surmont. "The youngsters see for themselves how much time and work it takes to remove graffiti. This approach is incredibly effective."

One of the afternoon sessions at the depot is dedicated to showing students how a public transportation network is managed. Students watch the operations in the dispatching area, and view the massive screens that show De Lijn staff where Ghent's buses and trams are located at any given moment.

A "Trammelantbus" was developed late in 2009 to introduce programme participants to several other aspects of on-board safety and security. A cost-price game engages students to tag damaged parts of the bus (torn seats, broken windows) with the correct price for fixing it. Seldom do teenagers appreciate that a slash in the upholstery of a bus seat can cost 329 euros to repair.

The visit to the depot concludes with a safety exercise. Often students do not realise the safety hazard, not to mention the nuisance, imposed by placing their bookbags and other belongings in the aisles of a bus or tram. A simulation of a vehicle fire takes place, with the students on board. To make the evacuation exercise fully realistic, a smoke generator emits a curtain of fog, making it nearly impossible for the students to see more than one metre in front of them.

"The simulation of an on-board fire really hits home with many of the students," said Surmont. "Following the exercise, we always hear students saying, 'Wow, I had no idea' that it would be so difficult to get off the bus in a fire, especially when we block the escape routes with our belongings."

Peer-to-peer communication is widely accepted as one of the most effective forms of spreading a message. De Lijn has maximised on this principle by leveraging the knowledge of the classes that visit the depot. One or two weeks after the depot visit, the Trammelantbus visits the school, and students who visited the depot act as a training team, explaining to their peers the importance of safety, the effects of vandalism, and how their behaviour can impact others.

Is it working?

The programme reports success. "It's measurable," says Surmont. De Lijn follows nine sources of nuisance incidents. "Every three months we see changes in nuisance patterns which we track as part of our safety monitoring system. Where Trammelant has been shared, there is often a decrease in the incidents," he said. "That's proof, in part, that the programme is working."

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