Katie Askew

Strike That

Katie Askew
Strike That

Europe is great for many things—the wine, the culture, the food, the laidback lifestyle. But sometimes the public transportation strikes a nerve.

Transportation strikes (les gréves in French) are a real and ever-present annoyance to everyone attempting to travel in Europe. Bus drivers, trains conductors, airplane pilots, and ports are all prone to going on strike and ruining all travel plans at any given moment. Strikes range from cancelling all transportation for a day or so to running a different route with less stops per day to delaying stops throughout the day. But, sometimes protests cause entire train stations or bus stops to be skipped because of safety issues. Either way, it's inconvenient for the millions of people using public transportation everyday, but that’s the point, isn’t it? It gets the workers’ cause noticed quickly.

The strikes are usually always because of a need for better pay or working conditions and sometimes they’re planned far in advance so you might be able to schedule around them. Although, there was a strike in Marseille in 2013 because the workers didn’t like the new color of their uniforms (they were lavender) and the drivers thought their pants were too tight.

Basically, workers can basically strike about anything as long as they’re organized enough.

Last weekend, Carlotta, my friend in Monaco, and I attempted to plan an overnight trip to Marseille, France. We planned to hop on a public bus from Monaco to the Nice airport and then take another large coach bus from Nice to Marseille. The whole trip would've been less than four hours with stops included, so we decided to save money by purchasing bus tickets rather than train tickets since we weren't going too far. We booked a cheap Airbnb in Marseille for the night and bought our insanely cheap bus tickets (15 Euro or about $17 round trip!) and planned our short getaway.

We woke up early to catch our bus on Thursday only to find that the French bus system was entirely stopped or slowed for the foreseeable future. Instead of 8 busses running from Nice to Marseille, there was only one. The chances of us getting stuck in Nice were high, so we decided to cancel the trip.

This strike was because French workers want better better pay and working conditions for the bus, train, and airline employees. The unions are now planned to strike one day a week through July 2016 until the government hears their labor reform protests. The news reports say that more than 20 percent of flights out of Paris Orly Airport are cancelled due to strikes, and more than 200 miles of traffic jams are caused throughout France because public transport isn’t available. All of this was just days before Monaco’s Grand Prix race and a few weeks before the Euro 2016 football tournament. It’s safe to say that a lot of people were freaking out.

Not surprising, but bus drivers in Monaco never strike because their pay is much, much better than the average public transportation workers of France (and, if it matters, they’re uniforms aren’t lavender!). I call this the “Monaco Bubble” where everything seems to be perfect all the time.

So what options do you have if your fun plans are thwarted at the last minute?

  • Bla Bla car: This rideshare service is a start-up company similar to Uber. But, instead of hiring a driver to come pick you up and drop you off, you can search for normal people traveling with an extra seat in their car offering rides to passengers to and from destinations. It’s the largest long-distance ridesharing platform out there and is basically a safer, planned version of hitch hiking. Using BlaBla Car requires a little bit of trust in strangers and lot of patience, since you’re basically riding on someone else’s schedule.
  • Check the national railway or bus services website for your country: Although most strikes are random, sometimes strikes are planned weeks in advance or happen on the same day every week. In Italy, a typical strike will cancel the last couple trains on Fridays or call for busses to stop running on Friday afternoons. If you plan ahead, you can schedule around the strike and keep traveling.
  • Tolerate change, have patience, and go with the flow: Sometimes life’s seemingly ruined plans can turn into an adventure. Instead of seeing your trip ruined or your travel itinerary thrown off, view the transportation strike as an extra day in the city you’re visiting and a chance to experience a real issue in Europe. They deal with strikes all the time, so consider yourself a local and enjoy the ride.