We had an amazing time in Maastricht but one thing we should mention before moving on to the next wonderful town was how we came to see the once-in-seven-years Procession of the Relics (previous blog). We had planned for that Sunday to make a tour via Gulpen by bus, around 25 kilometres away, to see something of the countryside and surrounding towns.
We visited the Veolia ticketing office at the bus station for our usual reccie the day before departure, checking on access and timetables etc. Although there was a ramp to one side of the office when we went to use it we were ‘barred’ by a man standing there sucking at his
cigarette. No access here. So in I went up the one step while Stewart sat outside the glass door looking in. I explained we wanted a wheelchair accessible bus, “Yes” he said. But my husband can’t come in here he has to sit outside, as I pointed to the little face peering in optimistically. The Veolia man shrugged his shoulders and said we should take line 57 to Gulpen and we will see the beautiful countryside and towns – they run every hour at weekends (tomorrow being Sunday).
So on the Sunday morning we dressed up for our days outing and set off to the bus stop (beside the Veolia office, closed today) about 1.5 kilometres from our mooring in
t’Bassin. Waiting with us was a dapperly dressed man a little older than ourselves who chatted to us and confirmed what a lovely trip we were in store for – he takes it often. Great value at only €5.50 for the round trip (day pass) and you can get off anywhere and back on again later. He then wanted to know what zodiac signs we were, and felt quite
comfortable with one Aquarian and a Libran .. and we were a bit grateful when the bus
arrived, we didn’t want too much astrological analysis. Stewart waved the bus down (to make it clear we will be boarding through the middle via the ramp) and our dapper man boarded ahead of me. But we noticed the bus driver was shaking his head.. to our disbelief he would not open the doors for access to the ramp.
Assuming it didn’t work we offered our own small ramp (on the back of the chair).. NO. “We are not allowed to take electric wheelchairs”, he said. That’s not possible we said. We’ve used the buses (where they have the big wheelchair ‘handicap’ logo like this one) in every country to date. He went to another bus driver and came back and said ‘No’. And drove off without us. Why didn’t he let us on the bus when the ticketing officer yesterday said it was wheelchair accessible, and it clearly was. The driver said it was only electric wheelchairs not allowed.. the ticketing officer saw Stewart so why didn’t he tell us: not accessible with an electric wheelchair?
We were left standing, stunned. We had never been rejected like this..when we see the wheelchair logo it always means we’re included. But this time it didn’t mean a thing .. it was in fact a big slamming of the door in our face so to speak.
We dusted ourselves off .. looked around us at another line of buses going into Belgium (the border being only a few kilometres away) and if one had come along we’d have hopped into it no matter where it was going – we know the Lijn buses from our time in Belgium and they are excellent and welcoming. Instead we went slowly back into town conjuring up Plan B as we walked. Well.. the rest you know. If we didn’t get this huge rejection we would have been on our way to Gulpen, with our dapper man and his interest in zodiac signs, and would not have seen the Procession of the Relics.
And another good thing about this bus rejection.. we called the Veolia Transport customer service on Monday and asked why on earth we were barred from using the wheelchair
They didn’t really explain why.. but they said that they organise wheelchair accessible taxis for electric wheelchairs but we need to book ahead. This we did and the following day, our last in Maastricht, we set off to Gulpen.. although not on the tourist route, we had to go straight there via the motorway.
We had a lovely days outing.. rather odd using a dedicated taxi which, our drivers advised us, would have cost €50 each way. Also, these vans were fit for purpose and every safety precaution was taken – unlike like those in Verdun and Namur (Vetos) which meant Stewart couldn’t sit upright because the roof was so low! These Maastricht taxis were perfect – and another big plus, we didn’t pay a centime. All supplied by Veolia. How strange the whole affair was.
It turned out this seems to be the only region in the Netherlands where they don’t allow electric wheelchairs on their buses.. since this rejection, we had absolutely no problems in Heusden (for example) and what a delight to be able to use the buses the same as everyone else!