Friday, 19 March 2021
Bus passengers in Brussels have cheerfully reported that one aspect of taking public transport has given them unexpected joy during these challenging times crowded by the coronavirus.
What it that aspect? Layla Rifi, a STIB bus driver who has been gaining praise from Twitter, local media, and Tiktok as she goes about her job.
Rifi has been a bus driver for Brussels’ public transport company STIB for two years now and repeatedly receives praise for her treatment of passengers, with one recent tweet describing her habit of seeing passengers off with a kind word as a “rare and nice touch”.
Bravo to the lady driving the number 80 @STIBMIVB bus towards Porte de Namur just now, shouting bonjour/au revoir/bonne journée to every passenger. Rare and nice touch!
— Tim McPhie (@TimMcPhieEU) March 17, 2021
“It is true that people are not used to this kind of behaviour,” Rifi told The Brussels Times, “but I really love my work, and I don’t see myself as just a bus driver. I consider it part of my job to make sure people feel comfortable.”
People are often surprised by her enthusiasm, and sometimes don’t know how to react to it. “Sometimes 20 people get on the bus, and no one responds when I say hello, which makes me sad, but it’s just not a habit of theirs, they don’t expect us to just speak to them without there being a reason behind it.”
Sometimes, however, the reaction she gets is that of complete joy.
One passenger, an older woman, even cried when Rifi waited for her to find a seat safely before driving the bus. “She came to thank me, saying that in 45 years of taking public transport, no one had ever made her feel special when on the bus,” said Rifi.
Rifi emphasised that, to her, this is nothing special: “ I don’t do it for a special reason, I think you should do things well or not at all. Just driving my bus and not looking at people at all, that’s not for me.”
Rifi’s platform also stretches beyond her bus route to the social media platform TikTok, where she makes videos highlighting the bus rules for her 37,600 followers, covering topics from informing passengers on how to wear their masks on public transport to telling them not to eat on the bus.
@laylalili57voici comme promis une nouvelle annonce de nos bus. ♥️♥️ #busdriver #tiktokbelgium #stib #pourtoi #musique #passager #annonce♬ Fever – Dua Lipa & Angele
“People have problems with all the rules, and when you just tell them off, they get angry. It all depends on your tone, so I decided to change my tactic. I make a funny joke about it and then they do what I ask them to,” she explained.
Despite the positive reactions she gets, Rifi understands why her colleagues don’t do the same, saying it is not very easy to treat people the way she does in this job.
“So it is not evident and when I ask my colleagues they say nobody ever responds. So I say okay, yes but who has the wrong attitude?” Rifi said. “Is it you for saying hello or them for not responding? And I say it is them, why should you change your behaviour it is they who should be improving.”
The company has also been made aware of the effect Rifi has on customers, with many compliments sent through Instagram and even directly to its office, resulting in them calling her a real “ambassador of STIB,” Guy Sablon, spokesperson for STIB, told The Brussels Times.
When STIB receives positive feedback from passengers, it passes it on internally to the manager of the employee and it is then added to the employee’s file as a recognition of their good deed or hard work.
“Within STIB, there is an opportunity to rise in the ranks, and having this on your file can really help employees with their applications when they are looking to move to a higher position within the company,” said Sablon.
For Rifi, the reactions are praise enough. “The response of people to my behaviour is my favourite part of the job, all the people who leave my bus with a smile make me happy and that is also what motivates me to keep saying hello,” she explained.
“I don’t do it for a special reason, I do it because this is how I do my work. And if afterwards, I hear people are happy, then that’s even better.”
Lauren Walker & Jules Johnston
The Brussels Times