Sunday, July 29, 2007

A little history of Fuddenheim

The last decades a little war has been fought in the small town of Fuddenheim, located near the border between the Principality of Liechtenwald and South Prussia. A group of private citizens, led by Rinus Poortvliet and Rik de Knegt from Belgium, decided some 15 years ago to introduce free public transport in order to combat air pollution and congestion. Donations allowed them to buy a few buses which were operated by volunteers.

At first, the commercial public transport company Omnifast GmbH hardly reacted. The schedules of the new service, called Linexx eV, weren't very attractive to the general public, they said, and on top of that they operated just a few lines. Commercial transport was much more professional and offered more choice.

However, the free transport slowly became a hit and Omnifast couldn't ignore it anymore. So they hired a performance testing company called Artibus to compare both offerings. It published the report a little later, showing that a comparable ride with the free service took a lot longer and required more transfers. Careful investigation showed that the research was rigged. Measurements of Omnifast were excluding the waiting time required and were restricted to the lines were Omnifast offered a direct service.

But dedicated to offer the best possible service, Linexx quickly improved their shortcomings. Now Omnifast was really in trouble. "Once you start using this service, you can never transfer to our professional services again." the chairman of Omnifast raged "This is a thing the General Conditions of Use (GCU) of Linexx explicitly prohibit." Which was not true. Omnifast was just not allowed to charge passengers for that part of the trip which was traveled with Linexx coaches. "Communism, that's what it is!" the chairman cried "They want us all to work for free!"

Omnifast launched a big publicity campaign which they baptized "Raffst du es nicht?" (Don't you get it?) in order to scare away potential passengers, saying that although the service was free additional costs made it very expensive. For instance, if you used a prepaid Omnifast Travelcard. All of them were performed by Artibus, which continued to claim that "although they were sponsored by Omnifast, they had no influence on the methodology used or the findings" which of course nobody took serious.

A small local taxi company called Fuddenheim Taxi Gesellschaft (FTG), which had been hired by Linexx from time to time to provide additional vehicles, now claimed that buses from Linexx were using dedicated taxi lanes and required a fee for their use. Linexx asked which lines were affected, so they could be rerouted. FTG answered "they could not say which ones, but there were many".

After years in court it became clear that there were hardly any 'dedicated taxi lanes' in Fuddenheim at all. Rumors said Omnifast was behind the claim, but that was never proved. Due to the negative publicity, FTG lost many customers and is now on the brink of bankruptcy.

In the meanwhile, Omnifast was developing a new service, a project which was delayed over and over again and when it was finally introduced, customers were disappointed. All they got was a refurbished bus. In the beginning Omnifast claimed had they attracted many new customers, a claim they were unable to uphold.

Recently, a small group of volunteers made an agreement with Omnifast. Omnifast agreed to give away free Linexx vouchers. Furthermore both companies were allowed to use each others 'dedicated bus lanes'. "Not that we are using any dedicated bus lanes from Omnifast", a spokesman of the dissident Linexx volunteers hastened to say "We just want to make sure that if we do, our customers won't have to pay an additional fare."

The other volunteers of Linexx reacted quickly and changed the GCU, making an agreement like this impossible. Omnifast in response hired the headmaster of the local business school. "Most volunteers of Linexx don't want to change the GCU" the local newspaper 'Die Woche' reported "Most of them even think it is smart to cooperate with commercial transport companies". It proved he had interviewed only three drivers, of which two weren't even working for Linexx.

The end of the story is that the chairman of Omnifast yelled "Linexx is using our dedicated bus lanes, but we won't tell which ones." When asked, he grumbled again: "We may go to court one day. But not now." Linexx reacted quickly, saying "We're sure Omnifast is using some of our lanes too. If they sue, we sue. But maybe it is better to refrain from having dedicated bus lanes altogether. Life is much easier that way." Which may prove to be true, because later 'Die Woche' found out that lines downtown were not covered by the Omnifast agreement.

The small war rages on in the streets of Fuddenheim. It just illustrates once more time how ridiculous people can get. We'll keep you informed.

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