I took the Belgian railway station this morning to go from Antwerp to Amsterdam (trip of 2h20 minutes). I booked my ticket the day before and have a discount card because I travel quite a lot to the Netherlands with the train. So I could buy my ticket at 19,10 euro’s but I forgot that my train left Antwerp at 8:45 and the discount starts officially at 9:00. But hey, 15 minutes on a train-trip of almost 2,5 hours (and I believe in taking some risks can’t be bad for a person). But I didn’t have luck and my ticket was controlled already after 5 minutes. I immediately told the nice lady that I booked my ticket the day before + I forgot the fact that the discount starts at 9:00 so I asked if I should pay a little bit extra. And yes, … I had to pay: 6 euro for the part between Belgium and the Netherlands (before 9:00) + 8 euro extra as a ‘penalty’ because I bought the ticket on the train. Mmm, not so nice because that’s already 2/3 of my normal ticket.
The lady also felt a little bit guilty but said ‘These are the rules and I have to follow them”. And then she mentioned that there was a special ticket in January to travel to Amsterdam for 19 euro’s (even without discount cards) AND you could use them before 9:00. It would have been very easy for her to consider my ticket as ‘this special ticket’ (By the way: I didn’t spot that ticket on the website – why didn’t they give that option when I was buying my ticket???) because I am a regular client of the Belgian railway organisation; I was honest and immediately mentioned my mistake; and apparently there was a promotion at this moment to travel for the same price. But rules are rules …
I’m sure that you have been in a similar situation where the ‘rules are rules’ -principle felt a bit awkward for both parties (client and supplier/officer/employee). Rules are rules on paper but in reality we have a lot of different shades of black and white. The reality is not always so clear. I’m aware that in some cases, you have to stick to the rules no matter what (in cases of safety or if important stuff is happening). But wouldn’t it be great that in some cases the rules are considered as guidelines and the organisation gives responsibility back to the people who do the work every day? Wouldn’t it be great to reconsider (a part of) a rule in the context of the situation? Wouldn’t it be great if organisations would trust their own employees again and let them make the best choice possible at that moment (even if that means that they interpret the rules a bit broader than it’s meant on paper)?
And here’s a nice movie (in dutch) about the ‘dark side’ of bureaucracy (following the rules too strict).
And @NMBS, thank you for the inspiration for this article.