I would like to relate a shocking incident that occured on a Bratislava tram on November 10 involving my pregnant wife and our 10-month-old baby. I use the word 'shocking' because I would never have believed that anyone could behave in such a crude and vulgar manner to a pregnant woman pushing a child in a stroller.
My wife, who is Slovak and whose father, Štefan Šlachta is a member of parliament, got on the number 9 tram (#7843) at 3:15 in the afternoon. She happened to enter the tram with the stroller through the 'wrong door' - through the middle doors rather than the one next to the driver - but once inside went immediately to the front of the car and sat in the proper seat.
That's when the trouble started. The driver got out of his cab and headed straight towards her. He started to yell at her and demanded she get off the tram, which she refused to do. She explained that she was pregnant and cannot easily move around, especially with a little child in a stroller. This seemed to anger him even more, and he started to swear and curse at her. He called her stupid for not knowing the rules, and used such crude and vulgar words that she would not repeat them to me when she told me later what had happened.
This driver yelled so much that my wife and the baby began to cry. At one point he even raised his hand as if to hit her, but did not (probably because there were many people watching). Finally, he told her he would not drive on until she got off the tram. He called the police and the tram office and then went outside for a smoke. My wife was so terrified that she was shaking in her seat and unable to move.
It's hard to believe that this went on for over 20 minutes. There were five or six trams lined up behind the one on which my wife was being cursed, and a crowd began to form around the driver with passengers telling him to leave the woman alone and just drive the tram. Even other tram drivers told him to forget it and get moving, but he would listen to no one.
Finally, my wife and the baby relaxed enough to be able to get off the tram. As they were leaving he said to her "I knew I would get you off the tram," ending the sentence with a swear word. As she walked away crying, the other passengers apologised for the driver's stupidity. The irony of it all is that she had only wanted to go one stop because she was too tired to walk.
Is it such a crime to get on a tram through the wrong doors? Did my wife deserve to be humiliated, cursed and frightened? What are drivers taught to do when a woman with a baby uses the wrong door? Has this particular tram driver done this sort of thing before? I may never know the answers to these questions, but one thing I do know is that things like this happen all too frequently. Since this incident we have spoken to many people about it, and we have been told two things: one, that this type of thing is quite common because there is a shortage of tram drivers and they hire just about anyone, and two, that we should not bother to complain because nothing will happen.
Perhaps this letter will change nothing, but it may prompt other people who have been mistreated by tram drivers to write letters, and may finally convince transit authorities that the public will no longer tolerate rude and vulgar behaviour from transit drivers.
29. Nov 1999 at 0:00