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Dissecting the 'Expat Survey': Brussels services

14:55 26/07/2013

The recent no-holds-barred demolition job by Brussels-based French journalist Jean Quatremer about the quality (or lack thereof) of services in Brussels caused a stir among the capital's politicians. Whether what hurt more was the - apparent - cold-heartedness of the Libération correspondent's analysis or the fact that he was a foreigner - and a Frenchman at that. Four minutes into the presentation of the Survey about the Life of the International Community in Brussels, Quatremer's name had already been mentioned twice by the president of the Brussels-Europe Liaison Office, Alain Hutchinson.

Opinions among the international community on the quality of services in Brussels vary greatly and tend to improve the more respondents get to appreciate the idiosyncracies of our capital. Try as they might though, they will never complain as relentlessly and compulsively as the average Brussels native, for whom moaning about public services is second nature.

How often do you use the following modes of transport to get around in Brussels? 

No two ways about it: 26% taking their own car almost every day is way too high - despite the relatively healthy results for the metro service (27%). The meagre 10.8% recorded by the tram service in the 'every day' column may be explained by the fact that no tram line goes to the European quarter. Members of the international community who live in Brussels travel more often on foot than their counterparts in Flanders and Wallonia, which is somewhat unsurprising. 63% of non-Belgians in Brussels (3% more than the average) travel on foot in the city nearly every day.

How would you rate your interaction with the following services?

Figures for non-Belgians are, by and large, very similar, as detailed below. When rating taxi services, the figures are hard to compare as many Belgian respondents chose the “not applicable” option. Telecom providers score a combined negative rating ('poor' + 'very poor') of 48.6%, beating the (un)helpfulness of shop assistants (39.3%) into second place. Must do better.

What do you think of waste collection in Brussels?

Ah, cleanliness. That was - along with the ubiquity of car fumes - the main bone of contention in Quatremer's original piece in Libération. While the results appear to be good, it is essential to point out that the survey was conducted before the recent change in the way recyclables are collected - yellow and blue bags on alternate weeks, which is still proving controversial (at best). A question for those who responded 'not applicable': what exactly do you do with your rubbish?

How would you rate your interaction with your local town hall?

A pleasant surprise here: very decent results all round, especially non-Belgians who have lived here for more than ten years. But the real bombshell is that a majority of Belgians are pleased, sometimes even very much so, with their local authorities. Take it from a native: this was totally unexpected.

How would you rate your interaction with the police?

Predictably, this is the category with the highest percentage of N/As. And yet, the results are encouraging. More non-Belgians than Belgians even rate their dealings with the police as 'very good', although not by much. But still...  Worth noting too that, among non-Belgians, those who have lived here for more than ten years are significantly more dissatisfied with the police than any other group.

Written by PM Doutreligne