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De Lijn boss suggests cuts to free travel and rural services
De Lijn CEO Roger Kesteloot has called for a review of the availability of public transport in sparsely populated areas, while increasing investment in urban areas. He also called into question free travel for seniors, suggesting instead a set of “social tariffs” for anyone on a low income.
The government’s decree on mobility states that no-one should have to travel more than 750 metres to reach a bus or tram stop, which costs De Lijn €121.5 million a year, Kesteloot said, adding that it is no longer affordable to stick to that decree.
De Lijn has to be “more creative” in finding ways to offer basic services to everyone, he said, suggesting more belbus services – where buses only come to a stop when a passenger orders it in advance. He also suggested taxis as a possible substitutes for a regular bus route that often find the bus empty.
The job of De Lijn, according to Flemish mobility minister Hilde Crevits, “is to transport people. … The service has already been cut in recent years”. She also stressed that no government before this one has spent more on new tram routes and major bus and tram construction orders.
Crevits cited the Spartacus tram project in Limburg between Hasselt and Maastricht, as well as the three new tram routes in Flemish Brabant linking Brussels with towns such as Tervuren, Grimbergen, Ninove and Zaventem. “It is important to keep on investing in all forms of mobility, including road projects as well as new public transport infrastructure,” she said.
The government of Flanders took the opportunity to announce its plan to finance shuttle buses to carry workers to remote workplaces. The shuttles could be operated by public or private interests, to be financed with a public budget currently standing at €3.1 million.
Initially, investment would go to help establish nascent projects in the ports of Ghent and Zeebrugge and the left bank area of Linkeroever in Antwerp. The only condition for new projects is that the area is not already covered by De Lijn, Crevits said.
Johan Truyens of Okra, the organisation that represents seniors, meanwhile, told Radio 1 that he feared another series of cuts such as those that followed a review in 2012. “A lot of lines were suspended, especially in rural areas,” he said. “There were also a lot of stops scrapped in rural areas. We received a lot of complaints from pensioners. They’re the ones who mainly make use of public transport during the daytime” outside of commuter rushes.
According to the public works section of the Christian trade union ACV, there is no need to choose between the right to basic mobility and investment in urban networks. The imperative now is to ensure public transport is as fast and efficient as possible.
Their socialist counterparts, ACOD, agree: “Investment in urban networks cannot be at the expense of regional areas,” spokesperson Rita Coeck said. “It’s easy to say public transport is not needed in rural areas. In fact it’s not an either-or situation.”
photo courtesy De Lijn