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Stop the traffic: The alternatives to owning a car in Brussels
The global consensus is that city planners need to address three key areas: improving public transport, promoting biking and walking, and creating human-centred cities that bring shops and offices closer to where people live. The Brussels Capital region supports the first two and says it is committed to reducing road traffic by 20% by 2018; more realistically, it has given itself 10 years to tackle the problem and reverse years of pro-car policies. With Brussels and Antwerp among Europe’s most congested cities, it’s a priority issue for the whole country.
Brussels’ public transport network, operated by Stib/MIVB, runs across the city and links to the national airport at Zaventem. With one ticket valid for an hour on all the network’s buses, trams and metros, it’s usually a quick and cheap way to get around, though it can get complicated if you want to cross from one region to another, and overground transport can be caught up in traffic jams. Plans are afoot to build a new €1.6 billion north-south metro line, but that’s not due until 2025.
More and more options are popping up as the sharing economy continues to grow. Car-sharing is designed for short journeys. On top of a registration fee, you pay for the time you have the car and the distance you cover, accessing the car at any time from pick-up points that are accessible on foot or by public transport. Cambio is the best-known and has a useful app; Stib’s Mobib passes double as Cambio access cards. DriveNow, Ubeeqo and Zipcar run similar schemes. If you’re more concerned about reducing emissions, consider the electric Zen Car, though there are fewer vehicles and it’s more expensive. Carpool, run by Taxistop, is useful for commuters, while Cozycar is good for neighbourhood groups. If you want to tackle the school run, consider Schoolpool, while BlaBlaCar and Karzoo are best for longer journeys. Hitchhikers can consult vap-vap.be for short distances.
Collecto is a shared night-time taxi service available at 200 Stib/MIVB stops, run by Taxis Verts. It costs €5 for Mobib holders and €6 for others, with up to four passengers per car. Taxi2Share is an alternative Brussels ride-sharing company, while apps like Splyt and eCab allow you to book taxis singly or arrange a shared ride.
Brussels’ Villo bike-sharing scheme is competitively priced and saw more than 1.5 million hires in 2016, though distribution and condition of bikes could be improved. There are similar schemes in Antwerp and Namur. Blue Bike is run by rail operator SNCB/NMBS, providing a link between the railway station and home, while you can rent electric bikes from Cycad, based in Schaerbeek, where they also make bikes from bamboo. A handful of city streets give priority to cyclists, but Brussels could still improve its bike paths, extending them and making them safer.
The regional S Train express service linking suburbs with the main Brussels network was launched in 2015. It operates in 143 stations, but services are under threat of being restricted. Braine-le-Comte, Nivelles, Louvain-la-Neuve, Zottegem, Aalst, Dendermonde, Mechelen and Leuven are all connected to the service.
The most eco-friendly way of getting around is undoubtedly walking, which is also the healthy option (if you discard the increasingly frightening pollution figures). For short journeys, it may even be the fastest option, and is definitely the best way to explore the city. While not perfect, the pedestrianisation of streets around the Bourse has definitely favoured walkers; Place Luxembourg may follow suit, and Ghent has introduced a new mobility plan that increases pedestrian areas in the city.
Employers need to be more flexible, encouraging home working and flexible timetables as well as car-sharing, according to the Fédération des Entreprises de Belgique. In its publication on Belgium’s transport system, it states that less than 10% of companies implement such solutions but about half are optimistic about introducing them in the future. Employers are also waiting for a signal from the public authorities in the form of tax incentives. It wants to see mobility cards for workers that provide access to sustainable transport and increased investment in rail and road transport, as well as inter-federal solutions.