Mobility: who is going to unravel the tangle?
The big stand-still on the roads costs Belgium 8 billion euro a year in prosperity. Last week the new chairman of the Belgium employers’ organization VBO/FEB, Bernard Gilliot, stated a long-lasting solution for the traffic jams is a top priority. And the company car will be the first target. For the first time employers and unions venture to find an alternative. They hope for an agreement on the “mobility budget” by Eastern.
Mobility budget: not an Audi, but a bike
The introduction of a ‘mobility budget’ as an alternative for the 400.000 company cars was already part of the government policy statement of MIchel I. With the mobility budget employees can choose the way they want to commute from home to work. So that can be by bike instead of an expensive Audi. Making the change-over compulsory could be a bridge to far for the social partners, especially for the employers.
The mobility budget could really change commuter-traffic if at the same time a large spectrum of mobility alternatives from car- or bike-sharing to better train and tram connections is offered, mobility expert Griet De Ceuster from the research institute Transport&Mobility hopes. But this is not obvious.
A lot of questions remain: who is going to get this mobility budget? What about the part of the budget that remains unused? What can I buy for this? How to prevent abuse? The union is a fervent advocate of a clear definition and the Confederation of Christian Trade Unions (ACV/CSC) even wants to force companies to draw up a mobility plan.
Pay-as-you-drive: price tag of 2.000 euro
The kilometer tax for trucks was introduced in April 2016, but according to Daan Schalck, chairman of the Flanders Mobility Council (MORA), it’s an illusion to think this will ease the pressure on the traffic jams. “That’s because trucks only account for 10% of the traffic”, Griet De Ceuster adds.
Mario Coppons, top guy of the liberal union ACLVB /CGSLB doesn’t like the kilometer tax system. He thinks it’s totally unfair, unless someone’s income is taken into account. “You can’t make people with a low income pay as much as somebody with a high income”. If you count 13 euro cents per kilometer, the average commuter-traffic of 30 km adds up to 2.000 euro a year. The employers organization VBO/FEB is an advocate of a ‘smart kilometer tax’, dependent on the point in time of the day. Griet De Ceuster is a supporter of a smart tax too: this way you can apply more expensive tariffs for older, more polluting cars. But this system will be complicated for the motorist. “Why not simply raise the traffic tax on diesel cars and company cars?”.`
Public transport: commuter-traffic is first priority
“For the public transport sector it’s clear the top priority is commuter-traffic”, says Daan Schalk. The social partners also agree on this, but the policy of savings worries them. Soon the Central Business Council will take a look at the tariffs policy and a better way to harmonize the transport supply. Griet De Ceuster thinks it’s time to debate the future role of public transport. Does government has to pay for basic mobility for everyone? It costs lots of money to organize public transport in every corner of Flanders. “Little budget is allocated to projects to mitigate traffic jams”, Frank Van Thillo from Flanders Mobility Council (MORA) says.”There is 2.5 million euro available through the shuttle fund (Pendelfonds), but that’s to much a subsidy. The social partners should contribute too. For years they didn’t have an eye for the mobility issue.”
Quick wins: to much emphasis on prestige projects
Except for bike-sharing in big cities, Daan Schalk from MORA doesn’t believe in quick wins. He thinks mobility should be part of spacial planning from the start. When a new hospital or football stadium is planned, mobility should be a major concern. Griet De Ceuster believes in quick wins. “In Flanders there’s a lot of emphasis on prestige projects and government has no eye for small interventions at low cost, from better harmonization of traffic lights to adaptation of traffic lanes”, she says. According to De Ceuster government is focusing to much on highways, while most traffic jams occur on local roads. Witch doesn’t mean investing in missing links like the Antwerp ring road isn’t necessary.