“Brussels is slowly getting stuck.”
Former CEO of Brussels public transport company STIB/MIVB Alain Flausch leaves the Union of Public Transport which he has lead for 6 years. He is disappointed about Brussels and Belgium as a whole: “We should take other cities as an example,” he claims.
In his 6 years as Secretary-General of the international Union of Public Transport the 67-year old Belgian has seen a lot of cities in the world, large ones and smaller ones, and heard al lot of ideas, good ones and bad ones.
He’s not positive about “his” city, Brussels: more traffic jams, slower public transport, biking practically non-existent, he draws a morose portrait of the European capital. “What I see here is not very stimulating. I’m not very optimistic: Brussels is very slowly getting completely stuck.”
Public transport and leadership
A private car is far more convenient and comfortable than public transport for the normal customer: “public transport’s first goal is to facilitate life for his customers. But where other European cities seem to have understood this, Brussels is lagging far behind.”
The countries or cities where there is true progress in city mobility are those who have clearly defined institutions, like Transport of London, Stif in Paris or Land Transport authority in Singapore.” Authorities over there are responsible for all mobility aspects and have enough leverage to realise what politicians decide.
“In Brussels we lack an intermediate technical corps with a real tactical vision,” complains Flausch. “Here the political responsible even decides about knobs and doorhandles, but isn’t prepared to tackle the challenges from tomorrow like Uber, free biking, autonomous cars.”
Of course technology will aid the customer in search of mobility in many different ways, “but in Belgium there’s a serious lack of leadership in these matters, politicians are still very scared of the car lobby. Where mobility has become one of the major problems for many citizens, I don’t see one government responsible standing out and saying ‘That’s the way to go’.”
“We need a big national mobility plan. I proposed such a thing in 2005, but was immediately countered by several politicians ‘because I was federalising mobility again’. What a big mistake! Belgium only gets into action when a crisis is looming, we have no tradition in long term planning. Mobility wise we repeat the same things for several decades now, but we don’t realise them.”
Flausch insists on the fact that a good mobility plan is far less complicated than, for example, the wing of an airplane. “Brussels is not and will never be a pioneering city in these matters. Let’s follow examples then. I’ll take Copenhagen as an example: public transport and biking get far more space there, car speed is restricted to 20 km/h, when it snows cyclist paths are cleaned in priority. That is a clear and understandable political message.”
Apparently nobody understands that the final winners of such ‘draconic measures’ are the cities and their inhabitants. “Of course in an institutional swamp like Brussels it’s much easier to say no than to say yes. And there are enough other partners and coalition parties to blame when things go wrong, especially when they all have different political interests and agendas.”