Pascal Smet: ‘new citizen’s (mobility) movement beyond party boundaries’
Pascal Smet (sp.a), highly debated Brussels Minister for Mobility and Public Works, diabolized by the taxi sector and even by his own Minister President, wants to prime a new Brussels movement beyond party boundaries, for mobility but also broader ‘citizen’ issues. In an interview with newspaper L’Echo he repeats the idea he launched in a new book.
Smet who is working on a new framework for licensing taxi drivers and Uber drivers alike in Brussels, was taken under fire by Minister President Rudy Vervoort lately saying “Smet is killing the taxi sector and serving Uber”.
On the other hand he is the bogeyman taking on his shoulders all the frustrations of the citizens of a city with over-saturated traffic that is paralyzed by many ongoing road works. That explains the title of a book he published these days: “Pascal Smet, mobile target”.
You are crystallizing all critics for the moment, is that the reason for this book?
“I’m taking a clear position. I have a vision and an ambition for Brussels. And this is not a dream of Pascal Smet. I’ve read a lot, I’ve visited lots of other cities and talked a lot with Brussels’ people. Yes, I want a car-free Roger Square and Flagey Square and reorganize Ninove without cars. The publisher wanted to show people who I am and why I make these choices. I want to turn this city-for-the-car into a city-for-the-people”.
“This irritates Brussels’ citizens and those not living in Brussels who want to do everything by car. A regional minister has to take his responsibilities. I don’t want to make compromises without a face, like they did in the past. I make choices, so I attract attention. For me the public space is the extension of the living room.”
You are not deliberately creating disorder to support your ideas?
“No! On the Avenue Fonsny we had casualties. The only way to make it safer was to create one lane and protect the cyclists. At Roosevelt and Général Jacques people say it gives it more style. Traffic works keep on dragging, that’s something I understand and we took measures to shorten the delays.”
“But there is one fundamental thing to say about these works: I’m not the only one to decide. There are 19 aldermen for Mobility in the Brussels’ communities and 19 aldermen for public works. Maybe we should simplify things.”
“Regionalizing public utilities for instance, like water provider Vivaqua. Today they all have to pass separately on a road wharf: Vivaqua (water), Sibelga (gas), Proximus (telecom) and then we are coming in. That are four building contractors. In Brussels structures are not optimized to come to a decision fast and to start realizing it. I’m not afraid to say this out loud and this irritates some people”.
Rudy Vervoort (PS) is saying that you want the death of the taxi sector and that you’re driving for Uber?
“I was very surprised by his reaction. All that I did in the dossier of the taxi sector was approved by the Brussels government. The latest draft was accepted to execute the approval of the government. I’m not for or against Uber.”
“To make the comparison with Airbnb: the hotel sector never asked to forbid Airbnb because they now this can’t be stopped. They want a legal framework to guarantee a fair competition. That’s exactly what I proposed and what is approved by the government. But part of the employers of the taxi sector want to stop Uber and go back to the situation of 2013.”
Uber has been convicted…
“UberPop, yes, with people without a taxi license. Uber X works with people with a license. I’m not Uber’s advocate, but lots of Brussels citizens use the service or work for them. I’m in favour of an ideological debate, but we need a fair framework for everybody”.
Are you willing to compensate for these licenses?
“Yes, I’m open to this for good willing people who have bought a license. But we can’t continue to protect a monopoly. That is not good for the sector, not good for the client and not good for the city. The sector is going to evolve towards the renting of cars with a driver with a reinforced statute. And Uber isn’t satisfied with that because we enforce a framework on them”.
In your book you defend the idea of creating a new movement… that you can develop?
“On the question of the future of Brussels, yes. We have to mobilize the people beyond party boundaries. Lots of people have the same ideas for the city as the ones I defend, but they are member of a different party or are not engaged politically. The momentum is there to gather them in a ‘coalition of the willing”.
Under what form?
“A citizen movement, not a political party. A kind of urban project. I’m talking about social cohesion too, of education for instance where the children of Brussels today don’t have the potential to become what they could become. We have to give the right to vote to all European people living in Brussels too. Short, we need a change of ambition.
How far are you with the plan?
“I’m talking to people. I won’t give you names. This is something for the citizens. People of Brussels want things to speed up, that we dare to do things, that we have the ambition…”