CEO De Lijn: ‘Motorist will only use public transport if it goes as fast as a car’
In an opinion article in newspaper De Tijd, Roger Kesteloot, Director-General of the Flemish transport company De Lijn, argues for more investments in public transport. “The motorist will only use public transport if it goes as fast as a car”, he says.
“This requires investments but they are sadly low and the infrastructure leaves much to be desired.” Kesteloot points at Finland and Copenhagen as the examples to follow.
In his argument, Kesteloot refers to the recent survey on public transport, published by Flemish employers’ organization Voka. According to this survey, passengers are only moderately satisfied with the punctuality of public transport. Percentages range from 30% for the train, to 34 and 36% for bus and tram).
“Our public transport is too unreliable to be regarded as a fully fledged alternative to the still worshiped private or salary car”, concludes Kesteloot, who admits that the figures reported by Voka are in line with De Lijn’s customer satisfaction’s figures.
70% willing to use alternative
“Public transport will only become an attractive alternative for motorists if it is just as fast”, noting that 70% of the Flemish people want to leave the car at home if there is a valuable alternative.
Therefore punctuality and reliability in public transport must be addressed through interventions that improve traffic flow: dedicated tram beddings, bus lanes, smart traffic lights, etc. This requires investments and that is where Kesteloot believes the problem is.
Mobility needs 27 billion euro investment
Although Flanders has increasingly drawn this card in recent years, the investment level is still irresponsibly low. For all governments combined, this is 2,5% of GDP. In countries like the Netherlands and France, this is around 4%. In Sweden the figure is even higher.
Kesteloot also quotes figures from last week by Prime Minister, Charles Michel (MR), promoting the National Pact for Strategic Investments: “In mobility alone, 27 billion euro must be invested.”
Positive impact on economy
“What are we waiting for?”, asks Kesteloot. Investments in public transport in particular have a positive impact on the economy. Experts speak of a multiplier effect of 1,50 to 4. Every euro spent on public transport projects yields 1,50 to 4 euro for the economy.
Traffic jams on Belgian roads have increased with 50% in the last five years. According to the OECD, the economic damage caused by the time that the Belgian is loosing in traffic jams amounts to approximately 2% of the GDP or 8 billion euro.
Such investments do not only lead to more livable cities and solve the traffic jam problem, they also create prosperity. The revenue from road-pricing is a possible source for financing for these investments.
Follow the Scandinavians
For solutions we have to look at the Scandinavians, says Kesteloot. In Finland, the focus is on digitization, on Mobility as a Service (MaaS), on seamless multi-modality, and on a great deal of freedom for market players to provide services to customers (in Belgium, the market will be opened up to other players in 2020, authors note). “All within a sustainable framework.”
The model Copenhagen has worked out is even more disruptive. The city – the only European city in the top ten of the most livable cities in the world – proves with figures that through targeted and sustained investments in bicycle and public transport, more people can move around on important axes, more than when everyone in their car was driving on four lane axes. Even if this means you sometimes have to sacrifice three of the four lanes for this. Cities such as Amsterdam, Bordeaux, Paris and Barcelona are figuring out how far they can ‘Copenhagenize’. “Now we have to do this too”, Kesteloot concludes.