Why Flemish resign themselves to ever growing traffic jams
Last year, without counting December, 925.000 hours of traffic jams were registered in the Flemish region in Belgium. An all-time record and no improvement in sight yet. One in three Flemish is against any form of road pricing, one third has no opinion, one third is in favour. It looks the Flemish have resigned themselves with the ‘inevitable’ and learned to live with the lack of mobility.
In 2017 the total of hours lost over 12 months was ‘only’ 913.000. Last year’s figures add up to an economical loss of 1 to 2% of the national gross product, according to the OECD, meaning some 4,5 to 9 billion euro per year.
11 euro per hour
Transport economist, Thierry Vanelslander, from the Antwerp University (UIA) calculated the average cost per motorist in a traffic jam is 11 euro per hour. So a 15 km traffic jam at the Antwerp Kennedy Tunnel on a Monday morning costs on average 270.000 euro. In these figures costs for goods transport, environmental costs or loss of investments by lack of mobility aren’t counted in yet.
In the meantime, everybody tries to cope with the problem in its own way. In the construction sector, for instance, the average speed of the van bringing the workers to the construction site has gone down from 67 km per hour to 51 kph.
Staying at hotels
By starting earlier each day, traffic jams started earlier too. Even four out of ten construction companies say now they refuse clients in traffic-jam prone regions. Some hotels see a growing number of construction workers – often from Limburg or De Kempen – checking in on Sunday evening and staying with them for four long working days a week. Projects are done quicker this way at a lower cost, than when being confronted with daily commuting problems.
These mobility problems give employers more and more headaches to attract personnel. Ferdinand Huts, CEO of major logistic company Katoen Natie in the Antwerp harbour, says he is no longer hiring people from the opposite right bank of the river Scheldt.
They don’t get in time on their work. “It’s no longer about the best candidate for the job, but whether he or she lives at the right side of the river”, Huts says.
Two thirds uses car
The reason for all this traffic misery is clear: 75% of Belgians use the car to go to work because with public transport, they would be longer on the way, a study by car federation Febiac shows. To this adds a growing ‘leisure traffic’ of people who don’t have to work (anymore), while we all are getting older and remain mobile longer.
But are we willing to do something about this ever-growing traffic jams? It looks like Flemish people are resigning themselves and are not tempted to put on a yellow vest and march against this fatality. The latest figures come from a recent benchmark with 2.000 Flemish. In the Netherlands the idea of a kilometre tax looks to win ground with 60% more or less in favour.
Kilometre tax in Flanders
It was carried out by Motivity of consultancy agency KPMG, ordered by Flemish Minister of Mobility, Ben Weyts (N-VA), to study the working out of a kilometre tax. The current Bourgeois government decided in July to saddle up the next government to force Flanders to swallow the bitter pill, sometime in 2024.
In December last year ordered news broke that Weyts had ordered a feasibility study on the technical elaboration, the tariffs and the controlling of a smart type of road pricing, variable in function of time and place of a road toll on selected parts of roads but advises to have a general but clever system of pricing on all roads to avoid cut-through traffic.
Comfort gilds the pill
Apparently the personal misery isn’t big enough, some experts say. Everybody points at the others blaming them for the traffic jams, like road transport while this still is a minority on the roads. “People aren’t willing to change their behaviour”, Vanelslander says. “Who gives up his car, knows somebody else will jump in the free hole.”
There is the comfort of the car, that gilds the pill of losing hours in traffic jams. People aren’t always aware how much time they are losing personally in these traffic jams. That’s why financial newspaper, De Tijd, is setting up a tool called ‘the traffic jam report’ (filerapport).
Tool to calculate alternatives
Based on the traffic database of Be-Mobile with data of 40 million connected cars in Europe of which 1,5 million in Belgium, the tool can calculate the exact time you lose by commuting by car on your personal home-work trajectory.
It also shows alternatives as calculating whether you could win time by leaving earlier or not, or indicating the best day of the week to work from home. In March De Tijd will bundle all results for a general ‘traffic jam report’.