Road-pricing is ‘temporarily’ dead in Flanders
After being framed as a simple extra tax, many Flemish political parties have abandoned the idea of road-pricing at the highest speed possible. Especially the largest Flemish party, N-VA, has made this U-turn with screeching tyres.
Yesterday we already mentioned that N-VA was getting cold feet about the idea of road-pricing, although it was Flemish Mobility Minister, Ben Weyts from N-VA, who was one of the most important advocates of it. Today he has completely changed his mind. He wants to invest more in infrastructure.
“We are not going to make the Flemish citizen choke in this system of road-pricing”, Minister Weyts is now saying. “At the moment there is not enough public support for the system”, he adds.
Cost is essential
In a study the Flemish government ordered, there is talk about a 2 to 5 cent road-pricing. The principle is that it shouldn’t cost the average car user more than now, so fixed car taxes would be diminished or simply abolished.
Practically all experts agree that this won’t change anything. “If you really want to change driving behaviour and fight congestion it has to cost money to drive at peak hours”, says Stef Proost, transport economist at Leuven University.
“Some people will pay more, commuters for example, but they will have less congestion and save time”, he adds. “It’s an element that is often forgotten in this whole discussion.”
Other experts agree. “If you want to exempt commuters from these taxes, nothing will change. You have to motivate them to stay out of the traffic jams”, says transport economist, Bruno De Borger (Antwerp University).
Crucial for the acceptance of such a system is what you are going to do as a government with the money you earn. “Authorities have to communicate clearly about how the money will be spent”, says mobility expert, Johan De Mol (Ghent University).
De Borger is clear on this: “You have to use this money to invest in the alternatives for the car.” Lowering the taxes on labour wouldn’t be a bad idea either, he adds.
Now that N-VA has also changed its mind, De Borger is not very hopeful about road-pricing becoming reality in Flanders. “There will be an endless fight over who pays the bill and finally nothing will change.”
Stef Proost is a bit more optimistic: “Look at Stockholm. Initially there was not enough support for road-pricing. But after a test period of six months suddenly a majority of the citizens were pro. This can happen here too.”
Meanwhile, it stays very silent in the other parts of Belgium. The Walloon authorities are still brooding on their vignette and the Brussels citizens (and others) will maybe have to pay a city toll. Wait and see.