Vias safety institute is going to give driving lessons itself
Vias safety institute, known for its BOB campaign against alcohol in traffic, ventures off the beaten track. The former Belgian Institute for Traffic Safety has taken over the Leuven driving school chain, Mercator, and launches an app on health. “We don’t want to be on the side-lines, we want to put our money where our mouth is.”
Nine driving schools
Mercator has nine driving schools, most of which are located in Flemish Brabant. Last year, the company made a limited net profit of 87.000 euros on a gross margin of 1 million euros. In November, Vias made a deal with the Smeesters family of owners but did not make it public. A takeover price did not become known.
The takeover of Mercator is a new step in the diversification of Vias. The Belgian government founded the institute is 1986 as a non-profit organization. Due to the sixth state reform, which regionalized traffic safety, the institute lost subsidies, and in 2016 it was decided to privatize it under the new name of Vias Institute.
The Royal Automobile Club of Belgium (RACB), the organizer of the 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, then bought 60% of Vias. CEO Karin Genoe, who is a member of the board of directors for the N-VA of the railway network manager, Infrabel, and chairman of the Federal Commission for Traffic Safety, holds 40% of the shares.
The core of Vias is still the knowledge center, which carries out tasks for the federal government based on a management contract. The center also includes five technical laboratories. They are responsible for, among other things, the European homologation of bicycle helmets and the calibration of alcohol testers. Recently, Vias was also allowed to calibrate speed cameras for route control.
Also, Genoe is developing new divisions to collect all expertise in mobility and traffic safety. For example, at the end of last year, Vias entered the start-up Stoomlink, which shows users of public transport alternative routes in the event of problems or delays via an app.
This molt of Vias, which currently employs 100 people, occurs through trial and error. Last year, the company had a turnover of 14,4 million euros, but it recorded a small operating loss and only had a net profit of 25.000 euros. The investment in Freeedrive, an app designed to prevent motorists from texting behind the wheel, is not a direct hit either.
Health as a service
In the meantime, Vias has discovered a new field of action. Together with Frank Ponsaert, former cabinetry with the federal minister of Social Affairs, Maggie De Block (Open VLD), Genoe founded Health as a Service. The company is building an app with which patients can manage their medical data themselves.
“Vias is a behavioral institute,” says Genoe, who was also responsible for operations within the Red Cross Flanders. “We study behavior to change it. This is possible not only in the areas of mobility and traffic safety but also about safety and health care.”