De Lijn’s on-demand buses mostly only drive around with driver

Flemish public transport operator De Lijn’s flex transport, vans on demand, is not operating efficiently. That’s according to the business newspaper De Tijd, based on figures the newspaper requested from De Lijn.

According to the newspaper, 56% of all kilometers traveled have only the driver on board. In other words, minibusses drive around without passengers more often than they do with others on board.

Occupancy rate of 1,63 passengers

On 6 January, De Lijn’s new Hoppin transport plan was introduced on a grand scale. The plan involved a thorough rearrangement of lines and stops, which resulted in many people seeing their familiar stop or line disappear. Over 3,200 bus stops were scrapped across Flanders, and De Lijn received many complaints.

Buses on demand filled the gaps in the public transport network, especially in rural areas. However, De Tijd’s study of the figures shows that for some 56% of the kilometers and hours driven on the road, on-demand buses were driving around without passengers.

Since 6 January, on-demand buses have covered over 7.5 million km, but there was only a chauffeur in the van for more than 4.2 million km of those. Only in the Westhoek region or Maritime Flanders did the on-demand buses cover more kilometers with passengers than without, but the average occupancy is 1.63 passengers.

Unrealistic to expect fully loaded buses

For the record, in a system with buses on demand, it is unavoidable that kilometers are covered without passengers, writes De Tijd. An on-demand bus is far from always immediately near a stop where someone requests a ride and cannot necessarily pick up a new passenger immediately the moment another one gets off. The kilometers on the way to a pick-up point are also counted in the calculation.

In reaction, De Lijn spokesperson Marco Demerling says it is unrealistic to expect that most kilometers can be covered in fully loaded buses because the system is specifically aimed at handling highly individual journeys in mainly rural areas.

“Flex transport is, by definition, demand-based and came just to provide public transport to places where demand or a line with a fixed timetable was too limited,” Demerling says.

Reform on the way?

Another question is whether De Lijn’s new transport plan will be retained in this form. Still, De Tijd says the transport plan will be adapted, at least if the new Flemish government agrees.

In any case, the point to adjust the plan is in the N-VA’s starting note submitted to the future coalition parties Vooruit and CD&V chairmen – although both N-VA and CD&V originally approved the plan.

In that starting note, the newspaper writes, another thread can be discerned: large parts of the policy of resigning Mobility Minister Lydia Peeters (Open Vld) will be reversed.

For instance, the Flemish ban on combustion engines would be shifted from 2029 to 2035, with Flanders following the European example. In Brussels, diesel will be banned by 2030 and gasoline by 2035. Also, electric car premiums would no longer be introduced.


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