Touring calls on Brussels to liberalize LEZ: 600,000 cars involved

Mobility organization Touring is calling on the new Brussels government, which has yet to be formed, to include in its policy plan the tightening of the low-emission zone (LEZ) on its territory, which usually takes effect in January 2025. Touring is thus calling for a relaxation of the LEZ.

According to the organization, if the tightening goes ahead as established in 2018, some 600,000 passenger cars and 150,000 vans in Belgium will no longer be allowed to enter the Brussels Capital Region.

‘Air quality is good in Brussels’

From 1 January 2025, Euro-5 diesel vehicles, Euro-2 gasoline vehicles, and Euro-3 motorbikes will also lose the right to enter the Brussels Capital Region. Touring argues that for many families – over 33,000 diesel cars are registered in Brussels alone – buying another vehicle is impossible.

While Touring sees that the introduction of the LEZ in Brussels had positive effects on air quality, it stresses that today, with the presence of the vehicles banned from January, it is better than at any time since the industrialization of our world.

“This remarkable and rapid positive evolution will continue anyway through the natural replacement of older vehicles, the rise of electric driving, better insulation of buildings, and the gradual move away from oil and gas for heating, among other things.”

“The figures show that LEZ in Brussels deserves at least serious analysis and evaluation. Touring is already calling on the new government to include this point in its policy plan and not hide behind previous decisions and forecasts that have since been overtaken by economic reality.”

Postponed until 2026 in Antwerp and Ghent

Earlier, the French-speaking Brussels socialist party PS also called for the ban on diesel vehicles with emission class Euro 5 to be postponed for two years. Brussels Climate Transition Minister Alain Maron (Ecolo) reacted negatively at the time, partly because owners of such vehicles had been notified of the measure long enough in advance, i.e., they had ample time to consider the demand for replacing their cars.

Antwerp and Ghent are currently the only Flemish cities with a LEZ – there is no LEZ in Wallonia. The rules on which vehicles can’t enter the LEZ in those cities will not be tightened again until early 2026, a year later than planned.

At the end of 2026, however, there will be an air quality evaluation, and this “should determine whether the proposed tightening path needs to be adjusted or whether stages can be scrapped because air quality has improved sufficiently”.

In other words, from 2026, owners of Euro-5 diesel vehicles, Euro-2 gasoline vehicles, and Euro-3 will also be unwelcome in Antwerp and Ghent, so one might ask whether a one-year postponement makes sense unless you don’t care about the air pollution that Brussels residents must endure.

Stronger measures

In fact, with the LEZ in Brussels, it is like Good Move: proponents and opponents are constantly clashing or coming up with new arguments each time, just to prove themselves.

In late April, for example, over 100 health and environmental experts in Brussels called for stronger measures against air pollution. For instance, they called for certainly not relaxing the LEZ, which thus provides for the gradual phasing out of all combustion engine cars by 2035.

They also point out that Brussels is one of the most polluting European capitals, even though air quality has improved since the introduction of the LEZ. They base this on a ranking by ISGlobal, which conducted a study of 1,000 European cities in terms of nitrogen dioxide pollution. As such, 900 Brussels residents die a premature death, according to the signatories. The experts add that air pollution can cause respiratory infections and chronic lung problems and is an even greater risk for children.

The signatories also call for low-traffic neighborhoods, such as in the center of Brussels. They also want more pedestrian zones near schools, an incentive to make more use of pick-up points instead of home delivery, more car-sharing, and the expansion of the network of bicycle paths.

All indicators are in the red

Moreover, it is precisely the poorer neighborhoods in Brussels that bear the brunt of air pollution, according to findings by the Independent Health Insurance Funds. Research on the impact of the LEZ has also shown that in cities with an LEZ, the presence of pollutants decreases faster.

In an interesting opinion piece in the newspaper De Standaard today, traffic expert Kris Peeters points out that all indicators related to mobility in Belgium are in the red, from traffic jam records and traffic casualties to the intended modal shift.

“Reason enough to critically scrutinize the implemented policy, you would think, but for the time being, nothing points to that,” he writes. This is because “both federally and regionally mobility policy is mainly determined by taboos that stand in the way of any fundamental course correction.”

Peeters also points out, for instance, that some political parties that emerged victorious from recent elections frame motorists “as the victims of a government that does not have their best interests at heart with its bullying policy”. In doing so, they also reject road pricing as a policy option without specifying how they intend to pay for mobility costs when a significant part of the car fleet will soon be electric and, therefore, no longer generate excise duties.

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