Brussels’ regional government has approved emergency rules that will allow commuters to use public transport free of charge during periods of high air pollution, Belgian media reported on Friday (23 February).
When particulate matter reaches certain levels, travel on STIB services in Brussels and the city’s bike-sharing Villo scheme will be free of charge for a fixed duration of time.
Emergency rules that are likely to come into force in the summer mean that these measures will kick in when the average concentration of pollutants reaches an average of 51 to 70 milligrammes per cubic metre over a 24-hour period.
Other measures include reduced speed limits and a ban on wood fires, unless they are the only source of heating for households. A new pollutant has also been added to the list of particles that will be monitored.
Citizens will be able to keep an eye on air quality levels on a real-time website and a new mobile phone application.
The Belgian capital’s new set of rules is similar to a proposal currently in the pipeline in Germany, under which cities would be empowered to provide free public transport in order to reduce the number of cars on the Bundesrepublik’s roads.
Germany, but not Belgium, is among nine member states that are on the verge of being hit with legal action by the European Commission, based on alleged failures in implementing the EU’s air quality directive.
All nine, which also include France, Italy and Spain, were given an ultimatum at the end of January by EU environment chief Karmenu Vella, who said the “time for delaying is over”.
The group of countries submitted new mitigation plans with a decision on legal action from the EU executive due in mid-March.
The EU’s fight against air pollution is itself being put under the microscope at the moment by the bloc’s Court of Auditors, which is looking into how effective current policies are. Brussels is among six European cities where auditors are collecting data. A final report is due later this year.
The World Health Organisation estimated that, in 2014, 92% of the world’s population lived in areas where its guidelines on air quality levels were not met. Health experts warn that pollutants increase the chances of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases significantly.