Brussels mulls free public transport for all

The Brussels regional government might consider offering free public transport for all residents. [Photo: Roman Yanushevsky / Shutterstock]

The new vice-president of the Belgian capital’s transport operator (STIB) has suggested rolling out free public transport for residents during the evening or on weekends. His socialist party has upped the ante and suggested it should be free every day.

STIB Vice-President Lotfi Mostefa wants to make the move in order to convince Brussels commuters to ditch their cars.

“We could imagine an extension of the free evening or weekend trips. We are in a situation where air pollution issues and environment issues are important,” he told Belgian media this week.

Mostefa was appointed as STIB VP by his socialist party, which is a part of the coalition government that runs the Brussels capital region. His party has grander plans still and wants to offer free rides all the time.

Brussels air in downward pollution spiral

Air pollution in Brussels has gotten worse for the second year in a row, according to data published by the national government.

One of Mostefa’s predecessors, Ridouance Chahid, said that his party had considered offering free transport to elderly Brussels residents before broadening the idea to incorporate everybody. They have suggested 2024 as a possible implementation date.

Estimates put the cost for making free transport-for-all at €200 million, an outlay which STIB itself would not be able to absorb, meaning it would have to be financed through public money.

Mostefa said it would “not be feasible in the short term” and that “target audiences” should be the priority.

However, critics of scrapping fares completely have warned that they are needed in order to catalyse investment in new infrastructure and keep services running.

Air pollution is one of the main drivers behind the idea though, as Brussels routinely places near the top of the lists of most polluted European cities, due to the number of motorists entering the city.

However, a report last year by an expert group in Paris concluded that free transport would not have the desired effect on reducing air pollution as it would mostly encourage commuters who already walk or cycle to work to use buses and trams.

Last year, the Brussels regional government approved new measures that will trigger free public transport when air pollution levels go above a certain level. The new rules came into force in the summer.

Brussels air pollution to trigger free public transport

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).

Brussels would not be the first to offer free trams, metros and buses, as Luxembourg said last month that fares will be lifted next summer. Prime Minister Xavier Bettel’s new government, in coalition with the Greens, has vowed to step up their environmental commitments.

All tickets in Luxembourg will be abolished by the start of 2020, although the finer details of the plan, including what to do with first and second class travel on trains, are still to be figured out.

Edited by Samuel Stolton

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