For years, Belgium has been the world champion when it comes to the number of traffic jams. Sadly, this is a record we keep breaking and one which leaves us with an unbearable burden: lost working hours, increased stress, labor turnover at companies, particulate emissions, etc. After Brussels, Antwerp also scores highly in the European traffic jam championships. According to an article in De Morgen, a recent report by the European Board showed that if Belgium wants to achieve the European standards for air quality, the use of cars needs to be discouraged.
This is tough news for the country of the (company) car. Bearing in mind that 70% percent of commuters today use a car for work-related travel and that in 2016, 129,542 new company cars went on the road (an increase of 12.4%!), this leaves us under the impression that what we’re doing doesn’t matter. And yet there is a wide range of alternatives. This blog is not the place for a discussion of the parafiscal causes of traffic congestion, but what we do want is to show that it can change.
The city of Antwerp is already taking considerable measures. The introduction of its low emission zone, for example, is a first step in the right direction. Additionally, the city wants to reduce the number of cars in rush hour by 25,000. To do so, they set up the ‘Slim naar Antwerpen’ website. Here, travelers can find information about alternative transportation and calculate how to travel fastest at any given moment. Companies can also request transport mobility audits and/or use several services.
Organizations that want to take it one step further can call on ‘Lean&Green Personal Mobility’. They coach companies in defining their objectives and drawing up a concrete plan that guarantees a minimum of 20% CO2 reduction within a maximum period of 5 years. Seeing as 10 to 20% of company costs have something to do with transport mobility, this could lead to significant savings.
The rise of the company bike
Something that’s being used more and more often in a bid to create a more rational transport mobility policy, is the (electric) company bike. The Flemish government is investing in ‘fiets-o-strades’ (cycle superhighways). The Antwerp province already has 23. Partly due to this initiative, commutes of up to 12 kilometers into Antwerp city centre during rush hours are quicker. Such were the findings of the TransMob project, which analyzed data from a test panel of 500 people.
Companies that want to transfer to company bikes can find all the information they need at BikeForm.be: information on different types of bikes, contact information on providers, financial and fiscal advice and information, etc. What’s interesting is that this website has a simulation tool that allows employees to work out the savings a bike could provide.
This is all very well, but the implementation of a company bike scheme can only succeed when it is executed in a well-thought-out way, supported by the entire organization. That might sound complicated, but http://elmoatwork.be provides a very clear and well-organized step-by-step plan to explain how you can determine your objectives and strategy, what your preconditions are, how to recruit participants, etc.
Sharing cars - sharing rides
According to Autodelen.net, the number of people using car-sharing systems has doubled over the last year. Young people in particular don’t seem to think it is necessary to own a car. “They grew up with traffic jams and climate change. They want to be able to use a car now and then, but don’t feel the need to own one”, they say. The biggest provider with their own cars is Cambio. They have 350 parking spaces across Belgium. In the ‘sharing rides’ and carpooling section, Blablacar and Carpool.be score the best.
Public transport also plays an important role. Many non-believers take on a slightly distrusting stand towards the bus, train and metro: too complicated, bad connections, etc. It can feel like a step into the great unknown. Nevertheless, the NMBS as well as De Lijn now have a customer-friendly app that allows you to plan your route very easily.
The Office Bus
Another innovation we’ve seen on the Flemish roads lately, is the ‘Office On Wheels’ bus. This is a bus that has all the facilities of a small office and that takes employees to and from the office. Because the working day of these employees starts as soon as they get on board, travelling time is transformed into working hours. For employees of companies located in hard-to-reach industrial areas, this office bus can represent a considerable time saving. At the moment, Flanders only has one ‘Office on Wheels’. We expect that number to increase soon.
Flex working and working from home
The best ways to avoid traffic jams are flexi working and working from home. More than 30% of Flemish organizations offer their employees the possibility of working somewhere else on a regular basis. In small companies that number goes up to 60%. The market for co-working centers and business centers has also grown. In Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent in particular, we have seen a huge number of successful initiatives.
There are more than enough alternatives to a car. Not for everyone, of course. In certain situations or jobs a car is necessary. We do hope you at least ask yourself: ‘Wouldn’t it be better if I travelled in a different way?’. Because that is where the real challenge lies: getting people to consciously think about transport mobility, to think first and then travel. We strongly advise: you can’t knock it til you’ve tried it!
We count on you!
By creating grants, funds and fiscal benefits that better suit our modern lives, Flanders can make positive change. With a clear framework for the transport mobility budget (that will unfortunately be limited to owners of company cars for now) we are looking forward to seeing what happens next. Furthermore, we count on the persuasiveness of everyone who travels in and around Antwerp on a daily basis: talk to your employers and make sure they get you out of that traffic jam!