Weyts: “I will not let the infrastructure for the car decay”
Flemish Minister of Mobility Ben Weyts (N-VA) wants to get 20% of all commuters on the bicycle. Today the average is only 14%. “But I will not let the infrastructure for the car decay”, Weyts says in an interview with De Standaard. “Everybody has a car and will use it in the future. You can’t deny that”.
Confronted with the example of Copenhagen where 62% of the people uses the bicycle to go to work or school, Weyts replies: “I’ll keep in mind that you have to convince people with harsh economical arguments. We have to provide the means to let them go to work faster and more comfortable then with a car.”
Why doesn’t this work in Flanders?
“We will invest 300 million euro in bicycle infrastructure. This is a minimum. With this money we take on 800 kilometres of bicycle paths”. Weyts doesn’t believe in betting on one transport mode. “Key to success is combined mobility. People have to switch easily from one transport mode to another”.
To get people on a bike, the infrastructure has to be safe…
“We’re screening 300 crossings per year. Sometimes small interventions are enough. Sometimes we have to rebuild the whole infrastructure”, Weyts answers. “We invest up to 6 billion euro in mobility the next three years. 2,7 billion goes to road infrastructure. I’m investing more in alternatives then in the car”.
To improve safety, Weyts is convinced there is a need for more control and more enforcement. “Flanders has no culture of road safety”, Weyts says. “There will be 20 more average speed checks. I get a lot of ‘shit-mail’ about this. Touching at the car or even just asking to respect traffic rules, is a bridge to far for Flemish people. But when I see the number of road casualties on its lowest point in years, I think it is worth it”.
In the Netherlands trucks are not allowed in residential areas. Good idea?
“I rather believe in transport via the waterways. We have a network of 1.100 km of navigable waterways. Lots of companies should instead of looking at the traffic jams at their front door, look at the boulevard of space at their back door. AB InBev for instance works together with construction company Celis. When the latter goes to fetch materials in Antwerp, it takes beer crates along. For this kind of initiatives we, the government, want to be the fixer”.
Apart from this, public transport is a viable alternative. But isn’t the public bus company, De Lijn trapped in a downward spiral?
“Often there is a dark image pictured of De Lijn, but we are moving forward on all fronts. The amount of tax money De Lijn gets yearly has decreased. Investments have gone up and the offer too. We are ordering 700 buses and 140 trams. We invest in luxurious Albatros trams with seats in recycled leather. They might be more expensive, but they are more hygienic and resistant to vandalism”.
Sounds good, but why is the traveler still not happy?
“There is still room for improvement. What bothers me immoderately is the delay we have in the roll out of the real-time information panels at the stops and which are often not working at all. And the Mobib card is delayed too. Punctuality has gone from 50 to 55% in two years time. But you have to make a slight distinction in this too. In the car nobody bothers about being 20 minutes too late, but on public transport 2 minutes of delay is a problem apparently… But off course, traffic flow could be better and we’re investing in this.”
What about the kilometer tax for private cars?
“I’m still all for a tax reduction and thus also for this. Nobody has a problem with paying péage on the French highways. Why shouldn’t we let foreigners pay to use our highways, so we can lower our traffic tax? But there is a lot of resistance. People think we want to put the money in our own pocket. We’re studying how we can extend the support for this. It certainly won’t make me more popular, but if we do nothing, we’re going to be standing still in the near future”.