Weyts about mobility in 2050: ‘traffic jams becoming attractive’
Asked by weekly Deze Week for his vision of the future of mobility upon 2050, Flemish Minister of Mobility Ben Weyts (NV-A) sees less private car ownership, equal or more car usage through sharing and still a lot of traffic jams. But these will rather become ‘attractive’, Weyts says. He bets a lot (2,2 billion) on inland shipping to get as much lorries as possible of the roads.
Ben Weyts sees no dramatic shift upon 2050. “Private car ownership will be less, yes. Because car sharing and renting will be more attractive. Owning a car is not efficient, as your investment stands still 90% of the time. But I don’t believe car usage will diminish. On the contrary, cars are become more comfortable. Think about self-driving cars. That’s why we keep on investing in the roads. Some say it’s better to invest exclusively in alternatives, but that’s denying the light of the sun”.
So we will still be all in the traffic jam in 2050?
Weyts: “I’m afraid so. But traffic jams will become attractive, because you will be able to work in the car and don’t loose labour hours. The biggest progress of autonomous driving will be road safety. A computer is a better driver than you or me.”
Which car will we drive in 2050?
“Diesel cars will vanish rapidly from the streets, I think. You can see today’s sales is crashing. Flemish government forbids its service cars to be diesel driven. I believe in 2050 we will all drive electric or on hydrogen. In five years we all will have a system of speed adaptation, with your throttle giving a signal when you reach the maximum speed”.
How do you see the company car evolve?
“That’s a different story in Belgium. It is a labour cost measure in which the government is cheating itself. The left parties never wanted a labour cost reduction for employers and solved this by benefits with company cars. This is leading to absurd situations. Somebody living next to a train station will always take the company car, because he doesn’t have to buy a ticket. In the ideal world this system is abolished and people are getting money and free choice of how they want to do their movements”.
Will we still can use the road in 2050 without paying?
“No ! I’m the biggest advocate for a smart kilometre tax. This doesn’t make me popular, which I don’t understand actually. It won’t lead to a tax rise, because yearly road tax will be abolished. And from then on, foreign drivers will also pay for the usage of our roads. It also would be an instrument to steer mobility by letting the ones driving at off peak hours, pay less”.
How do you see public transport evolve?
“Public transport will still be needed and it is the best remedy against traffic jams. I don’t want to take away somebody’s car, but I want to seduce him with alternatives. This can only work if these alternatives are at least as comfortable, fast and safe. And so you’ll have to invest. In 2014 the investment amount for De Lijn (Flemish public bus and tram company), was 174 million. This year 300 million. We are working also at a better traffic flow for public transport by influencing the traffic lights. Same story for the bicycle. Next years we’ll invest 300 million in infrastructure.”
Your seduction methods don’t seem to work well. Even for distances shorter than three kilometres a majority of Flemish people takes the car?
(Sighs…) “That has to do with laziness, habits and perception of safety. We have to reverse this. But it isn’t easy. Do you know that we Flemish do as much kilometres on the bike as the Dutch? But we only do this in the weekend. On Sunday we cycle hundred kilometres with our friends and on Monday we take the car to go to work, ten kilometres from home. This is absurd, no?”
Is Holland a guiding country?
“Sure. The bicycle is good for a quarter of commuting traffic there. Here we are at 14% merely. Flanders has a historic arrears because of its ribbon development. Much of my investment budget goes to expropriation. That’s also the tragedy of our inner cities: we have no spare space”.
Can inland shipping be part of the solution? In the 13th century this was our major asset.
“Absolutely. We have 1.100 kilometres of navigable waterways in Flanders. 80% of our companies are at less than 10 km from a waterway, as until the 19th century inland shipping was popular until the lorry took over, being cheaper. Today we have a reverse evolution. Due to traffic jams inland shipping becomes cheaper.”
“Next four years Flanders will invest 2,2 billion euro in waterways. The Seine-Scheldt project, connecting Rotterdam Port to Paris by inland waterways is the biggest. Therefore we have to enlarge the Leie on some places, straighten canals and adapt the locks. Another project is making the lock in Terneuzen larger to allow larger ships to get to Ghent by the canal. That’s an investment of 900 million”.
You sound very enthusiastic?
“I’m indeed. I believe rock-steady in inland shipping. We have a new gps based tracking system that knows which ship sails in Flanders, who is on board and how much free loading space there is. A logistic advice bureau can work with this data and be a match maker between companies to avoid ships to sail empty, what makes transport cheaper. By the way, government subsidies for 80% new quay-walls.”
Are you pleased with the past three years?
“Absolutely. I was able to clear some big dossiers like Oosterweel and the Brussels Ring. In my own personal way ! (laughs). I’m proud especially to the fact the number of traffic deaths is going down. This way my absolute priority”.
Doesn’t it frustrate you that traffic jams are remaining?
“Yes and no. It’s reality you have to work with. The traffic jam problem, that’s all of us, no? People regard it like evident, that there are no alternatives. That’s why the Mobility Week (16 to 22 September) is so important. It’s good we think about the way we do our movements. Do you know what frustrates me the most? The loads of shit-mail I’m getting because I’m investing in better mobility. People think we lower maximum speed or work on roads to bully them. That’s not true. In the first case we do this to get the number of casualties down, in the latter to have less traffic jams after the works are finished. That lots of people refuse to see this, that’s frustrating.”