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Travel time by public transport in Brussels: the accessibility of poles of activity

Notes de la rédaction

This is the press release related to the article from Kevin Lebrun, published on May 7th, 2018

In recent years, mobility has become one of the main challenges faced by cities. In Brussels, the problems encountered are exacerbated by strong demographic growth, which increases the transport demand, as well as by the high number of commuters, with the Brussels-Capital Region (BCR) constituting the main centre of employment in Belgium.

As regards journeys within Brussels, which are made mainly by the inhabitants of Brussels themselves, despite more and more multimodal practices, cars still account for close to half of the distances covered, which has an impact on the health and the quality of life of the inhabitants of Brussels. The challenge of implementing more "sustainable" mobility remains significant, for the journeys within Brussels as well. This raises the question as to the performance of the public transport service in order to compete with cars, as well as the question as to the spatial equity of this service. In a Region with a relatively small surface area such as Brussels, which is served by four public transport operators (STIB, De Lijn, TEC and SNCB), the aim for more uniform accessibility – at least to certain key destinations – does not seem to be unrealistic and would help the inhabitants to modify their mobility practices in a sustainable manner.

In the 123rd issue of Brussels Studies, Kevin Lebrun – who has a doctorate in geography from Université libre de Bruxelles and is a researcher at Université Saint-Louis-Bruxelles – analyses the accessibility of a selection of poles of activity from the different neighbourhoods of Brussels, supported by maps. He examines in detail the degree of ease involved in travelling to them, thereby putting himself in the position of users in an efficient approach to evaluating the performance of public transport.

Taking into account the transport service of the main operator, STIB, the average travel time towards his panel of destinations is 32 minutes. It therefore takes just over half an hour to reach the main poles of activity during the morning rush hour. However, this average value masks the diversity of local situations, as the times range from 16 to 64 minutes according to the neighbourhood of origin considered.

By including the SNCB, TEC and De Lijn services, the access times to the main poles of activity decrease slightly from 32 to 31 minutes. Likewise, the range of values decreases somewhat, varying between 16 and 58 minutes. Overall, this is not a spectacular improvement. But for certain parts of the Region, the improvement is especially significant: Evere, Haren and certain sectors of Schaerbeek, Berchem and Ganshoren, and, above all, the south of Uccle, extending eastward towards the south of Ixelles and the west of Boitsfort. For the south of Uccle, the savings may reach 18 minutes. In this case, this is due to the impact of the SNCB, TEC and De Lijn services, in particular along Chaussée de Waterloo. This shows the importance of reinforcing the integration of the service provided by the different operators.

The geographer’s analyses also identify areas which are less accessible than expected given their distance from the city centre, not only in certain parts of municipalities in the outer ring, in particular those which are not served by the underground (the north of Anderlecht, Boitsfort and Uccle), but also, more surprisingly, large areas of the inner ring, in Schaerbeek and Ixelles in particular. This illustrates above all the effect of the efficiency of the underground networks and the worse performances of surface transport services (tram and bus), due to a sometimes high number of connections.

However, the researcher demonstrates that these differences in performance in terms of relative accessibility are very clearly related to the traffic conditions faced by the surface networks. He has therefore carried out an evaluation of the effect of traffic congestion, which has the virtue of not focusing only on the hot spots, and of evaluating the impact of traffic jams on all of the neighbourhoods in Brussels. The average loss for all of the neighbourhoods amounts to almost 8 minutes. It even exceeds 12 minutes in many sectors of Uccle. It therefore appears that journeys are 25 % longer on average with respect to what the operators are already capable of today, when there are no delays.

The challenge is clear: in order to improve accessibility by public transport – unless we want to move trams and buses underground, which is not a realistic option in terms of budget – public transport must reclaim the public space. In doing so, the scope for progress in terms of efficiency is far from being insignificant, and for certain neighbourhoods it may be very significant.

It is now up to the stakeholders in Brussels to act and to decide who shall benefit from this progress. But although the operators other than STIB are part of the solution, controlling car traffic remains crucial in order to improve the efficiency of public transport.

Lebrun, Kevin, “Travel time by public transport in Brussels: the accessibility of poles of activity”, Brussels Studies [Online], General collection, No 123, May 7th 2018. URL:
Benjamin Wayens, Senior Editor: bwayens[at]

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