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Travel between Brussels and its outskirts: contrasting situations

Notes de la rédaction

This is the press release related to the article from Mathieu Strale, published on July 8, 2019. Read the article.

Mobility between Brussels and its outskirts is a multidimensional issue involving major socioeconomic, environmental and political challenges. However, if we try to go beyond the staggering figures on the length of traffic jams provided by companies which sell applications for avoiding them (GPS operators), precise data on travel conditions around the city are scarce.

In terms of mobility practices, there is a dualisation between the heart of the urban area and its suburbs. While car traffic tends to decrease slowly in the Brussels-Capital Region, it is increasing in the outskirts, as well as near the regional borders. Congestion and environmental nuisance resulting from this traffic take place in a complex political context, namely the Brussels metropolitan area (sometimes referred to as the RER area), covering the three regions of the country, which, together with the federal government, are responsible for mobility as well as for the environment. This institutional complexity partly explains the lack of detailed, comparable and representative public data on travel at this metropolitan scale.

To see more clearly and go beyond an overly local vision of the stakes, Mathieu Strale, doctor of geography and researcher at Université libre de Bruxelles, compiled the travel time data provided by Google Maps to draw up a precise mapping of travel time around Brussels, not only by car, but also by public transport.

The maps show strong disparities, even in the outskirts. On the one hand, there are areas in the outskirts which are well connected by road or public transport, located mainly along the corridors linking Brussels to other cities. But in other areas, either further away and more rural, or – surprisingly – closer to Brussels, travel by public transport is not very efficient. This is due to the social structure of the metropolitan area, as well as to the lack of integration of the public transport service and, more generally, to the lack of interregional mobility strategy.

These results suggest that different policies should be pursued according to the location in the outskirts. In the nearby outskirts, the challenge is undoubtedly to implement solutions for relatively short journeys. These could be, for example, to better integrate STIB, De Lijn and TEC services, to extend STIB lines outside Brussels, and to develop an efficient service network to Brussels, as well as to facilitate the use of bicycles. The creation of nearby park and ride facilities could also be considered, designed to accommodate some of the commuters for whom no alternative exists.

Further away in the metropolitan area, the aim would be to improve railway services in well-connected areas and discourage car use, including short journeys to stations, for example by developing local bus feeder services. For less well connected areas, fast bus lines to main stations for areas where there is sufficient demand could be considered, or car parks at stations, in order to reduce car journeys to the capital as much as possible. Of course, these measures should be accompanied by policies related to land use planning, road infrastructure, the organisation and location of services and car taxation, as an alternative service alone is not a sufficient factor to induce a modal shift.

There is nothing so new about what is proposed, as the regional and national authorities are already planning or carrying out various mobility projects in the Brussels metropolitan area, yet in a scattered order. However, in the absence of an integrated vision, these remain difficult to achieve quickly and may not necessarily meet the challenges, or may even compete with each other.

This raises the central question as to the willingness to implement metropolitan mobility regulation, which could then be applied in other areas such as land use planning, economic policy or public services. However, very concrete issues regarding financing, structure or delegation of authority remain unresolved for the time being and hamper any major changes.

Mathieu Strale, “Travel between Brussels and its outskirts: contrasting situations”, Brussels Studies [Online], General collection, No 137, 8 July 2019. URL:
Benjamin Wayens, Senior Editor: bwayens[at]

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