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Public transport for all? Assessing the STIB-MIVB stops in Brussels

Des transports publics pour tous ? Une évaluation des arrêts de la STIB à Bruxelles
Openbaar vervoer voor iedereen? Beoordeling van de MIVB-haltes in Brussel
Frédéric Dobruszkes, Martin Grandjean, Arthur Nihoul et Julien Descamps
Traduction(s) :
Des transports publics pour tous ? Une évaluation des arrêts de la STIB à Bruxelles [fr]
Openbaar vervoer voor iedereen? Beoordeling van de MIVB-haltes in Brussel  [nl]


Cet article analyse le caractère inclusif des arrêts de transport public à Bruxelles pour les personnes en situation de handicap. L’approche combine des analyses qualitatives (entretiens et parcours commentés avec plusieurs associations, personnes en situation de handicap utilisatrices des transports publics et autorités publiques) et une analyse quantitative des 2 487 arrêts du réseau STIB. L’étude montre que l’aménagement des arrêts de transport résulte d’une grande variété d’acteurs. Le degré d’inclusivité des arrêts est largement hérité d’une époque où l’on se souciait peu des voyageurs avec des besoins spécifiques. Malgré des efforts significatifs ces dernières années, une part importante des arrêts de transport public demeurent non inclusifs. Cette proportion dépend cependant des contraintes de déplacement considérées. Il n’y a pas de géographie claire du degré d’inclusivité sauf pour certains modes de transport (arrêts souterrains vs en surface) et pour certains corridors de bus ou de tram aménagés de manière homogène.

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Notes de la rédaction

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Notes de l’auteur

This paper is the result of a JUSTICE research project funded by Innoviris under the auspices of the ERA-NET Cofund Urban Accessibility and Connectivity (ENUAC) initiative. The Belgian part of this project included collaborative work from UCLouvain (CREAT) and ULB (IGEAT) scholars, CAWaB, STIB-MIVB, Bruxelles Mobilité and the Observatoire de la Santé et du Social de Bruxelles-Capitale.

Texte intégral


1The 2006 UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities stipulates, in its Article 9 on Accessibility, that:

“To enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life, States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications, including information and communications technologies and systems, and to other facilities and services open or provided to the public, both in urban and in rural areas. These measures, which shall include the identification and elimination of obstacles and barriers to accessibility, shall apply to, inter alia:
a) Buildings, roads, transportation and other indoor and outdoor facilities, including schools, housing, medical facilities and workplaces; (…)” [UN, 2007].

  • 1 There are pending debates about the appropriate vocabulary. Following Levine and Karner [2023] and (...)

2Similarly, many national and subnational public authorities have enacted legislative texts and strategic plans to improve the daily life of disabled persons1. As for the Brussels-Capital Region (BCR), the 2016 ruling on integrating the disability dimension into its policies states that:

“Each minister and secretary of state applies the handistreaming principle to all policies, measures and actions within their remit.” (art. 4); handistreaming being defined as “taking into account the disability dimension and protection and promotion of the human rights of people with disabilities in all policies by those responsible for the development, implementation and evaluation of these policies” (art. 2)2 [RBC, 2016].

  • 3 Here, too, the vocabulary is debated. Some argue there is no impairment or disability, but only pub (...)

3However, in spite of the above considerations, the inclusion of disabled persons in public transport (PT) remains a major concern in most cities around the world [Martens, 2016], including Brussels. The main reason for this is that transport planning has long been – and still is – dominated by “ableism” [Levine and Karner, 2023). Ableism in transport planning means that transport systems are designed based on “normalcy”, so the specific needs of individuals with various physical, visual, hearing or cognitive impairments3 are overlooked. As a result, disabled people often cannot access PT stops (including underground stations) and/or vehicles. Moreover, after disabled people board, they still regularly face physical and social barriers aboard [Lubitow et al., 2017]. This creates injustice per se, and this injustice is reinforced by the fact that, on average, disabled people tend to depend more on slower transport modes (i.e., PT and walking). Since PT is often not inclusive, it is thus not surprising that disabled people tend to travel less often, experience slower trips, visit less places and explore restricted spaces [Park et al., 2023; Blanchard, 2020; Verhorst et al., 2023]. In a nutshell, disabled mobilities are a typical case of transport injustice in the sense that this group usually faces inequity in accessibility; that is, in their ability to reach places and activities [van Wee, 2022].

  • 4 Collectif Accessibilité Wallonie Bruxelles, which is a vigorous network of associations representin (...)

4Unfortunately, Brussels does not make an exception in this regard. During the last century, wheelchair users organised demonstrations at the opening ceremony of the first underground line (1976), at the time of its extension towards the commune of Molenbeek (1981). They denounced the fact that underground stations were not accessible to them. “And us, Sire?” asked a placard. Half a century later, some underground platforms remain inaccessible, and numerous tram and bus stops are poorly designed. As recently as 2018, the new tram stops on Route 8’s extension were not properly designed for all users (Figure 1). CAWaB4 made this failure the focus of media attention, and the public shockwaves that ensued led to a concrete evaluation by the authorities to seek practical solutions. This led to new guidelines related to the design of stops (see below). However, it will take a long time to overhaul the whole network to address the inequities experienced by disabled persons.

Figure 1. Inappropriate design at a new tram stop opened in 2018 (route 8 extension).

Figure 1. Inappropriate design at a new tram stop opened in 2018 (route 8 extension).

Source: Passe le message à ton voisin ASBL

  • 5 STIB-MIVB is the public transport company in Brussels that operates the urban network. It is wholly (...)

5In this context, this paper investigates the (in)accessible nature of STIB-MIVB5 stops in Brussels and the extent to which they cater for physical, visual and cognitive impairments. Indeed, as Moran [2022] stated, “Equity in transport must not only include a system’s coverage, frequency, cost, and directness, but also the stops at which all trips begin and end.” The remainder of the paper is as follows. The next section conducts a brief literature review of PT inclusiveness in general and of PT stops in particular. Section 3 introduces the methodology and the data used. Section 4 presents the results, and Section 5 concludes.

1. Are public transport stops accessible to all? A brief literature review

1.1. Disabled mobilities in transport research

6In the aforementioned context, one would expect disabled mobilities to be an important consideration in transport research, but this is not the case. Ableism does not only dominate transport planning but also academic research in transport. For instance, well-known handbooks on urban transport and public transport give scant attention to the needs of disabled persons, and none of them include a specific chapter on the subject [see, e.g., Bliemer et al., 2016; Currie, 2021]. Similarly, academic papers on mobility challenges in Brussels have commonly neglected disabled mobilities [e.g., Hubert et al., 2009; Hubert et al., 2013]. Symptomatically, “disability” does not appear in the Brussels Studies’ keyword index6. In addition, most published studies using a quantitative approach of accessibility implicitly presuppose “average individuals” [Levine and Karner, 2023] who can freely choose their transport mode and access PT stops and vehicles [e.g., Dobruszkes, 1995; Lebrun, 2018; Leclercq et al., 2015]. There is thus inevitably a mismatch between their results and the real world in which disabled persons face accessibility and mobility challenges when they need or want to travel.

7There are arguably three main reasons for this. First, academic research is conducted mostly by non-disabled scholars, who simply lack awareness about the concrete lives of disabled persons. Second, researchers interested in transport justice have focused mostly on income, gender, age and race/ethnicity inequalities [see, e.g., Karner et al., 2023 and the related special issue in Transportation Research Part D, in which none of the 20 papers focuses on disabled mobilities; see also Banister, 2018 as a typical case]. Lastly, the field of Disability Studies is dominated by qualitative approaches [see, e.g., Egard et al., 2022, for a typical case], and thus lacks comprehensive, quantitative/spatial analyses [Blanchard et al., submitted]. And even though some quantitative/spatial analyses have been published, they have been restricted mostly to physical impairment and neglect visual, hearing and cognitive impairments.

1.2. The PT stop design issue

8Many reports around the world have highlighted the inadequacy of the design of PT stops. A typical report is based on case studies of bad practices that are discussed and illustrated with pictures [see, e.g., Finch, 2013]. While such reports are clearly useful in making stakeholders aware of the needs of specific users, they usually lack a comprehensive assessment of the current state of PT stops.

9On the other hand, it is a common practice for PT operators or public agencies to review their stops and thus know the share and location of unsatisfactory cases. For instance, only half of the bus stop in Broward County (Florida) met the minimum standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act [Wu et al., 2011]. However, these studies often remain unpublished.

10As for published works, Law and Taylor [2001] investigated the whole Los Angeles area through the lens of the presence of shelters. Out of more than 8 000 stops, they found 852 with a shelter. Based on ridership and waiting time estimates at the stop level, they computed a share of person-minutes with a shelter per district. The result ranges from 13 % to 30 %. This uneven pattern is the result of a combination of three families of criteria: city considerations (including the number of senior citizens and hospitals), bus service considerations (daily boardings) and shelter contractor’s consideration (potential revenues from advertisements). This contrasts with other cities where the number of boardings seems to be the only criterion for amenities at stops.

11In the same vein, but focusing more on amenities than shelters, Moran [2022] performed an on-site census of all 2 964 bus stops across San Francisco to record whether they offered shelter (roughly 30 % of the stops), seating options (about 35 %), unobstructed curbs (nearly 70 %), route signage (nearly 90 %), route/network map (30 %) and screens with the estimated time of arrival (at least 20 %). It also appears there is a heterogeneous geography of these amenities, with some districts being better equipped than others. This uneven distribution of facilities overlaps to some extent with residents’ attributes. For example, bus stops located in districts with a higher share of white residents tend to be better equipped, on average.

12Lope and Dolgun [2020], investigated the uneven spatial distribution of accessible tram services in Melbourne, i.e., the combination of low-floor vehicle and elevated stop, so boarding is easier for disabled persons. Given the residents’ place of living, they found that 70 % of the total population can access 40 % of tram services, while 70 % of disabled persons can access only 22 % of these services. The rest of the PT network was not studied.

13In a nutshell, comprehensive studies on the inclusive nature of PT stops are scarce but confirm that this inclusiveness is spatially heterogeneous across a city. In addition, the dominant focus has been on physical impairment. In contrast, this paper also tries to include other forms of impairment.

2. Data and methods

2.1. Introducing the Brussels STIB-MIVB network as a case study

14All urban PT services within the Brussels-Capital Region (BCR) are operated by the region-owned STIB-MIVB company. They are complemented by interregional Flemish (De Lijn) and Walloon (TEC) services as well as by national railways (SNCB-NMBS), which can also be useful for moving within Brussels [Lebrun, 2018]. This paper is nevertheless explicitly restricted to the STIB-MIVB network because it is the only network over which the BCR has genuine control.

  • 7 Simonis/Elisabeth station being counted twice due to two specific codes.

15At the time of our research, the STIB-MIVB network comprised four underground lines, 17 tram lines and 66 bus lines (including 12 overnight routes), thus 87 lines in total. Some tram lines run partially underground and then call at underground-like stations instead of traditional surface stops (hereafter named “premetro”). This network is contained mostly within the boundaries of the BCR, although some lines serve close suburbs (Figure 2). This whole network includes more than 2 500 unique stop IDs, including 70 underground station names7. Each stop ID should be understood as a stop ID based on STIB-MIVB nomenclature, and should not be confused with the names of the stops. Indeed, most stop names are split into at least two stop IDs (one per direction) and often more when the number of routes and of roads serviced require several physical stops. For instance, the “Meiser” stop name includes no less than eight stop IDs. In the case of underground stations, there are as many stop IDs as platforms and access points as well as one single ID for the so-called parent station. For the purpose of this paper, only the parent ID will be considered for the underground stations (both metro and premetro). This leaves us with 2 487 stop IDs, hereafter simply named stops (Figure 2).

Figure 2. The STIB-MIVB network in September 2022

Figure 2. The STIB-MIVB network in September 2022

Source: STIB and UrbIS

For underground stations, only the parent-station ID is considered. Premetro is made up of underground tram routes (thin blue lines on thick green lines)

  • 8 Beyond the existence of an Accessibility Manager from 2009 onward.

16At first glance, we note that the BCR territory is well covered by the PT network, except for the south-east and south-west edges, which can be explained by the presence of green areas (Forêt de Soignes and Neerpede). However, the non-inclusive nature of this network has long been highlighted. NGOs active in defending disabled persons have called for improvements of both the stops and vehicles for decades. However, it was only in 2014 that cooperation between NGOs (represented mainly by the CAWaB), STIB-MIVB, the regional Transport Minister and Bruxelles Mobilité was reinforced and became more fruitful. In subsequent years, this cooperation progressively induced visible changes across the PT network and increased awareness and resources within STIB-MIVB8. In 2018 a Strategic Accessibility Plan was adopted for the STIB-MIVB network [PSMA, see Bruxelles Mobilité and STIB, 2018], which became part of the 2019-2023 public service contract and led to the establishment of an Accessibility Task Force (“Task Force Accessibilité”). The PSMA deadline is 2029. This task force brings together STIB-MIVB, Bruxelles Mobilité, the Transport Secretary and CAWaB in regular meetings to discuss inclusive accessibility issues. It seems this group made it possible to progress more efficiently than in bilateral meetings. But in 2018, as mentioned above, new tram stops on route 8 were still non-inclusive, and this led CAWaB to give the STIB formal notice to make its network truly inclusive, failing which legal action would be taken. Legal action was not initiated eventually because in 2019, commitments were considered adequate. However, the pace of stops adaptation remains somewhat slow due to financial and administrative barriers and the workforce.

2.2. From disabilities to travel constraints

17Assessing PT stops in Brussels could start by examining the various kinds of impairments. However, two key inputs made us change our minds in this regard.

18First, we had extensive talks with NGOs and STIB-MIVB to identify the main barriers encountered by disabled people when they use public transport. It appears that the obstacles different disability groups encounter can be similar. That said, barriers can vary from one disabled person to another, and it would be too simplistic, and stigmatising, to associate defined barriers exclusively for one type of disability. Therefore, instead of considering various kinds of impairments, we thought it would be more appropriate to investigate the travel constraints that could hamper disabled persons using PT. These constraints imply that only a limited number of stops and vehicle types can be used during a journey.

  • 9 In the research project, 17 travel constraints were identified. The nine travel constraints selecte (...)

19Second, we accompanied 24 disabled persons (mainly with physical and visual impairments) for 33 public transport trips across the city. From this qualitative study, we realised that for a similar impairment, the needs, and thus the degree of autonomy vary significantly across individuals. For instance, “physical impairment” is a broad term that is used to apply to individuals in a manual wheelchair, in a motorised wheelchair, with a cane, on crutches, etc., who cope with obstacles according to their physical ability and capacity to interact with the public transport system. However, even within a sub-group, there is a diversity of needs. For instance, manual wheelchair users are split into those who absolutely need step-free access, while others can deal with gaps of several-centimetres between vehicles and platforms. These observations have confirmed the relevance of analysing accessibility for disabled people in terms of a series of travel constraints. Table 1 summarises nine travel constraints identified and provides clarifications9.

Table 1. The travel constraints considered in this research

Table 1. The travel constraints considered in this research

* Conditions for being “practicable”: ground material is not loose; bus slope is a maximum of 30 degrees; manoeuvring area is at least 120 cm; narrowest space is at least 75 cm..
** For each station, the different underground pathways (horizontal and vertical) were analysed. The station's environment (public space) was also considered. Nine stations were identified: Arts-Loi, De Brouckère, Gare du Midi, Merode, Montgomery, Porte de Hal, Rogier, Schuman and Simonis/Elisabeth. The complexity of these stations was confirmed during our qualitative analysis.

20All STIB-MIVB stops have been assessed based on these nine travel constraints. For each stop, criteria are met or not. Each stop thus takes a false/true (or 0/1) value for each of the nine travel constraints. Most of the information came from STIB-MIVB itself, although alternative sources were sought when needed (see Table 1). It is worth noting that the information received from STIB-MIVB was not taken for granted. Indeed, complying with a norm or criteria set up by a PT operator or any public authority is not satisfactory per se. In theory, it could be that criteria adopted by the PT operator do not satisfy disabled persons. The 33 journeys we undertook with 24 disabled persons made it possible to confront the travel constraints with real-life situations and to refine the content of some of them (e.g., the variation of the “step-free” travel constraint into “hard” and “soft”). Finally, criteria have been extensively discussed with CAWaB, who fortunately validated the last STIB-MIVB’s criteria, and thus the information we have obtained from it.

2.3. Data Analyses and interpretation

21The nine travel constraints described in Table 1 have first been used for simple descriptive analysis. The information has been treated in both aggregated (share of stops that comply with each constraint) and disaggregated (extensive mapping) ways.

22Then, we conducted a joint investigation into the nine travel constraints through mapping. The nine maps are appended at the end of the paper.

23The results are interpreted thanks to interviews with key employees of STIB-MIVB and the regional administration, Bruxelles Mobilité.

3. Results

3.1. Good stops vs bad stops: The production of public transport stops

24To understand our case, it is key to understand how PT stops have been and are being produced.

25Considering tram/bus PT stops first, their design depends on the time each stop was developed and then on:

  • STIB-MIVB’s guidelines in force at the time;

  • Practices of the various public bodies that can initiate public space projects;

  • Diverging interests (e.g., between parking spaces and the comfort and safety of PT users) to be arbitrated by various stakeholders such as STIB-MIVB, regional and communal administrations, and political authorities.

26The Regional Planning Regulations (“règlement régional d’urbanisme/RRU”) impose minimal rules on bus and tram stops, but they are often referenced in the official guidelines for stop design. Most of the expected design is actually described in STIB-MIVB’s own guidelines, but these guidelines have no legal force and are not followed for PT stops located in Flanders. In addition, they are not necessarily perfect per se, as evidenced by updates made over time notably based on exchanges with the representatives of disabled persons. In particular, the height of platforms has been a stumbling block until recently. This height was formerly set at 25 cm for tram stops, 15 cm for bus stops and a 20-cm compromise in case of a mixed stop. In the last guidelines10, values have been updated to 31 cm for trams (which guarantees same-level access to all low-floor trams delivered since 2005, although a gap-filler must be added to fill in the gap between the platform and the vehicle) and 18 cm for buses (which makes it possible to use the wheelchair ramp). The 31-cm height was initiated with the opening of tram line 9 in 2018, while the 18-cm height has been considered since 2014. For mixed stops, when there is enough space, two platforms are placed one behind the other (45 metres for a tram stop, 20 metres for a bus stop). If this is not possible, a platform is set at 18 cm with a raised area at 31 cm in order to have access to the second tram’s doors without a vertical gap. Importantly, STIB-MIVB intends to perpetuate these specifications.

Figure 3. The production of tram and bus stops

Figure 3. The production of tram and bus stops

Source: Authors’ elaboration based on administrative documents, legal texts and interviews with employees of STIB-MIVB and Bruxelles Mobilité

27But then, even considering that today’s guidelines meet the needs of disabled travellers, their concrete application remains somewhat complex and uncertain. Figure 3 summarises the process that leads to the development of PT stops either from scratch or through upgrading existing stops. Many stakeholders could initiate such projects. Only STIB-MIVB initiates small projects restricted to PT stop(s). When projects cover larger public spaces (e.g., the whole pavement or the whole inter-building public space), they can be initiated by STIB-MIVB, three different departments within Bruxelles Mobilité regional administration or any of the 19 communes (Planning or the Mobility or Public works department). There are thus 23 potential stakeholders who produce public space, not counting the case of stops located in Flanders. Table 2 presents the 2020-2022 split, which shows that communes take very few initiatives here.

Table 2. Who ordered new or upgraded tram/bus stops (2020-2022)?







BM-DPV (public space projects)









BM-Maintain (maintenance)









Source: STIB-MIVB. BM is Bruxelles Mobilité Regional Administration, with two departments being involved (DPV and Maintain)

DITP/SSE is a STIB-MIVB/BM joint department in charge of PT infrastructures. Werkvennootschap is a specific Flanders public agency that handles large transport projects11.

  • 12 The decree on November 13, 2008, revised on April 7, 2011 and on March 17, 2022, lists the works th (...)

28Then a planning permission may be required or not, subject to the scale of works12. If permission is required, URBAN (the regional planning administration) will handle the plans and pass them to STIB-MIVB, who will thus be able to check whether its guidelines are met, and can ask for an update, if needed. URBAN would thus impose an update when issuing the planning permission.

29Once public works start, one can expect the contractor to strictly follow the plan so the PT stop will comply with the guidelines. Otherwise, redressing the works eventually will depend on the goodwill of the contracting authority. It could also be that the contractor has to cope with the unforeseen, which could require altering the plan and deviating from the guidelines.

  • 13 The regulatory part of the 2021 GoodMove regional mobility plan stipulates that all public space ad (...)

30Until recently, if no planning permission was required, there would be no obligation to consult STIB-MIVB13. STIB-MIVB was thus consulted or not subject to the goodwill of the project leader. One understands that if STIB-MIVB was not consulted and the project did not meet its guidelines, the PT stop would eventually not be in sync with the guidelines.

  • 14 Except when the agreement between the commune and JCDecaux or Clear Channel stipulates that the she (...)

31It is worth noting that shelters constitute a specific issue in the stop design domain. The 19 communes have long been responsible for shelters. Each commune has signed an agreement with a provider (in concrete terms: JCDecaux or Clear Channel), who usually installs and maintains self-funded shelters in exchange for advertising devices integrated into the shelter or located nearby. As an exception, Brussels commune owns shelters. All in all, the STIB-MIVB network has long been equipped with a heterogeneous range of shelters (about 30) and other related facilities (e.g., lighting and real-time information), in contrast to other cities where one single shelter would be found across all districts. STIB-MIVB did not decide where to locate shelters, and given their diversity, the PT operator decided to install route information, printed timetables and real-time information on stops’ poles outside the shelters14.

32Things have changed to some extent, with 10 communes that have transferred their shelter contract to STIB-MIVB. These contracts have nevertheless remained unchanged so far, so the BCR is still far from one unified shelter. However, the transfer of agreements to STIB-MIVB makes it possible for the PT operator to re-evaluate the location of shelters and possibly equip stops more appropriately, typically based on the average number of boarding passengers.

33In addition, STIB-MIVB can ask the region or commune to add benches beside the shelter, or if there is not a shelter (e.g., the Maelbeek bus stop under the Rue de la Loi’s bridge), extra seating.

34Finally, as the qualitative study pointed out, even though a tram/bus stop may be perfectly designed and built, human factors can ruin all the efforts. These factors include driving behaviour (stopping the tram or bus at the right point and approaching the bus as close as possible to the platform), car drivers’ incivility (especially stopping at the PT stop) and inappropriate behaviour by third parties (including the encroachment of stops by cafés and restaurant terraces, free-floating scooters and rubbish left on the PT stop instead of alongside buildings). Equally important, poorly designed public spaces around PT stops can prevent disabled persons from accessing/egressing them.

35The design of underground stations has also evolved over time. In contrast to tram/bus stops, accessibility to these stations is essentially the result of how stations were designed, since there is little competition for public space. In this regard, all underground stations were conceived in the 20th century. Nearly all of them were opened without lifts, and several did not include downward escalators. Even today, not all underground stations are equipped with lifts and downward escalators. The last STIB-MIVB/Bruxelles Mobilité guidelines for underground stations’ design and renovation15 (along with the last Regional Planning Regulations to some extent) will help to get more inclusive stations. However, improving underground stations obviously shows higher inertia than tram/bus stops because most improvements (e.g., adding lifts in a pre-existing station) involve civil engineering works. And, as in the case of surface stops, inappropriate public spaces around a station may prevent disabled persons from accessing/egressing an underground station, notwithstanding its equipment.

36It is worth noting that even though travellers can reach the platform, only the very last “M7” trainsets can offer step-free access/egress, as long as the platform is straight and strictly 100 cm above the rail. Such a height is supposed to be the rule in Brussels, but the lack of interest in inclusiveness has led to unpredictable constructions that are now progressively corrected when platforms are renovated. Previous trainsets were all higher than the platform. In addition, there is a gap between trams’ floor and platform level in all pre-metro stations, and nothing is planned to fix this in the short term.

37Lastly, control gates make access/exit more difficult and stressful. The larger gates for passengers with specific needs are not optimal, and raise various issues (including users being stuck and doors that hit wheelchair users’ feet). More generally, these gates increase impairment-based inequalities compared to gate-free PT networks.

3.2. Is there a geographical logic in the recent/ongoing upgrading of stops?

38We understand from several meetings with STIB-MIVB that there is no single strategy to improve its tram/bus stops’ accessibility. Instead, a combination of various initiatives has been proposed, including the following:

    • 16 Criteria used to select stops were: ridership (“top 100”), consistency with AccessiBus lines, proxi (...)

    Priority list of 723 bus stops negotiated with the CAWaB and adopted in 2018 through the aforementioned Strategic Accessibility Plan (PSMA)16. Note that no spatial option emerged at the time the plan was discussed (e.g., upgrading by district vs giving sparingly);

  • Improving the 50 largest poles by the average number of boardings under one single name (a pole being all stops with the same name, no matter their ID);

  • Target of 70 % of accessible stops for each tram route, which involves a platform at 31 cm with gap-filler. The intention is to proceed line by line, with priority given to routes 3, 4 and 7;

  • Based on the AccessiBus assessment of bus stops, adapting bus stops to make them fully accessible based on a combination on ridership and on the extent of works needed.

39Also, tram stops tend to be upgraded when rails need to be renewed. This induces randomness in the process. Furthermore, the bus masterplan had no specific goal in terms of stop inclusiveness, but the fact is that it was involved in creating and relocating stops. This was an opportunity to upgrade many stops that now meet the guidelines. It should also be mentioned that many stops have been redesigned thanks to various opportunities such as sidewalk or roadway renovation, new construction of a building and its surroundings, etc.

40One understands from this range of initiatives that no specific spatial pattern is expected, except along some tram routes.

  • 17 Potentially because the downward escalator had to be removed to install a lift.

41Regarding underground stations, over the past two decades most of them have been retrospectively equipped with lifts from the street to platforms. The remaining stations are at various stages, ranging from studies to administrative procedures to ongoing works. However, the number and location of these facilities depend on available space, since engineers are forced to work within existing volumes and surfaces. Resulting pathways can thus be longer and more complex. The great majority of stations are also equipped with escalators for access or egress. If these two options are not possible, more and more stations are equipped with bidirectional escalators instead of upward-only escalators17. The geography of station updates is the result of prioritisation based on ridership, easiness given technical constraints and opportunities due to other works (e.g., reinforcement of platform edges in terms of making lines 1/5 driverless). In addition, tactile paving in underground stations is being progressively added and older paving is being updated. While many stations were equipped, the current situation shows a high level of degradation, and a lack of uniformity on the underground network. As for step-free access between the platform and the train, it will remain impossible on lines 2/6 (operated with older trainsets) and would become more of a reality when lines 1/5 are wholly operated with the latest (M7) trainsets. A final point related to the complex station issue is worth mentioning. This concerns the creation (in progress) of a signage reference guide to help users find their way through stations.

42Having all this in mind, let us move on to quantitative and geographical results.

3.3. The overall magnitude of the inclusiveness issue

43Table 3 shows the share of barrier-free stops for each of the nine travel constraints introduced in Table 1. Travel constraints are met to various degrees, ranging from 9 % for toilets to nearly 100 % for no-complex stations. The share of key constraints is in between (hard-step free: 31 %; tactile paving: 34 %; soft step-free: 55 %; shelter with seat: 65 %).

  • 18 At the time of our data (Sept 2022), this new rolling stock was not in service yet. At the time of (...)

44Interestingly, such shares can be lower or higher when isolating underground stations. Hard step-free falls to zero, even though the last M7 trainsets being delivered will help once their use if homogenous on specific routes18. In contrast, soft step-free is higher for underground stations than for the whole network. In any case, the potential for improvement is significant for the whole network.

Table 3. The overall inclusiveness of PT stops in Brussels in 2022

Travel constraint

All stops
(n=2 487)

Of which underground
stations (n=70)

Disabled compliance


29,4 %


0,0 %

Hard step-free


31,1 %


0,0 %

Soft step-free

1 372

55,2 %


78,6 %

Shelter & seats

1 624

65,3 %


100,0 %



9,2 %


17,1 %

No stairs - No escalator

2 472

99,4 %


78,6 %

Tactile paving


34,3 %


20,0 %

No complex station

2 477

99,6 %


85,7 %


2 417

97,2 %


0,0 %

Source: Authors’ calculation based on sources mentioned in Table 1

Underground stations include the Premetro.

3.4. The geography of the inclusiveness issue at the stop level

45Beyond the aggregated results shown in Table 3, moving to the stop level makes it possible to detect potential geographies of the PT stops’ inclusive nature. Maps in Appendices 1 to 9 unveil the geography of each of the nine travel constraints, as of 2022. The overall conclusion is the absence of clear spatial patterns in most cases: there is no gap between the city centre and the two rings of communes; no clear differences across communes; no apparent correlation with known social divides (for instance the so-called “poor crescent” never emerges). The only exceptions relate to logics at the scale of the PT network itself with:

  • Travel constraints for which the underground stations have a specific value compared to tram/bus stops (e.g., the “surface” attribute is also false);

  • Travel constraints for which the underground system is totally homogeneous (e.g., “hard step-free” is never met) or highly homogenous (e.g., “soft step-free” is often available);

  • Homogeneous stop design on given corridors, which is the result of tram routes being built from scratch (e.g., route 9 in the north-west) or deeply renovated (e.g. routes 39/44 in the east), as well as avenues being wholly renovated (e.g., Avenue de la Couronne).

46It is worth noting that most underground stations combine no hard step-free, common soft step-free, poor tactile paving and generalised “shelter” and seats.


47This paper contributes to scholars’ scarce efforts to extensively assess the inclusive nature of PT stops across a city. It complements previous published research works through (1) a focus on various barriers beyond the conventional step-free criterion, (2) covering physical, visual and cognitive impairments and (3) considering the Brussels case.

48PT stops in Brussels involve a wide range of potential stakeholders, namely STIB-MIVB, mobility and land planning regional administrations, the 19 communes and contractors in charge of public works. The actual design of PT stops is the result of several factors, including:

  • A legacy of older stops designed at a time guidelines were not appropriately conceived and when contradictory interests for the use of public space were less in favour of PT users;

  • A long history of activism on the part of associations defending the rights of disabled people to achieve better standards;

  • Newer stops that meet the current, improved guidelines as a result of new routes and of various parallel initiatives to improve stops; other recent opportunities to renovate PT stops in the context of larger public space projects;

  • Available budgets for stop improvements, bearing in mind the large number of surface stops, on the one hand, and the higher complexity of improving underground stations, on the other hand.

49All in all, a significant share of PT stops is not inclusive, although shares vary subject to the needs considered, and no clear geography emerged from our investigation except at the scale of specific PT modes (underground stations vs surface stops) and several homogeneous bus or tram corridors. In many cases, disabled persons still face barriers at the stop level that prevent them from using PT, or makes PT even more difficult. In this sense, public transport is not as public – in the sense of universal – as expected, even though things are changing and progress can now be noticed across the city. This means there is plenty of room for improving both the existing facilities and mobility policies towards more inclusiveness. This also questions the financial and human resources made available for improving PT stops as well as the coherence of governance in Brussels, with so many stakeholders that can produce public spaces and thus, PT stops.

50Lastly, this research paves the way for at least two further studies. First, the next logical step would be to move from the stop level to itineraries across the city based on both stop design and rolling-stock design being considered jointly. Second, testing various scenarios of more inclusive PT stops could help policymakers find the most urgent stops to be improved.

We express our gratitude to all the disabled persons and partners’ employees who contributed to this research through interviews, meetings and trips across the city. We also took advantage of the very stimulating and useful comments received from STIB-MIVB and CAWaB on an earlier draft. These fruitful exchanges totally respected our academic freedom. In addition, Jean-Bosco Lange Muzaliwa carried out on-site census across the underground network. Lastly, we used open-source software and data as part of this research and would like to thank all those who help keep open-source communities alive.

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Appendix 1. The disabled compliance travel constraint

Appendix 2. The hard step-free travel constraint

Appendix 3. The soft step-free travel constraint

Appendix 4. The shelter-with-seats travel constraint

Appendix 5. The toilet travel constraint

Appendix 6. The no-stair/no-escalator travel constraint

Appendix 7. The tactile-paving travel constraint

Appendix 8. The no-complex-station travel constraint

Appendix 9. The surface travel constraint

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1 There are pending debates about the appropriate vocabulary. Following Levine and Karner [2023] and critical disability studies, the English release of this paper favours identity-first language (such as “disabled person/people”) over person-first language (such as “person/people with a disability”). In the French release however, the wording would be “personnes en situation de handicap”.

2 Our own translation from French with the help of

3 Here, too, the vocabulary is debated. Some argue there is no impairment or disability, but only public transport, public spaces and buildings with non-inclusive design. Others say the vocabulary does not really matter; the most important aspect is the eye and the consideration of the society as a whole; in this sense, changing the words would not change the eye.

4 Collectif Accessibilité Wallonie Bruxelles, which is a vigorous network of associations representing PRMs or specialising in accessibility issues.

5 STIB-MIVB is the public transport company in Brussels that operates the urban network. It is wholly owned by the Brussels-Capital Region.


7 Simonis/Elisabeth station being counted twice due to two specific codes.

8 Beyond the existence of an Accessibility Manager from 2009 onward.

9 In the research project, 17 travel constraints were identified. The nine travel constraints selected here are those related exclusively to PT stop/station design, and for which we have collected all the data required for a modelling of accessibility.

10 Available at as a package of 10 files.


12 The decree on November 13, 2008, revised on April 7, 2011 and on March 17, 2022, lists the works that are exempted. The last revision has added significant exemptions for the construction and upgrade of tram/bus stops.

13 The regulatory part of the 2021 GoodMove regional mobility plan stipulates that all public space administrators [gestionnaires de voirie] must submit their plans to the STIB-MIVB, and that the STIB-MIVB is invited to attend the official acceptance of works (Chapter 3, §41) (adopted by the decree of March 25, 2021).

14 Except when the agreement between the commune and JCDecaux or Clear Channel stipulates that the shelter must include real-time information, and that this clause is met.

15 Available at

16 Criteria used to select stops were: ridership (“top 100”), consistency with AccessiBus lines, proximity of priority public transport routes or public facilities (hospitals, schools, town halls) and multimodal hubs [Bruxelles Mobilité and STIB, 2018: 25-26].

17 Potentially because the downward escalator had to be removed to install a lift.

18 At the time of our data (Sept 2022), this new rolling stock was not in service yet. At the time of writing (2023), only part of services on routes 1 and 5 were operated with the new trains, and in an unpredictable way.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. Inappropriate design at a new tram stop opened in 2018 (route 8 extension).
Crédits Source: Passe le message à ton voisin ASBL
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Titre Figure 2. The STIB-MIVB network in September 2022
Crédits Source: STIB and UrbIS
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Titre Table 1. The travel constraints considered in this research
Légende * Conditions for being “practicable”: ground material is not loose; bus slope is a maximum of 30 degrees; manoeuvring area is at least 120 cm; narrowest space is at least 75 cm..** For each station, the different underground pathways (horizontal and vertical) were analysed. The station's environment (public space) was also considered. Nine stations were identified: Arts-Loi, De Brouckère, Gare du Midi, Merode, Montgomery, Porte de Hal, Rogier, Schuman and Simonis/Elisabeth. The complexity of these stations was confirmed during our qualitative analysis.
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Titre Figure 3. The production of tram and bus stops
Crédits Source: Authors’ elaboration based on administrative documents, legal texts and interviews with employees of STIB-MIVB and Bruxelles Mobilité
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Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Frédéric Dobruszkes, Martin Grandjean, Arthur Nihoul et Julien Descamps, « Public transport for all? Assessing the STIB-MIVB stops in Brussels  »Brussels Studies [En ligne], Collection générale, n° 193, mis en ligne le 23 juin 2024, consulté le 23 juillet 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Frédéric Dobruszkes

Frédéric Dobruszkes is an FNRS Senior Research Associate at the Brussels Free University (ULB), Belgium, where he got his Ph.D. in Geography and teaches “Transport Geography” and “Transport, mobility and the Environment”. He also chairs the IGU Transport & Geography Commission. His research combines long-distance mobilities and urban travel.

He recently published

“Does docked bike-sharing usage complement or overlap public transport? the case of Brussels, Belgium” with Michał Dzięcielski.

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Martin Grandjean

Martin Grandjean is a bio-engineer and works at the UCLouvain. He has been involved in a number of research projects and continues to explore the relationship between accessibility, spatial structure, density and mobility behaviour. He also coordinates the research team of the Standing Conference on Territorial Development. He recently published “Vers une trame verte et bleue urbaine opérationnelle : approche typo-morphologique et urbanistique valorisée via un WebGIS” with Leclercq A. et al.

Arthur Nihoul

Arthur Nihoul has been a researcher at CREAT-UCLouvain for over three years. Before obtaining his degree in urban planning, he obtained a master's degree in sociology. Through his involvement in various European projects, he has gained experience in collaboration and has strengthened his knowledge on the theme of mobility. In his work, he primarily uses methodological tools useful for qualitative studies (semi-structured interviews, guided walks, focus groups, etc.)

Julien Descamps

Julien Descamps is a researcher at the Brussels Free University (ULB-IGEAT), Belgium, where he was graduated in geography and urbanism. Since nine years, he worked on numerous topics as urban mobility, land use planning, environmental inequalities… He mainly works actually on energy communities in Brussels. He recently published Atlas des Paysages de Wallonie – Tome 8 : Les Côtes lorraines, as the result of a CPDT research.

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