A new approach to public transport in Flanders: from basic mobility to basic accessibility

13 September 2019

The Flemish Decree on basic accessibility of 3 April 2019 was published in the Belgian Official Gazette on 12 June 2019 and entered into force on 22 June 2019. The decree, which introduces "combimobility" as the guiding principle of the Flemish mobility policy, aims at thoroughly transforming public transport in Flanders from a supply-oriented system to a demand-driven system.

The new Flemish vision for mobility

In its 2014-2019 Coalition Agreement, the Flemish Government first expressed its intention to thoroughly reform public transport in Flanders. This would involve moving away from "basic mobility", which has been one of the foundations of the Flemish mobility policy since 2001 and which involved guaranteeing a minimum provision of public transport close to home for everyone, and making way for the new concept of "basic accessibility".

This new Flemish vision for mobility policy aims in the first place at a shift from supply-oriented public transport to more demand-driven public transport on the basis of actual transport flows.

In addition, the emphasis is placed on "combimobility", in which different means of transport are combined to reach a certain destination. In order to make such combimobility somewhat workable, an integrated multimodal mobility network with seamless interconnection needs to be put in place to ensure a smooth flow between the various means of transport.

Finally, local authorities must also be involved in the organisation of public transport, and innovative information and communication technologies must be promoted.

The shift from basic mobility to basic accessibility, and thus the introduction of the new vision for mobility into the regulatory framework, was anchored in the decree of 3 April 2019 on basic accessibility, which entered into force on 22 June 2019.

The new structure of the public transport network

The public passenger transport network will henceforth be structured in a hierarchical and layered manner.

The "train network", the preferred means of public transport for long-distance journeys, is viewed as the backbone of the public transport system. As transport by train is a federal competence, the impact of the decree on this train network is very limited.

The "core network" is complementary to the train network and serves the important centrally located attraction poles. The core network falls within the competence of the Flemish Government and must provide an efficient public transport supply for the high demand for transport on the major axes.

The "supplementary network", which falls within the competence of the transport regions (see below), fulfils a supply function from the smaller cities and municipalities to the core network and the train network. In addition, the supplementary network includes rush-hour journeys to attraction poles such as schools and business parks.

Finally, "tailor-made transport", which also falls within the competence of the transport regions, consists of different means of transport (such as dial-a-ride buses and shared bicycles) that respond to specific mobility requests from persons who do not have access to other layers of the transport network because of their target group, their location or the timing of the journey. It is meant to provide transport for the first and last mile.

Transport regions and transport region councils

Flanders is divided into fifteen transport regions. One of the key points of this reform is to give local authorities a say in the organisation of public transport in their own region. That is why, for each transport region, a transport region council will be set up to improve interadministrative cooperation. Each transport region council will consist of representatives of various mobility stakeholders such as the Flemish transport company De Lijn, the Agency for Roads and Traffic and the municipalities of the region concerned.

The councils will also be responsible for the organisation of the public transport system. In that context, their main tasks are to further organise the supplementary network and tailor-made transport for their transport region, to draw up a regional mobility plan and to give shape to regional mobility programmes and projects within the boundaries of this mobility plan. The transport regional councils will also be able to set the tariffs for tailor-made transport in their own transport region. The Department of Mobility and Public Works will try to ensure a minimum level of uniformity.

Mobility planning

The decree also provides for periodic mobility plans, the aim of which is to evaluate mobility in Flanders at different levels. A mobility plan aims to give coherence to the preparation, adoption and implementation of decisions related to passenger mobility and freight transport. It contains a strategic vision for the long term as well as operational policy objectives and a short-term action plan.

A mobility plan will be established for Flanders as a whole (the "Mobility Plan Flanders") and for each transport region (the "Regional Mobility Plan"). Optionally, a mobility plan can also be established on the territory of one or more municipalities (a "local mobility plan"). The mobility plans do not have regulatory power but have a guiding effect that cannot be deviated from at will. The legislator also provides for the participation of citizens and social partners in establishing the mobility policy.

Basic accessibility is combined with investments in a sustainable spatial framework

In order to promote the development and implementation of the mobility policy and basic accessibility, the Flemish Government can grant subsidies to local authorities for projects within the framework of the regional mobility plan and the construction of cycle route networks, among other things. This could include the creation of "mobi points" and car-pool car parks. A "mobi point" is a uniformly designated recognisable place with a range of coordinated transport options that facilitates access to and transfer between the various transport options. The Flemish Government has expressed its ambition to create thousands of mobi points throughout Flanders.

Establishment of a Mobility Centre

The Flemish Government is entrusted by the legislator with the establishment of a Mobility Centre. This centre will, among other things, manage the local demand-driven tailor-made transport using innovative information and communication technology. The Mobility Centre must become an intermediary between the traveller and the operator(s) of the public transport network.

Further steps

The Flemish Government will further implement the decree on basic accessibility by means of implementing decisions. For example, the Flemish Government will have to set out the rules for a benchmark to designate the operator of the core network and the supplementary network (in principle, based on article 34 of the decree, this operator will be De Lijn), and will have to determine the more detailed rules for the composition and functioning of the various newly established bodies.