A few years ago I used to commute regularly by car between Belgium and the Netherlands. Just imagine, constantly sitting 6 or 7 hours behind the wheel! Pure waste of time: no way of doing something useful with it such as conference calls while keeping my eyes fixed on the road. And the non-productive down time certainly didn’t make me any happier, what with the misery of traffic jams and feeling like a sardine in a tin. I finally saw the light. Apparently I’m far from being the only one, given how our travel habits are changing. King Car still rules the road, but compared with five years ago twice as many Belgians are now cycling to work. That’s more than one in ten. The popularity of super-cycleways and the long lines of cyclists at traffic lights in the city testify to the growing success of two-wheelers.
The signs are coming thick and fast that the bicycle is just at the beginning of its all-conquering advance. The new Flemish government is investing 300 million euros in new, improved cycle lanes, Uber has introduced an electric bike sharing scheme in Brussels (the 5th European city to host this initiative) and ever more companies are offering “company bikes” and cycling mileage allowances. In fact, as of June 2020 companies covered by Collective Labour Agreement 200 will be obliged to offer such benefits. Meanwhile my second garage – something deemed essential when we first bought our house – has become a lumber room.
Micromobility to cover the “last mile”
And of course it doesn’t stop with cycling. From my house in Holsbeek it’s 13 km with the e-bike to our company in Leuven. Always on time 😉 and I really do feel better for it. In big cities, new micromobility solutions for covering the “last mile” are gaining in popularity among Belgians at the expense of bus and tram. Think of the e-scooters and shared bikes that are appearing on every street corner. Ideal for employees to cover the last few kilometres on their way to work. Also a boon to employers, because they no longer have to site their office in the city centre or close to the station. And good for the climate to boot!
But what if I have to visit a customer somewhere else in the country? Well, there’s always the train. No traffic jams, and I can work safely during the trip. No station close by? No worries, more and more companies now offer shared cars. These are owned by the company, but thanks to an ingenious automatic management platform, employees can simply book the car they need at any particular moment.
In any case, somebody who gets a company car doesn’t necessarily have to use it for travel between home and work. That’s what I see among the majority of companies that are our clients. They treat the company car purely as a wage benefit: employees are allowed to choose the model according to their own private needs. In fact, companies increasingly reward their employees for leaving the company car behind and finding their own efficient mobility solution … and getting compensated for it.
Waiting for the mobility budget breakthrough
It’s not just the Belgian employers who are so forward-thinking. Our legislation is fairly innovative in comparison with other European countries. For example, take the new legislation on mobility budgets. This leaves employees free to spread a certain sum of money over various modes of transport so as reach their place of work in the most efficient, eco-friendly way. Then if there is anything left after paying for “green” mobility they can use it for a weekend trip on the Thalys train, or even for paying their rent or mortgage. But we are still waiting for the big breakthrough. For those who still need a car, the legislation is getting ever stricter about CO2 emissions. This limits the choice to a small runabout or an electric model. And in the latter case, e-vehicles with the necessary performance and affordability are still lacking. They are starting to appear on the market, but only in tiny numbers, certainly not enough to tempt the mass of buyers.
Roeland Vanrenterghem – Managing partner, Co-founder of Eurides