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A Recipe to Decarbonize Mobility in Brussels

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Where do you find the best recipe for asparagus? In Belgium this simple dish is apparently so complexly regulated it found its way into the Official Journal, nestled among an array of legislative decrees on medicine prices.

But asparagus is not the only thing subject to cumbersome regulation. Mobility in Brussels relies on a recipe mixing ludicrous obstacles, particularly if you hail — or as a professional (PHV) driver, provide — a ride through apps like Heetch or Uber. It’s akin to adding far too many ingredients to an already over-rich carbonade.

The post-pandemic recovery must see mobility become smarter and more sustainable. We need a host of shared mobility options — like ride-hailing — to complement public transport, walking and biking. Private cars greatly congest Brussels’ roads and are parked more than 90% of the time, taking away precious space that could otherwise be used for restaurant terraces or bike parking. 

The current regulation in Brussels leaves more than 2,000 professional drivers using mobility apps victims of overzealous inspections and outdated rules. So, here’s a modern recipe for seamless on-demand mobility that Brussels should adopt now through the long-awaited and promised sectoral taxi/PHV reform or see it lose all flavour and become a tasteless ragout

Let’s ‘de-carbonade’ Belgian mobility and get inspired by the Central and Eastern European (CEE) chefs who have already simplified the requirements for all professional drivers. Quelle surprise — this led to less urban congestion, better air and smarter travel.

1. Let’s start with fresh ingredients: Brussels must embrace digital technologies such as smartphones and GPS. This isn’t a given in Brussels, as in the absence of an  up-to-date reform, the Government now requests that all PHV and taxi drivers take an exam on how to read a paper map. Another stale twist? Based on a law from 1995, no smartphones can be used to connect PHV drivers and passengers. Across the CEE region, both PHV and taxi drivers have access to all the latest tools like using mobile apps instead of taxi metres. Meanwhile in Brussels, as Mr De Beukelaer put it, “it’s like asking a cook to stop using pots and pans”.

2. Mise en place: The Brussels mobility recipe cuts its key ingredients into uneven pieces. On the contrary, in the CEE, clear-cut rules don’t discriminate between taxis and professional drivers if they offer their services through an app. 

3. Balance and simplicity are key to a good recipe: Brussels should level the playing field for comparable services and drivers by simplifying licensing and removing caps on the number of licenses. Croatia did so, and saw an increase in drivers which didn’t lead to less work for drivers but instead to more access for residents of suburban and rural areas. 

4. Add more green to the dish and pare down Brussels’ requirements discouraging the use of electric vehicles. The rule imposing a return to garage after each trip unnecessarily depletes the battery, making drivers spend more time charging and less earning — likewise with the ban on parking in public spaces, even if their app is switched off. 

5. To top this up, add clearer platform regulations so drivers and customers know exactly which dish they’re getting — with upfront info on price, vehicle, driver, route, a cashless payment option and so on. 

This is a win-win recipe for all — the city, the travelling public, drivers as well as mobility platforms who can innovate. Now protesting in frustration at the regulations, drivers will be happy in gainful work providing a popular service for all.

This is the way to put the EU’s recipe of leveraging digital solutions to advance sustainability into practice. As Slovenia took over the European Union’s Presidency on July 1, let’s hope they can promote their own regulatory recipe of Slovenian Potica or, maybe, look to Estonia’s Verivorst. The simple things are the spice of life. 

Christian Borggreen is the Vice-President of the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA Europe). This blog was written with contributions from the European Association of On Demand Mobility (Move EU).

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DisCo is dedicated to examining technology and policy at a global scale.  Developments in the European Union play a considerable role in shaping both European and global technology markets.  EU regulations related to copyright, competition, privacy, innovation, and trade all affect the international development of technology and tech markets.