Recent transport research suggests that car use is reaching its saturation level in many advanced economies. Particularly in metropolitan areas, car use is declining in favour of slow and public transport modes. Also young adults are found to have shifted travel preferences away from private cars. Looking at changes in transport modes for travel to work and school, we find similar trends in Belgium. The results are based on recent mobility data from the Belgian Labour Force Survey (LFS) and the Socio-Economic Survey of 2001.
Traffic counts show that the total number of kilometres driven by private cars in Belgium continues to increase. At the same time, and much in line with findings in other developed countries, we observe a shift away from the car in two specific populations: people working in the metropolitan area of Brussels and students in higher education. First, for travel to workplaces located in the Brussels-Capital Region the increased use of public transport has challenged the dominant position of private cars. Second, among students in higher education, travel by car for daily trips to college has dropped considerably in all three regions, with a sharp decline in the Brussels-Capital Region.
Individual cars remain the main transport mode for 75 per cent of the commuting trips to jobs located in Flanders, and 85 per cent in Wallonia. Yet among people working in the Brussels-Capital Region, car use has dropped to 48 per cent, compared to 57 per cent at the beginning of the century. Public transport in Brussels has gained in proportion and is used for 44 per cent of the trips to work.
For daily commuting over short distances, current transport choices differ strongly between regions: in the Brussels-Capital Region, bus, tram and metro are used as the main alternative to private cars. Flanders most noticeably differs with the frequent use of the bicycle. In Wallonia, the car remains the dominant transport means for commuting, even for short distances; its high share is however somewhat mitigated by the more common use of carpooling. For longer travel distances to work, only Brussels-Capital Region differs, with a high share of the train as an important alternative to car. In Flanders and Wallonia, jobs located at further distance from home are predominantly reached by car.
Among students in higher education, the modal shift from the car to slow and public transport modes is more general and more noticeable than for workers. In the three Belgian regions, the share of students that travel to college by car has strongly decreased since the beginning of the century. In Brussels, the decline has been most pronounced: today, less than one in ten students travel to college by car. In Flanders, car use among students has dropped to 19 per cent and in Wallonia to 31 percent. Public transport is the preferred transport means for students in all three regions. At the same time, student’s choices for slow and public transport modes reflect regional differences similar to those of workers. Students in Brussels mainly travel by bus, tram or metro, Flemish students are intense bicycle users, and Walloon students prefer carpooling.