Options

This is good. With hybrid working becoming increasingly established, the Belgian trains are introducing new (and, hopefully cheaper) season tickets to reflect this reality.

I am one of the 60% of season ticket holders commuting fewer than five days a week and, although the season ticket is (just) worth it, I am paying for journeys I don’t take. One of the proposed options is for 120 days travel a year, and this is more than enough for me, and I will certainly look into this when renewal time comes around.

Hybrid working has become the norm for many people and, when it works, it works well. It is nice to see that the national infrastructure is now also adjusting to this reality.

The Joy of Parking

Since the Covid restrictions were lifted, I have been going into Brussels two days a week. This commute involves driving into a nearby town and catching a train. The train station has plenty of parking and, once I’m in Brussels, the walk to the office only takes five minutes, so it’s a pretty easy commute overall.

Although the station parking has long been free, it’s been clear for a while that this is going to change. There has been a lot of construction work going on over the past year or so, this involves converting car park into a lager area for buses, closing off most of the entrances to the car park and putting a payment barrier on the remaining one.

And on Wednesday they activated the barrier.

The barrier was down and there was a man standing next to it to tell me that I needed to take a ticket now and pay when I left, of I could buy a season ticket at the station office which would work out a lot cheaper. So I took the ticket as directed, parked and walked into the station office.

I had four minutes until my train was due, and there was a queue of about eight people, all clutching their parking tickets, and clearly wanting to buy a season ticket. So I decided that I would sort this out once I returned from work.

I’m quite glad that I did this because it meant that I was able to look up the parking prices and options during the day and establish that, not only does the season ticket work out a lot cheaper, but I could also get a discount for being a train user. And having done this meant that I wasn’t particularly flustered when I returned to the station to discover that manned ticket desk had closed for the day.

So, to the ticket machine where I discovered that, because I have a MoBIB card (essentially a credit card type thing on which I can store train and other transport tickets), I was able to buy a three month parking subscription (only three months because that’s when my season ticket for the train expires) which was loaded directly onto the card.

After that, it was just a case of waving my card at the parking barrier and I don’t need to do anything more until April.

People often complain about Belgium being a very bureaucratic country, and it is. It is also a very integrated country in terms of digitally accessing various services. But the thing is, the bureaucracy works. As long as you are willing to take a few minutes to understand the process — and this information is generally very easy to find — things tend move along very smoothly indeed.

The new normal

There have been plenty of discussions, both online and off, as to how the world will change in the wake of the current pandemic. And now the Walloon Minister for Mobility, Philippe Henry, has called for people to keep working from home after the lockdown ends because of the positive impact on traffic and on the climate.

As a result of the lockdowns, there is significantly less traffic on the roads due to a ban on unnecessary displacements, and pollution has gone down all over Europe. Henry wants this trend to continue. “If we reduce the number of cars on the road by 25%, there would be no more congestion,” he said, adding that it would help reduce CO2 emissions.

And bringing an end to congestion would be a very good thing indeed. Especially in Belgium which, being a small country, really doesn’t have the capacity for the amount of traffic that is normally on the roads.

I have to admit that for a long time, I was quite resistant to the idea of working from home. I like being able to leave the office and I can put the working day behind me. I am also influenced by the fact that when I last worked from home, the children were a lot younger, which tended to make things a bit difficult to say the least.

The boys are older now, and a lot less demanding, and I find that when I switch off my work laptop I am perfectly capable of completely switching off from work as well.

More generally, working from home for the past three weeks has brought home just how little I need to actually talk to any of my colleagues. There have been a couple of times where a face to face conversation would have helped, but by normal workflow is driven by email and this is as effective regardless of where I happen to be.

I don’t think the requirement to go into an office will completely go away, but it’s certainly worth considering how many of us need to commute for more than a couple of days a week.

2650 to go

According to The Brussels Times roughly a third of the electric scooters in Brussels have been withdrawn, leaving only about 2650 of these accidents waiting to happen.

These things are a scourge: too fast for pavements, too slow for the rad and too much clutter to fit on a bike lane. And people just abandon the damn things when they stop, turning even the shortest walk into an assault course.

As for their benefits: there aren’t any:

Using life cycle assessment, we quantify the total environmental impacts of this mobility option associated with global warming, acidification, eutrophication, and respiratory impacts. We find that environmental burdens associated with charging the e-scooter are small relative to materials and manufacturing burdens of the e-scooters and the impacts associated with transporting the scooters to overnight charging stations.

The linked study found that a one mile scooter ride emits more greenhouse gasses per person than a bus, a bicycle or a walk. Walking and cycling are, of course, both better for your health as well.

The environmental problem with electric scooters stems from the fact that they are very resource-intensive to build but have a very short lifespan once they hit the streets.

The need for someone to drive out evert night to find and recharge the things doesn’t help either.

The report suggests that scooter emissions can be reduced by using more environmentally friendly vehicles to collect and recharge them and by using more recycled materials in their production.

Of course, it is possible to reduce their emissions to zero by just banning the things outright.

Looking forward to a fun Autumn

As someone who commutes to Brussels by train every day, I was less than overjoyed to see an article start with the words There is bad news for those that commute to work in the capital by train.

Infrabel, the company that manages the rail infrastructure has announced that they need to carry out maintenance work in the tunnel that goes from Brussels North, through Brussels Central (my stop) to Brussels South. The engineering work will reduce the capacity of this tunnel which, according to Infrabel, means that dozens of trains will need to be scrapped.

And then they pass the buck…

It will be up to the rail operator NMBS to draft a revised timetable.

I don’t dispute the need for maintenance work and the Brussels north-south line is in a tunnel that runs through the centre of Brussels. So any maintenance work will inevitably be disruptive.

What I find wearing is that, whenever there is any disruption or problem, both Infrabel and NMBS immediately respond by blaming each other. And sure enough…

NMBS told ‘De Tijd’÷ that it was only told about the work three months ago. However, Infrabel denies this and says that talks about modernisation work have been going on since November 2017 and numerous meetings have been held.

I have never really understood the rationale for having separate companies for the infrastructure and the trains. At the end of the day it’s all one service as far as rail users are concerned and, quite frankly, a bit more integration would be nice.