To understand the impact of containment and Covid-19 on mobility in Belgium, and more specifically in Brussels, we spoke to Ischa Lambrechts, Mobility Advisor of the BECI (Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Brussels).
Florence: Today, we notice that there are few cars in the street. Mobility is fluid, the amount of bicycles and pedestrians are more than cars. What conclusions can be drawn from this situation?
There is obviously a positive impact on mobility but for the wrong reasons. We can't be happy about it and say "Thanks to the crisis we have better mobility". This is a false reasoning. However, there is an opportunity that we can see, today, 90% of Brussels companies are forced to work remotely. They are adapting and rethinking the organization of work, in particular with videoconferences.
The threats generated by this situation must also be taken into account. Let us look, for example, at the shared mobility sector: the risk is twofold. Most of the players in shared mobility are start-ups, so it is a difficult and complicated period for them because citizens no longer move around. But apart from the problem affecting their turnover, the long-term threat is that users' behavioral habits tend to change. Those who still have to travel no longer use shared cars for reasons of hygiene. One can therefore wonder whether they will do so again when they leave the confinement? Probably, but it will take time.
What impact will this mobility have on businesses?
If traffic congestion increases, it will affect the economy in terms of GDP but it will also have an impact on businesses. Today we know that a car stuck in traffic jams costs companies around €10 per hour, while a truck can cost up to €80. The real impact is difficult to quantify because we have never experienced such a situation before. On the other hand, we can use the example of the 2016 attacks, after which it took one to two years before public transportation use returned to normal. We can therefore imagine that we will have to deal with a similar situation. Users will tend to use their private cars, which will have an impact on road congestion.
Another direct impact for businesses is that employees will be stuck in these traffic jams, which will result in lost time, delays, stress and frustration.
How will user habits change once they are out of containment?
For short distances (less than 5km) the use of shared bikes may increase as users have become accustomed and enjoy using them. The big challenge will be for commuters from other regions. About 50% of Brussels workers live in Flanders or Wallonia. It is for these people that solutions will have to be found, such as supporting teleworking, now that we have got used to it and the infrastructure has been put in place.
Florence: How should companies organize mobility once we can return to a normal situation?
I would say that we have to get back to our habits as soon as possible, but of course we have to respect the barrier gestures and the hygiene instructions. It's like after a car accident, you have to get back behind the wheel as quickly as possible because psychologically it's more difficult if you wait.
My second piece of advice is aimed more at companies. Don't forget the lessons and opportunities you've learned. If you have had the ability and opportunity to telework today, you will still be able to do it tomorrow. This could allow employees to avoid travelling during peak hours and thus avoid unnecessary stress, frustration and loss of time. It must be realized that telework is a real solution to the problem of employee mobility and well-being more generally.