The world’s population is increasingly urban with an estimated 55% of the population, or 4.2 billion people, living in or around cities. A report by Arthur D Little predicts that by 2050 the urban population will increase to 6.3 billion people or 66% of the global population. Consequently, urban mobility and city logistics have become increasingly important, and in order to support this urban influx, governments must make substantial investments in infrastructure. Failure to do so results in congestion and therefore, from a business perspective, a loss in productivity.
Belgian drivers lose almost a full working week in congestion every year, the second worst performance in Europe. This congestion problem was noted in the EU’s country specific recommendations for Belgium in May 2019, which specifically called out the problems around Brussels and the Ports of Antwerp and Zeebrugge. Severe congestion results in decreased productivity when employees are late or when freight deliveries are delayed. Additionally, it affects our quality of life, as employees adjust their daily schedules to avoid peak hours to and from work, and due to the environmental impact which includes CO2 emissions as well as air, light and noise pollution.
On top for logistics
Although often overlooked, the logistics sector is vital to the Belgian economy – it is an important source of job creation and economic activity, and volumes are only increasing. With its central geographic location, dense transport networks and skilled workforce, Belgium’s strength in logistics is internationally recognized: the country ranks 3rd in the World Bank’s 2018 Logistics Performance Index. Belgium performs particularly well in timeliness, international shipments and logistics competence, with lower scores for customs and infrastructure.
Located in the center of the ‘Blue Banana’, a discontinuous corridor of cities that are strategically located at the economic heart of Europe, Belgium offers the second highest density of railways in the world, in addition to its numerous seaports, pipelines and an extensive inland waterway system. According to a PwC study, Belgium offers access to 80% of European purchasing power within a 500 mile radius of Brussels, granting quick and easy access to Europe’s consumers. All of the above make it unsurprising that many European distribution centers are located in Belgium. Furthermore, important industrial activities have developed around Belgium’s ports, creating the second largest chemical cluster in the world.
With these assets, Belgium has developed into a logistics gateway, but significant investment in the country’s infrastructure has been lacking in recent years, and as a result, Belgium’s transportation networks are reaching the point of saturation. Belgium must act now to ensure its current, and future, reputation as a logistics hub. Although mobility has become a hot topic in Belgian politics, the lack of cooperation means that little action has been taken.
Belgium in the ranks
Invest in mobility, infrastructure and digitalization
Companies need to be reassured they can efficiently move their people and products when deciding where to invest. Belgium only invests 0.4% of GDP in mobility, the second lowest among OECD countries. It has also devolved some competencies and yet in a small and dense country like Belgium, planning and processes should not stop at the regional border.
Furthermore, the COVID-19 crisis has emphasized the importance of smart digital solutions in helping companies remain operational. These can also contribute to addressing Belgium's mobility woes by offering new alternatives to employers and employees.
To invest in mobility and infrastructure, develop digital infrastructure and foster innovation, a long-term vision, sufficient available funds, efficient procedures and strict planning are required. Increased congestion, changing mobility patterns and new technologies must be taken into account when determining a new strategy.
AmCham Belgium recommends
To improve business and investment opportunities
- Invest in public transport
- Foster innovation to tackle traffic problems
- Invest in infrastructure
- Invest in digital infrastructure
Invest in public transport
- Improve the quality and frequency of public transport, especially at peak times and including in early mornings or in late evenings.
- Expand Brussels’ subway network and finalize the Regional Express Network (RER-GEN).
- Promote multimodality between private and public transport modes, for instance by allowing commuters to use multiple means of transport with a single ticket at an affordable price.
Foster innovation to tackle traffic problems
- Develop an appropriate policy framework organizing teleworking (when possible).
- Implement creative and coherent smart mobility solutions by using new technologies and focusing on improved collection and processing of data (e.g. to analyze users’ and drivers’ needs to adapt the (public) transport offer, speed limits or the duration of traffic lights).
- In legislation, take a technology-neutral approach – do not specify technological solutions to stimulate more innovation.
Invest in infrastructure
- Introduce a fast-track permit procedure for projects of general interest to avoid consecutive appeals and long delays.
- Improve dialogue and coordination between all stakeholders (authorities, utility companies, businesses…) to anticipate the impact of roadworks and reduce their duration, e.g. by creating an “Inter-federal Mobility Council.”
- Massively invest in (energy) infrastructure (e.g. pipelines) and incentivize technologies to allow for a successful shift to a low-carbon society (hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, wind, solar).
- Create more “Park and Rides” around big cities, well connected to public transport, and finalize important public works in or around big cities.
- Coherently invest in bike infrastructure and parking for bikes.
Invest in digital infrastructure
- Invest in digital education, training and reskilling of the current and future workforce while promoting lifelong learning.
- Build the long-awaited 5G network and refrain from gold-plating.
International companies are part of the solution
Read more about our recommendations on Mobility, Infrastructure and Digitalization!
International companies believe in Belgium and are committed to helping find solutions to make the country and its governance more efficient and more attractive for foreign investors. We stand ready to work with all levels of government, whatever their political affiliations, to facilitate dialogue and collaboration between the international business community and policymakers, on the basis of our Priorities for a Prosperous Belgium, in pursuit of our common goal of a better and more prosperous future.