Belgian mayor to ask suspension of free rail passes over crowding concerns

Belgian mayor to ask suspension of free rail passes over crowding concerns
Credit: Belga

The mayor of a Belgian beach town has called for the temporary suspension of a recent free rail pass scheme saying it drew crowds to the beach at a time when all local businesses were under lockdown.

Mild and sunny autumn weather at the weekend drew several people outdoors, with many flocking to the seaside or heading for a stroll in the woods.

Ostend Mayor Bart Tommelein said the influx of crowds was in part due to a free rail pass offered for free to all Belgian residents in a bid to promote local tourism amid the first lockdown.

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The Belgian resort town of Knokke-Heis drew an influx of people even as most of its popular high-end restaurants and boutiques were shut amid Belgium's second coronavirus lockdown.

In Ostend, the authorities had to step in as the crowds made it difficult for day-trippers to follow social-distancing guidelines.

The southern seaside resort announced on social media on Saturday that it was closing down a breakwater to the public and urged people to avoid other areas in the centre of town.

With a second lockdown imposed on Belgium until at least mid-December, Tommelein said that it made "no sense" to incentivise crowds to come to the beach, even if no restrictions on free movement were imposed.

The mayor said that he was planning to ask federal authorities to temporarily suspend the rail passes, which are valid from October through March 2021.

"I will ask [Federal] Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet and Prime Minister De Croo to temporarily suspend the fere rail tickets that are currently being distributed to use the train," he said.

"I understand that they are available now, but in today's circumstances, where no catering business is open and where most shops are closed, this makes no sense."

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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