Free rail pass expires today – only 30% of free journeys used
Share article:
Share article:

Free rail pass expires today – only 30% of free journeys used

Federal mobility minister Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo). © Belga

Today, 31 March, is the last day to use the free rail pass offered by the government of Sophie Wilmès at the start of the pandemic. But figures from the mobility ministry of Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo) suggest the pass was used far less often than intended.

The pass was announced last year: all adult Belgian residents could apply for one, offering 12 free one-way rail journeys (one return journey a month, essentially), valid from 5 October 2020 until 31 March 2021.

The idea was to help support the rail authority SNCB, then suffering the effects of the first lockdown, the ban on non-essential travel and the imposition of teleworking.

The offer was eagerly taken up by the public, with 3.5 million people applying, but according to figures from the ministry requested by Tomas Roggeman (N-VA), only 30% of the available trips were actually taken up in the first three months. Of a possible 21 million one-way journeys offered for free, only six million were actually used.

Pretty logical: at the start of the period of the Railpass, almost all tourist attractions and catering establishments had to close again,” Roggeman said.

Related News

 

Several factors worked against the success of the pass. In the first place, it had originally been intended for use during the summer, to support not only the SNCB but also local domestic tourism. But because of disputes with coastal mayors and the SNCB itself, the introduction of the pass was delayed twice, and only introduced in October, by which time the appetite for domestic tourism had waned.

And, as Roggeman pointed out, cafes and restaurants by then had closed again, removing the incentive to use the pass to have a Rodenbach with tomate-crevettes on the sea-front, or a waffle with strawberries and cream anywhere else.

The Railpass came along with a government subsidy of €110 million, or roughly €2.60 per journey, for the SNCB. But if only 30% of trips were used, should the SNCB not pay back some of that sum, Roggeman wondered in De Morgen.

But according to Gilkinet’s office, that won’t be necessary. The sum of €110 million was intended to be general compensation to the SNCB not for free rail trips, but for the effects of the coronavirus in general. “But there will of course be an evaluation of the system,” a spokesperson told the paper.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times

Latest news

Belgian Health Minister wants pharmacists to administer vaccines
Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke has said he wants to change Belgium's law to allow pharmacists to administer Covid-19 vaccines against, ...
Ruined photos from flood victims restored for free
Much of what victims of this summer’s deadly flooding lost is irreplaceable, but when it comes to photographs that were ruined, a Brussels company is ...
New Belgian video game aims to help children who stutter
A new video game by Belgian-American start-up Say It Labs aims to teach children with a stutter various techniques to improve their speech.  ...
More than 1 in 4 Belgians use mobile phones whilst driving
A recent European study into the use of mobile phones whilst driving highlights some alarming results: 26% of Belgians read or send messages on their ...
Belgium in Brief: Memories Of Masks
Belgium's experts are concerned with the rising coronavirus figures. One possible solution could be that, once again, masks are used more widely. ...
Museum Night Fever returns to Brussels on Saturday night
After a break last year, Museum Night Fever 2021 is back again with free visits to 32 museums hosting performances, music and other events. The ...
More than €1.5 billion injected into SNCB
More than €1.5 billion in additional funding has been injected into the Belgian railways, Federal Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet told the House ...
Non-vaccinated applicants no longer welcome at ZNA hospitals in Antwerp
The Antwerp hospital group ZNA is only taking on new employees who have been vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to reporting from VRT. ...
Pharmacies prepare to administer more rapid antigen tests
From November, anyone presenting coronavirus symptoms for less than six days will be able to take a rapid antigen test in a pharmacy, announced the ...
Chocolate, Christmas, and cocaine
Do you consider yourself a news buff? Someone constantly on top of what's going on? Then maybe you have what it takes to ace The Brussels Times ...
Introduction of Covid Safe Ticket leads more in Brussels to get vaccinated
The introduction of the Covid Safe Ticket (CST) in the Brussels-Capital Region on 15 October seems to have led to a higher number of residents ...
More and more testimonies, and a second rally against sexual violence in Brussels
A second rally against sexual violence was held in the Brussels neighbourhood of Ixelles on Thursday evening, and a sister-rally was held ...