A Flemish government including the N-VA after the elections in May will not press for a road toll for private cars in the region, mobility minister Ben Weyts said.
Weyts was responding to reports that the party was preparing to return with the proposal after the elections, reports that were immediately denied by party president Bart De Wever, who expects to lead the next Flemish government as minister-president, after the incumbent, party colleague Geert Bourgeois, goes to Europe.
The road toll for freight traffic is already in force in the three regions, its rationale being to make foreign trucks pay a share of the cost of Belgium’s roads as they criss-cross the country heading for foreign destinations.
The toll for private cars, on the other hand, has another motive: to reduce the number of cars on the roads by making drivers think twice and encouraging alternative modes of transport. The idea for Flanders came from Weyts himself, presented as a natural follow-up to the freight toll. Just last week De Tijd was reporting that N-VA was considering two alternatives: a flat toll of two cents per kilometre, or a five cent toll plus a 25 cent flat fee for every completed journey.
Now, Weyts is backing away from the idea of a toll altogether and instead proposing the next government invest heavily in traffic infrastructure to ease the ever-present congestion on the roads. Although the toll is mentioned in the Flemish government’s climate plan, Weyts now claims the public has been scared out of their support for the measure. “We are not going to force this down the throats of the Flemish people,” he told the VRT. “There is no support, and I don’t see the situation changing in five weeks,” he said, referring to the coming elections.
The withdrawal from road tolls is, according to Weyts’ counterpart in the Brussels region Pascal Smet, “a step in the wrong direction,” and investment in roads no substitute. “The more space you create for cars, the more cars you’ll see,” a spokesperson for his office said. “Everyone knows that.” His party is proposing a smart city toll, levied on cars entering the city or driving within the city. The parties in Brussels are some distance away from their counterparts in Flanders and elsewhere in being in favour of road tolls, given the huge problem of congestion in the city, much of it caused by cars from the other two regions, on top of Brussels drivers using the car for short journeys where better alternatives exist.