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Brussels approves congestion charge plan amid widespread criticism
The Brussels government agreed on Thursday on a proposal for the Smartmove model of car taxation which will be based mainly on a tax on usage rather than the possession of a car.
The tax payable will consist of a base amount which will increase by variable amounts depending on the number of kilometres driven, the time the journey took place, and the power of the vehicle. There will also be an option to pay for a day pass for driving in Brussels. The model's objective is to reduce car use by 25% in the capital by 2030, lowering the economic impact car traffic has on the capital while improving air quality.
For the inhabitants of the capital, the registration tax will disappear. The traffic tax will also end, except for those in Brussels who own luxury vehicles.
The final approval of the Smartmove model is subject to a broad consultation, involving the other regions and the federal government.
With the Smartmove technology, once the vehicle has been registered, recognition of the licence plate by roadside cameras will lead to a rate of payment being calculated according to the distance travelled, the time of travel and the power of the vehicle based on the data transmitted.
The Brussels government has not revealed exact pricing yet but what is known is that drivers will have to pay for weekdays, during the day, but not during weekends or evenings, beyond 19.00.
The Brussels government expects Smartmove to enter into force sometime in 2022. Brussels finance minister Sven Gatz acknowledged that "there is still be a long way to go" and that discussions with Wallonia and Flanders "will not be simple".
Indeed, Thursday’s agreement caused an outcry among parties outside the Brussels government.
"What is the left-wing government in Brussels looking for?" asked MR party president Georges-Louis Bouchez on Twitter. "Destroying the capital region a little more? Scaring companies away? The middle and working classes do not need additional taxes - on the contrary, they need investment and intelligence!”
"This is really not the time for this, we are asking for a postponement," said Alexia Bertrand, group leader of the French-speaking liberals in the Brussels Parliament.
"This tax is pure folly,” said Jean-Paul Wahl, leader of MR in the Walloon parliament. “It is undignified and purely ideological: we want to reduce cars but without offering credible alternatives."
"All Walloons will be impacted," he said, while the region "already pays €19 million each year to Brussels to help it manage this issue of traffic," he added, also denouncing the timing and lack of consultation with other entities. "This tax is unacceptable, both in its form and in the amount."
"Once again, this government is working backwards: it communicates before working together and robbing commuters before offering them credible alternatives to the car," Christophe De Beukelaer of the cdH party in the Brussels government said in a statement.
"The Brussels government is still knowingly stumbling on a sensitive issue that deserves respectful and thoughtful consultation,” De Beukelaer’s Walloon counterpart Julien Matagne said. “This time, the gaffe affects all citizens.”
Willy Borsus, vice-president of the Walloon government, said: " Self-employed people, SMEs and a large number of people travel for their work, and for their studies in Brussels. If one region unilaterally takes this type of measure by stating that it is neutral for its own inhabitants, automatically it is the others who pay. Let's be honest: it is in fact simply a budget measure for Brussels."
Three Brussels, Flemish and Walloon employers' organisations - Beci, Voka and Uwe – also opposed the plan. "An urban toll is not a sustainable mobility measure,” said Olivier Willocx of Beci. “It risks moving traffic problems to the outskirts of Brussels,"
However, Beci, Voka and Uwe are all in favour of an intelligent kilometre tax that would improve overall mobility management on the roads. It could differ between regions, "but it must operate on the basis of a common system," say the organisations, which insist on consultation with the authorities.
"Congestion problems transcend the boundaries of the regions and therefore have an interfederal dimension, certainly in the Brussels metropolitan area," argues Hans Maertens of Voka.