Brussels urges commuters to ditch their cars and hitch rides

Commuters in Brussels will be encouraged to hitch rides to work, as part of a local government bid to reduce congestion and carbon dioxide emissions.

The Belgian capital’s ministry for mobility wants people to rethink how they travel to and from work every day by creating incentives for car-sharing.

As things stand, the ministry estimates that congestion costs the economy €8 billion ($8.75 billion) a year, with workers stuck in traffic.

The city acknowledges it has a bad congestion problem. According to last year’s TomTom Traffic Index, which measures the amount of time commuters spend sitting in traffic, Brussels is one of the most congested cities in Europe — marginally worse than London.

Marie Thibaut de Maisières, spokeswoman for the ministry, told CNN: “Mobility in Brussels is one of the biggest issues.”

Talking about the city’s poor air quality, she added: “There’s quite a big urgency (to change things). A health urgency. A social urgency, of course, because it creates neighborhoods that are not good for the people who live there.”

To reduce the number of cars on the roads by 20%, the local government will offer a “mobility as a service” program through an app it is developing in conjunction with a tech start-up. This will allow commuters to share journeys and put otherwise wasted seats to good use.

The app will also bring together other forms of transportation, allowing users to choose the form most convenient for them on a given day.

The local government will make its ride-sharing program appealing — especially to the 190,000 drivers who travel to Brussels from the French-speaking region of Wallonia each day — by providing car parking spaces outside of the city for free or at a heavily reduced price. Drivers can then share lifts into the center.

It also plans to tax people based on the distance they drive every year, with car-sharing journeys exempt from the charge.