One of my favourite things about Brussels is it’s excellent public transport system. It includes a long-established tram network (including pre-Metro underground sections), four underground Metro lines and an extensive bus network. Similar to the Oyster card system in London, you only need one type of ticket for all three modes of transport. You can also move between different modes of transport on one ticket.
Unsurprisingly, Brussels had a single, integrated ticketing system long before London introduced the Oyster card. Glasgow still lacks an integrated ticketing system, despite the fact that it would probably encourage use of the bus network coupled with the subway and suburban trains, cutting down the number of buses which need to pass through the city centre.
Today was Car Free Sunday, which is part of the city’s activities for the European Week of Mobility. For 10 hours, all motorised vehicles were banned from the streets of Brussels, barring taxis, emergency vehicles and buses. The suburban trains, the Metro, the trams and the buses were all free to use in compensation. The Brussels Ring Road also remained open, allowing cars to pass around, but not through the city.
The main transportation method today, however, seemed to be of the two-wheeled variety. As I sat waiting for my laundry to finish, more then a hundred cyclists must have passed me, clearly enjoying the freedom of the roads. I was even tempted to hire one of the city-provided Villo! bikes, although unfortunately my local hire station was out of bikes by the time I had to head into town.
The Car Free Day seems like a very good idea, which I think could work very well in others cities, such as Edinburgh, Glasgow and London. Just seeing the number of families out for a bike-ride and clearly having fun despite the rather dull weather demonstrated how successful the day is. It would be great to see the people of Scotland out on their bikes in the same way, and not just in limited events like the Sky Ride.
Of course, Scotland, thus far, lacks a decent city-wide bike hire scheme. Which is pretty daft really. We’re struggling with obesity problems, chronic heart disease and cardio-vascular illnesses. Getting people out on bikes could do wonders for the country’s overall health.
The cost of the scheme is, of course, important. Adopting a model similar to that of Brussels, where you pay €30 for a year and can use a bike at any time. It’s free for the first 30 minutes, with €0.50 buying another half-hour. If you don’t use the bike regularly, then the bike hire costs €1.50 for the first half hour, €0.50 for the second half hour and €1 for the third half-hour.
With cycle stations just 500 meters apart, it doesn’t cost much to get around Brussels by bike. The scheme is also popular with tourists, allowing them to explore the centre of the city much more quickly then on foot.
No doubt such a system would be immensely popular in Edinburgh. Stations on the Royal Mile, at Holyrood, Duddingston, the foot and top of Leith Walk, Portobello, along the shoreline, near Blackford Hill and around the Meadows would allow tourists, students and workers to get about cheaply and easily. Given the success of the system in Brussels and similar schemes in Dublin, London, Copenhagen and various French cities, I think it’s something Edinburgh City Council and the Scottish Government Health Directorates should seriously consider implementing, along with Car Free Days in Scotland’s cities.