Congestion capital Brussels looks to unclog traffic arteries

Sun Apr 27, 2014 3:07am EDT
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By Philip Blenkinsop

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - For two years running, Brussels has been named the most congested city in North America and western Europe, a mark of shame for the capital that guides Europe's environment and transport policies.

The disgrace has, however, had the effect of uniting Belgium's environmentalist Green Party, center-right rivals N-VA and business and motoring groups in a call for a solution whose time may finally have come - charging drivers for distance traveled. Tests have already begun.

Others are watching keenly to see what will work in a city the size of Brussels, whose issues are different from sprawling megacities like Bangkok or Beijing, or London, with its central congestion charge.

"Since London brought in their congestion scheme, technology has come a long way," said Nina Renshaw, deputy director of sustainable transport campaign group Transport & Environment.

"Today it's possible using GPS (global positioning systems) to have precise billing per kilometer which wasn't possible even 10 years ago," she said. "That makes it much more attractive for cities to consider it."

Cities in the Netherlands and Sweden are among those who want to reduce congestion but also cut carbon emissions, an effort in which Europe sees itself as setting an example.

The European Commission estimates traffic congestion costs at nearly 100 billion euros per year, or 1 percent of the European Union's gross domestic product, not including the health costs of pollution.

The latter has led to the rise of low emission zones in cities from Umea in northern Sweden to Naples in southern Italy. Air pollution from traffic prompted Paris to ban cars with even number plates from entering the city for a day in March.   Continued...

Cars are seen stuck in a traffic jam on a road near the European Commission headquarters during the morning rush hour in Brussels March 20, 2014. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir