Flanders unhappy with Brussels road toll plan


Flemish commuters could easily pay €100 each month just to go to work, says finance minister

Kilometre tax

Politicians in Flanders have reacted angrily to plans for a toll on vehicles driving into Brussels, describing the proposed system as a tax on commuters. They accuse the Brussels government of failing to consult on the measures, and putting the money they would raise above mobility and the economy.

“The introduction of the city toll means that resources are once again flowing from Flanders to Brussels,” said Matthias Diependaele (N-VA), finance minister in the government of Flanders. “This is a bullying tax on the Flemish.”

The new system of vehicle taxation in the Brussels-Capital Region is due to be implemented in 2022. The plans have yet to be approved by the government, but details were leaked this week.

Called SmartMove, the new tax system would involve a fixed fee for driving in the capital, multiplied by a factor reflecting the size of the vehicle. There would then be a charge for each kilometre travelled: high during rush hour, low during the rest of the day, and zero at night and over the weekend.

There would also be day passes for tourists, occasional visitors and people unable or unwilling to use the app underpinning the system.

Double taxation

SmartMove would replace existing vehicle taxation measures for Brussels residents, shifting the burden from car ownership to car use, with a built-in incentive to reduce congestion and pollution. But for people living in Flanders or Wallonia, the charges for driving into Brussels would come on top of the vehicle taxes they pay at home.

Diependaele said that the toll would affect 80,000 Flemish people who drive into the city to work each day. “A teacher who is going to work in Brussels could easily pay €100 a month,” he said.

Let me be clear: the Flemish commuter should not be discriminated against through the city toll

- Flemish mobility minister Lydia Peeters

After requesting talks with her opposite number in Brussels, Flemish mobility minister Lydia Peeters (Open Vld) also voiced her concerns. “I want to give consultations with the Brussels-Capital Region every chance to succeed, but let me be clear: the Flemish commuter should not be discriminated against through the toll that the region wants to introduce,” she said on social media.

Meanwhile, opposition politicians in Brussels have complained about the impact on the economy, saying the proposals will make the capital less attractive for workers and employers. “Just as companies are thinking about taking up less office space because of the corona crisis, the government is giving them that final push to leave the city,” said Cieltje Van Achter, who leads the N-VA fraction in the Brussels parliament.

These concerns were echoed by business organisations. “Brussels is not an amusement park that you pay to enter,” Anton Van Assche of employers’ group Unizo told Bruzz. “I’m not only afraid of an exodus by the business community, but also that there will be fewer visitors and fewer shoppers coming to Brussels.”

Photo: Thierry Roge/BELGA