Author Johan Op de Beeck interviewed Luc Hellemans, CEO Lantis, and Carl Verelst, Division Director Regional Infrastructure, about the societal challenges concerning mobility. Listen to the interview on Sweco’s podcast channel.
Of all the current themes, mobility is perhaps the one that most makes us long for the future! Technology is completely at the forefront of this transition and it will make our mobility more efficient, safer and more sustainable. We can expect a convenient network of electric shared cars and bicycles, small-scale collective transport with self-driving cars, access to all public transport with a single ticket, better coordination between rail, water and road transport, etc. This modal shift will be successful. Now for a mind shift!
To say that we still too often associate mobility with inconvenience in all its forms is a bit like kicking down an open door... Johan Op de Beeck introduces his two guests as 'the gentlemen who will solve all of this'! Luc Hellemans probably needs no introduction as he is the CEO of Lantis, the company behind the Oosterweel project. His holistic view of mobility is therefore all the more surprising. Sweco also plays an important role in the 'largest site in Europe'. As Division Director, Carl Verelst considers himself privileged to be on the front line of the transition. "We will all (have to) move in a different way, and technology will help us achieve that." How do they see this in concrete terms?
Modal shift goes hand in hand with a mind shift
Carl Verelst: "When we think of modern technology, we automatically think of navigation or driving vehicles, but with Sweco we go much further. For example, we already reuse the energy generated by our electric company vehicles in the office. This involves battery technology, but the real shift lies in changing habits, and fine-tuning production and use. We consider our travel behaviour across all disciplines. Is it still necessary to own a car, or would it be enough to have access to one when necessary? Combine this with the technology of self-driving cars and we are already looking at small-scale, collective transport in which parking spaces become almost superfluous.
Luc Hellemans believes that we should be willing to break patterns: "This is a new business model for car manufacturers, moving from sales to sharing platforms. For the transport sector, the key lies in coordinating rail, water and road traffic. If we manage to break down barriers in the transport regions, we will be able to focus the networks on the right priorities. The greatest gains can be made in the operation of the railways. If we fail to act now, we will be forced to make amends in 10 years' time. For example, we recently showed Sophie Dutordoir, CEO of SNCB, around bottlenecks in and around the port of Antwerp to look at the strategic approach. It is not well-known yet, but a lot is happening behind the scenes at De Lijn to optimise public transport."
A holistic view on mobility
If you look into the Oosterweel Connection today, you will see that this project is about so much more than infrastructure. Liveable mobility is the norm. Luc Hellemans even refers to it as a wellbeing challenge. "You can no longer view mobility policy separately from climate and health policy. Our assumption is that the modal shift will already be largely realised by the end of the works. The target is 50% road traffic (instead of the current 70%) and 50% through other modes. That is why we are consciously removing traffic and offering alternatives. A European first, for example, is the construction of a sharing system for e-bikes throughout the transport region. In order to achieve the desired 50/50 modal shift in 10 years' time, we need to provide the infrastructure required today. People can then choose to spend time in traffic jams, or try the alternative. In addition to a modal shift, there is also a mind shift. Also here it is all about a change in behaviour."
Why are bicycles only really making a breakthrough now? Because it is becoming easier to park them safely at a station. Because electric bikes mean that you no longer arrive at work sweaty. What is an additional motivation for shared cars? Because with a shared subscription, you are guaranteed a free parking space, even in the city centre. Breaking down barriers helps to make the connection. And what may have seemed unthinkable a generation ago is evident today.
Carl Verelst: "We can be proud of the steps that have already been taken to make mobility more efficient, safer and more liveable. Freight trains up to 740 metres long will take trucks off the road, the LEZ, 30 zones, the diesel ban, etc. We hardly ever stop to think about it, but like the smoking ban in restaurants, this too was initially met with a great deal of resistance. We still have a long way to go, but with a consistent vision and policies we can achieve a lot."