Covenant of Mayors
  Covenant Newsletter April 2013  
Sustainable mobility, for little money!
{{{Interview with Hilde Claes, Mayor of Hasselt, Belgium.}}} The city of Hasselt, Belgium, was the first ever to introduce free public transport in 1997. Although the economic context recently forced the city to reconsider the free-of-charge nature of the scheme, public transportation in Hasselt is still substantially cheaper than in other parts of the country. In this interview with the Covenant of Mayors Office, Hasselt Mayor Hilde Claes details the multiple benefits this has meant for the city, both socially and economically. With Hasselt’s Sustainable Energy Action Plan under implementation phase, the Mayor also provides a brief outline of the future projects to be rolled out in Hasselt.

Hasselt was the first city to introduce free public transport in 1997. What benefits has this brought to the city and what would you recommend to other Covenant Signatories wishing to introduce similar measures ?

For over 15 years, free busses have been touring the city of Hasselt. Before the implementation of the system, we used to carry some 1,000 paying passengers on our extensive bus network each day. Today, this number has grown thirteenfold. To this date, around 35 million passengers have used the free bus scheme in Hasselt. Obviously this has brought multiple benefits to the city.

First of all, it has proved instrumental in keeping the traffic flowing and averting congestion in the city centre. At the same time, less cars in the city means less emissions. This helps to keep the environment clean and living standards high.

The popularity of our free bus network has also played a pivotal role in our city becoming Belgium’s fourth biggest commercial centre. And last but not least, there is also a social dimension. The extensive network enables a lot of people to easily travel to our hospitals and visit friends and relatives. It is no surprise our hospitals have reported a surge in the number of visitors they receive since we started offering free public transport.

Unfortunately, due to the financial constraints the economic crisis has brought to local governments, this project will be trimmed down at the end of this year. It will be replaced by a policy where only specific target audiences will be able to use our bus network free of charge. As of now, three target groups have been identified : youngsters until the age of 19, elderly people aged 65+ and everyone who qualifies for any form of social benefits. Everyone else will have to pay a fee of 60 eurocents, which is still considerably lower than in the rest of Belgium.

How does Hasselt cooperate with local stakeholders to progress in the implementation of its Sustainable Energy Action Plan ?

The implementation of our SEAP is still ongoing. At present, we are launching a series of initiatives to engage, motivate and inspire our citizens, companies and architects.

Besides, we are planning to introduce district heating. This means we will have to deal with very complex and technical considerations, for which we will receive the support of VITO, The Flemish Technology Research Institute.

In these difficult economic times, have you developed any innovating approach to finance sustainable energy measures ?

The City of Hasselt has established a local energy company. The benefits of energy savings and renewable energy will be invested in environment-friendly measures.

Hasselt has already invested in solar panels, wind turbines and efficient boilers. Looking towards the future, we are considering the planting of a forest, the building of a cogeneration plant and the set-up of a district heating network.

    >> Covenant Monthly Newsletter April 2013 <<
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  The sole responsibility for the content of this newsletter lies with the Covenant of Mayors Office. It does not necessary reflect the opinion of the European Union. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained therein. The Covenant of Mayors was set up with financial support of the European Commission and consists of five associations of European local authorities: Energy Cities, Climate Alliance, Eurocities, CEMR, Fedarene, and ICLEI Europe.

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