L-R: Paul Schonenberg, AMCHAM Chairman and CEO; François Bausch, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Mobility and Public Works; Credit: Jazmin Campbell

On Monday afternoon, the American Business Association (ABAL) of the American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) in Luxembourg held a lunch event on the national mobility plan at the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel.

The event, held just one day after the official introduction of free public transport in Luxembourg, brought together members of the business community and local dignitaries, such as Dutch Ambassador Han-Maurits Schaapveld, Advisor to the Czech Embassy Kateřina Sternbergová and Honorary Consul General of Hungary Jean Ries. The guest of honour on this occasion was François Bausch, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Mobility and Public Works, for Internal Security and of Defence.

Following the main course and an introduction by AMCHAM Chairman and CEO Paul Schonenberg, Deputy Prime Minister François Bausch presented the national mobility plan for Luxembourg. In his presentation, Minister Bausch first recalled that mobility is one of the world’s major challenges at present. He added that efforts on adapting national mobility did not start with the introduction of free public transport in Luxembourg but rather seven years ago when he first joined the government as Minister for Sustainable Development and Infrastructure.

Investment in multimodal mobility key to changing attitudes

Discussing ways to change the population’s attitude to mobility, Minister Bausch recognised that neither free public transport nor climate change would be enough to convince motorists to leave their car at home. Instead, he stressed the importance of showing the population the concrete benefits of opting for public transport and soft mobility through the introduction of a new and more efficient multimodal mobility system.

In his presentation, Minister Bausch looked at the concrete example of Luxembourg’s railways, recalling that it is not just the country’s roads that have suffered from congestion over the years but also its railways. In this context, he stressed the importance of investment in the extension and modernisation of the rail network, a lot of which has already begun since the coalition government first came into power in 2013. Indeed, the current annual investment in the railways is €600 per resident in Luxembourg, which is considerably high in comparison with its neighbouring countries like Germany (€60) and France (€37). Explaining this gap, Minister Bausch highlighted the importance role of political priorities, as opposed to a country’s wealth alone.

Regarding train passenger numbers, François Bausch explained how these had increased by 70% in fifteen years (2003-2018). He added that the introduction of free, or rather “free to use” (as he described it), public transport would have little financial impact, not least because national ticket fares were already rather low. Taking such matters into consideration, Minister Bausch maintained that there would be “little risk of an opportunistic passenger surge” after the introduction of free mobility on 1 March 2020.

“Free” public transport

More specifically, the Deputy Prime Minister recalled that public transport is now financed by taxes and that gratuity applies to state-financed means of mobility (trains, buses, trams, etc). He also explained how earlier discussions had led to the decision to leave first class train ticket fares unchanged. Regarding train staff, he stated: “I am against empty trains and railway stations”, hence the decision to keep on such staff but shift their focus away from ticket control to passenger service.

Describing the introduction of free public transport as “the icing on the cake”, Minister Bausch defended the marketing decision to compare this milestone to world-changing events such as the moon landing. He argued that such comparisons have succeeded (and will continue to succeed) in attracting attention – just as “unprecedented investments” in the mobility offer will attract the attention of passengers.

François Bausch also expressed pride at Luxembourg becoming a sort of “laboratory” for experimentation in the domain of multimodal mobility, emphasising its international nature as a place where many cultures meet (ie its own mobility culture but also that of neighbouring countries).

Modu 2.0: Strategic sustainable development goals for 2025

Touching briefly on the new Modu 2.0 sustainable development strategy, Minister Bausch primarily spoke of the need to improve mobility solutions during peak hours. He added that the strategy focuses on people first, before looking at vehicles. For instance, when planning infrastructure, it will be important to look at the number of passengers in cars rather than just the number of cars. In this way, the strategy aims to encourage carpooling (to reduce congestion), to mobilise the many stakeholders (regional, municipal, citizens and employers/companies) to resolve these traffic-related problems, and to anticipate and plan for future demand.

Luxembourg’s Deputy Prime Minister also looked at other modes of transportation, namely cycling (600km of planned cycle paths), park + rides with increased capacity and the new bus network (adapting the historic network to future demand), work on which will begin in May 2020. More express buses and extended evening and weekend bus services are also in the pipeline, as are plans for a 100% electric bus fleet by 2030.

Discussing digitalisation, Minister Bausch presented the multimodal mobility app, which launched last year. He added that the app is set to be enlarged and enhanced in the future. Nevertheless, he emphasised that such digital tools served to contribute to efforts to improve mobility in Luxembourg but cannot alone solve the problem.

To conclude his presentation, François Bausch stressed that lots of work remains to be done but that the vision is already there. He then opened the floor to questions.

During the Q&A session, Chronicle.lu asked the Deputy Prime Minister the following question: Taking into consideration the nature of the free transport initiative as a social policy, do you have any estimations as to the potential reduction of private vehicles being used in the cities and towns? And, linked to this, do you foresee a significant uptake in people using public transport?

In response, Minister Bausch reiterated that he did not believe that free public transport would necessarily increase passenger numbers or decrease the use of private vehicles. He did, however, believe that the initiative would serve as both “leverage” and a social measure. More impactful in this regard, according to Minister Bausch, will be the planned extension of the tram to the Gare district, as well as the modernisation of services and the introduction of new public transport connections. Indeed, he foresees “an enormous push” in relation to the tram extension, not least because the number of tram passengers has increased significantly since its introduction in 2017: the tram recorded 4.2 million passengers in its first full year of operation (2018), before increasing to 6.7 million passengers last year.