The boss of Belgium’s state railway, SNCB/NMBS, wants urgent talks with the government over a plan to offer free train rides to stimulate the tourism industry, fearing it will spur the spread of the coronavirus.
The plan is for the state to hand out 10 free rides, with a bike place included, to every Belgian resident for use across the national network between July and December, according to a government announcement over the weekend.
“The free distribution of tourism train passes to all Belgian residents raises the question of the sanitary safety of travelers and staff,” said SNCB CEO Sophie Dutordoir in a tweeted response Sunday. She said the company “won’t under any circumstance jeopardize the safety for which it’s worked extremely hard” and called for urgent consultation on how the program will work in practice.
While the Greens are among those that back the plan, others warn of overcrowding fears on services running to coastal hotspots such as Ostend and Knokke.
“By promoting working remotely, we’re trying to relieve public transport, and therefore make it safer,” said Marc Van Ranst, a virologist. “Then free train tickets are at this time a risk of overcrowding of the trains.”
During peak summer months, SNCB regularly has to put on special weekend services to shuttle residents from Brussels to the coast.
“That the [government] wants to promote the use of public transport again as a sustainable mode of transport with the population is a good thing,” said Dutordoir in a tweet. “However, the way the decision was taken … without any consultation, raises very serious questions.”