Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles...but mostly Trains.

Brussels and Belgium have an amazing public transportation network. In Brussels, if the metro doesn't take you there, then an easily accessible tram or bus surely will. What I find to be most impressive, and something DC should really look into, is that Brussels publishes a widely-available public transportation map that includes the Metro, Bus, and Tram lines so you do not have to spend time trying comparing Bus and Metro maps to figure out where you are going. The bus is not a mystery here, as it is to most casual public transportation users in D.C. It makes getting around town much more convenient, and the up to the minute GPS location of all public transportation vehicles is available online and over the phone (I hear D.C. might be trying to start this project up again). And on top of all that, a month long, unlimited public transportation pass, that is good on all forms of transportation is only 30 Euros for people under 26. As a carless District resident, I rely heavily on the metro and bus system to get to school and work and am grateful for the hard work of WMATA employees, but I really appreciate what the city of Brussels provides its residents and am looking forward to making some suggestions to WMATA when I get back.

Belgium is a small country; roughly the size of Maryland. Due to its size and wealth it has been able to build a rail network that zips you around the country in no time and with relative ease. Early on during the trip, I purchased a Go Pass for 50 Euros that provided me with ten one way trips anywhere in Belgium and have had a great time using it. With a Go Pass you don't need to stand in line at the station, you just fill out your destination on the ticket, hop on the train and go, no reservation required. Brussels to Antwerp in 45 minutes; Brussels to Gent in 35 minutes; Gent to Brugge in 25 minutes; anyway you get the idea. It’s easy to get around, making for endless possibilities for short day trips around the country so that you can make it back to Brussels at night and save on paying for hotels everywhere you go.

Belgium also has a great highway network for those places that don't have easy train access, and renting a car or finding a friend of a friend that has one is a great option for trips around Belgium. Gas is more expensive here than in the US, but you get the feeling you're actually paying what it’s worth. For those with travel ambitions a bit further afield, Brussels' main airport is easily accessible by public transport from multiple places in the city. Getting down to the Charleroi airport, where the budget airlines fly out of, is also relatively easy.

I know this may sound like an infomercial for public transportation in Belgium, but I am impressed and envious of the ease of travel here without having to own a car. As those who live in the DC area without a car know, it can be frustrating relying on infrequent, uncoordinated public transport without even the option of convenient travel to surrounding areas.

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