Today is election day and this means the drafting of a new coalition agreement is getting closer. Tomorrow we will know which parties are likely to participate in the formation and which themes will dominate the negotiations. One of the subjects that will undoubtedly be on the table is the development of public transport. The Corona crisis has disproportionally affected the public transport sector, and there is a good chance that public transport will continue to feel the impact of the crisis even after Corona. People will continue to partially work from home, fewer live meetings will be organized and there will be more out-of- rush-hour commutes to avoid congestion. Despite these developments, the political parties are confidently looking beyond the Corona crisis and concrete plans have been drawn up to maintain the mobility and accessibility of the Netherlands. In this article, Eef Brands and Nick Spier outline the four most notable developments in the mobility field.
1. From planes to trains
While international rail transport was only cautiously mentioned in a few election programs back in 2017, this year it turns out to be one of the most striking topics in the mobility field. The majority of parties declare that train transport is a viable alternative to short-haul flights. The parties do, however, differ in opinion on how this shift should be achieved. On the right, for instance, the Conservative Liberals (VVD) want to improve travel time, frequency and travel comfort in order to get people to take the train instead of the plane, while on the left Jesse Klaver’s party (the Greens) would prefer to completely stop short flights for which the train is a valid alternative. The parties also disagree on what is meant by “short distances”: The liberal democrats (D66) speak of short distances up to 700 km, while the Animal Party (PvdD) would prefer to add another 500 km to this. Despite the fact that the positions differ, it is clear that there is agreement on the use of more trains and fewer flights in a future coalition agreement.
2. No housing without accessibility
All parties agree that the realization of good public transport connections is necessary to open up new residential areas. The Liberal Democrats (D66), Greens (GroenLinks) and Conservative Christians (SGP) even consider it a requirement. The Liberal Democrats (D66) go the furthest in this respect, stating that new residential areas must be within a maximum distance of 10 minutes from a trainstation. Although the latter may not be realistic, the subject received broad consensus from the parties during recent election debates. As a result, concrete agreements on this issue in the coalition agreement seem very likely.
3. Accessibility of the regions
Parties on both sides of the spectrum want to promote regional accessibility. In particular, they want to offer good public transport facilities for the more remote areas. This can be done by rail, but also light rail is considered a suitable option. In addition, there is much talk of realizing ‘hubs’. The Conservative Liberals (VVD), Conservative Democrats (CDA), Animal Party (PvdD) and Christian Union (CU) all want so-called multimodal transfer points, where people can switch to other forms of (shared) transport to improve the region’s accessibility. The most striking point is the proposed high-speed connection between Lelystad and Groningen: the Lelylijn. Given the wide parliamentary support for building this connection as soon as possible, it seems almost certain to be included in the next coalition agreement. Furthermore, improving the overall accessibility of the North of the Netherlands is central to the mobility passages of almost all programs. This has been a successful lobby by the region, but now it is a matter of realizing this at the negotiating table.
4. Road pricing
Lastly, the principle of “Paying according to use” was discussed. The parties do not agree on this. The Conservative Liberals (VVD), and Conservative Democrats (CDA) want a car tax based on kilometers driven, which will also apply to emission-free and electric cars. This money should be used to maintain roads. They also do not wish to further burden the already contributing drivers. The Liberal Democrats (D66) and the Animal Party (PvdD), on the other hand, want a km charge based on CO2 emissions, location and time. The Christian Union (CU) also wants a km-based charge for passenger cars, but with a low basic price per km in order to spare regions with limited availability of public transport. The Labour Party (PvdA) adheres to the ‘polluter pays’ principle and would like to see a charge based on the number of km driven. The Greens (GroenLinks) want to introduce road pricing instead of motor vehicle taxation. The Conservative Democrats (CDA) and the Freedom Party (PVV) argue that if there are clear agreements on flexible work, road pricing is no longer necessary and even unfair, especially for people in contact professions.
Overall, there seems to be more than enough support to actually introduce a form of usage-based taxation after years of discussion. The question is, however, whether the parties will be able to reach an agreement this time, given the range of different preferences.