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EU Urban Mobility Observatory
News article21 January 20193 min read

E-commerce poses a challenge to reducing congestion in Brussels

In spite of a recent decline in overall car use in Brussels in recent years, congestion in the Belgian capital is still growing. Recent numbers from Brussels Mobility show that car use dropped by 12 % (measured in passenger km) and 15 % (vehicle km) between 2012 and 2016. This is due to the Brussels-Capital Region implementing a wide range of measures to manage transport demand and to promote modal shift and sustainable transport. The increase in congestion is due, at least in part, to the growth in e-commerce, which has increased the amount of delivery vans in Brussels by between 10 % and 15% over the last five years.

New figures from Brussels Mobility for 2017-2018 show an increase in the number of delivery vans in Brussels. Every morning, 30 000 vans operate in the city, which is 9% of the vehicles that make up the morning traffic. The increase in the number of vans is attributed to multiple factors, one of which is the massive growth of e-commerce in the last few years. The growth in e-commerce in Belgium has increased by 11% since 2016. Cathy Macharis, lecturer on sustainable mobility and logistics at the Free University of Brussels, spoke to of the increase in e-commerce in Belgium:

“Although our country [i.e. Belgium] is a bit behind compared to the United Kingdom, 76 % of all Belgians with internet access bought something online last year.”

While e-commerce is identified as one of the culprits, recent policy decisions have also had an influence on the increase in the number of delivery vans. For example, more and more Belgian cities are striving to eliminate heavy vehicles from the city centres, which may have influenced the use of vans. In addition, delivery vans face lower tax and user charges compared to heavier vehicles.

Integration of urban freight in Brussels' SUMP

To deal with the negative impacts of urban freight transport, Brussels introduced a 'Strategic Plan for Goods Traffic in Brussels-Capital Region' in July 2013, as specified in the Brussels' second Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (SUMP). The goods traffic plan is based on three pillars:

  1. Facilitating routes and making them more accessible;
  2. Facilitating and improving deliveries, by using more eco-friendly modes; 
  3. Aggregating goods as much as possible, so there are fewer empty vehicles on the road, by using urban distribution centres.

Various actions from the plan have been delivered: a pilot project for an urban distribution centre; development of business delivery plans; the analysis of freight flows; and an inventory of logistics sites. In 2017, Brussels was presented with the SUMP Award 2016 for its work on making freight deliveries more sustainable.

The urban freight plan is still being implemented. Actions that are currently being prepared in more detail include the introduction of new policies on time windows for freight delivery, the further development of (specialised) consolidation centres for goods and the introduction of (dedicated) routes and parking for urban freight trucks. In addition, Brussels opened a call for local councils within the Capital-Region to express interest in initiating projects that stimulate the provision and use of cargobikes with financial support from the Capital-Region.

New phase

While its mobility figures show that Brussels’ sustainable mobility policy is paying off to some extent, and the use of other modes of transport has increased sharply in recent years, challenges remain, particularly in relation to growing congestion and to urban freight. In the transition period towards more sustainable mobility, the Brussels Region must also develop solutions for professional drivers who have no alternative to the car. These solutions will be an integral part of Brussels’ third SUMP (Good Move) for the period 2018-2028. Preparation of this plan started in 2016 and it is expected to be finalised during the course of 2019.



Publication date
21 January 2019
  • Urban freight/city logistics
  • Belgium