PUBLIC COMPANIES: THE SEEDS OF A LIBERAL FEVER

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The liberalization of public transport in Belgium does not seem to be on the table for discussion, acting as if it did not happen. However, the latter has been affecting them closely for the past 15 years, penetrating public companies to the very core of their management methods and investment policies. The sector is preparing to open up to competition, spinning off what it can, making itself less loss-making and shining the chrome: the bride is being prepared… to sell it better?

Liévin Chemin

17 October 2000, England. An Intercity train of the Great North Eastern Railway has just left King’s Cross station in London. A few minutes later, south of the Hatfield station, the train derailed. Result: 4 dead and 70 injured. Although the accident could have had much more serious consequences, it revealed a type of management and will partly modify the functioning of the British railways: the administration of the railways by a private company, Railtrack, revealed the under-investment in the maintenance of the railway infrastructures, while the company was making important profits…

Belgium seems to us to be less inclined to integrate private operators than the Anglo-Saxon or German companies that have taken the lead. And yet! De Lijn is a Belgian example where, partially

In addition, they are private charterers who employ contract workers and operate against payment of a public grant. The public contractual agents of the Walloon TECs partly use equipment from private companies. The SNCB and the STIB are already pandering to the private sector, talking about or practicing public-private partnerships (PPPs) that will reduce their room for manoeuvre and condition fares and accessibility. 

In fact, passenger rail transport is on the verge of being liberalized, opening the railways to the market in 2022, after 90 years of public monopoly in Belgium. However, this is not yet the case for urban transport, which will not be forced onto the road to liberalization. But perhaps we should not wait for Europe to dictate this obligation of competition… it could well be that our authorities take care of it in advance. 

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