Less commuting, more outdoor exercise and more space for cyclists

To gain an insight into the impact of the coronavirus measures on mobility behaviour in Belgium, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel research group MOBI conducted research into people’s mobility habits. “The results show that the bicycle, especially the electric bike, is gaining in popularity. The big loser is public transport,” says researcher Alice De Séjournet.


  • Three-quarters of those questioned did not commute during the lockdown.

  • 40% indicated that they would not do so after the measures were relaxed, mainly because homeworking is compulsory or possible within their company.

  • 55% of the people who are commuting again indicated that they would do so as often as before the lockdown; 40% of them would like to commute less often.

  • For commuters, car use remains at the same level as before. Walking (19%) and cycling (13%) in particular see an increase in modal share, at the expense of public transport use. Electric cycling is becoming more popular.

  • Respondents indicated less use of public transport, with metro use down by 39% and train use down by 12%.

  • 65% of respondents indicated that they went outside during the lockdown with the sole objective of active exercise; 52% said they went outside more to exercise after the measures were relaxed than they had during the confinement.

Findings of mobility behaviour for shopping purposes:

  • 10% of respondents ordered prepared meals for delivery or collection for the first time.

  • 10% were shopping online for the first time.

  • 25% shopped online more than usual.

  • 65% said they went to the store less than usual.

  • For non-food, too, the survey suggests that people will go to shops less often and order more online for home delivery once the measures are lifted.

  • 20% of those surveyed will go out to eat more than before when the hospitality industry reopens, and 1 in 3 will do so less often.


What about public transport?

The survey also examined the (re)use of public transport. “Public transport is clearly the big loser. This trend can also be observed abroad, where there has been a drop to 40% of previous capacity,” says Professor Lieselot Vanhaverbeke, coordinator of the survey. “The results of our survey show that most users find it important to know the occupancy rate of public transport. It appears to be the most convincing measure to get users back on the train, even more so than wearing face masks. Providing this information would therefore enable public transport companies to win back some of their customers.”

The future

Professor Cathy Macharis, co-director of MOBI: “This crisis can become a tipping point towards a more sustainable mobility system. Three-quarters of the respondents also indicate that this crisis is a good opportunity to change the policy on mobility and public space. 60% of respondents agree with giving more space to pedestrians and cyclists at the expense of cars, while 25% are explicitly against this. 50% also express support for closing school environments to cars before and after school, while one in three is against this. Half of the respondents are convinced that a more sustainable mobility system will help to meet the global climate targets.”

The responses of 614 respondents were analysed, with good representation of all age groups and an overrepresentation of highly educated people. The study was conducted in Brussels, Flanders and Wallonia.