Mobility is undoubtedly one of the biggest social challenges today, and is often the subject of debate. But it is clear that there are still many disagreements regarding the concepts, definitions and figures used, in particular with respect to company mobility. In order to make up for these deficiencies and fuel a properly informed debate, Brussels Studies Institute established the inter-university research chair “Companies and sustainable mobility”, with the support of eleven private and public stakeholders from the sector.
In all logic, the researchers involved could not avoid the difficult issue of company cars, which is often in the news. The first results have been published in two fact sheets, which constitute the 113th and 114th issues of the online journal Brussels Studies. Xavier May, economist at Université libre de Bruxelles, and Thomas Ermans, geographer at Université Saint-Louis – Bruxelles, quantified the number of company cars, located the beneficiaries and described the companies which provide them to their workers, based on the small amount of data available. These analyses take on their full meaning at time when the federal government has announced its intention to replace the fiscally advantageous system of company cars with a mobility budget.
In order to evaluate precisely the economic, tax, environmental and mobility implications of company cars, it is necessary to agree on their numbers, which is not an easy task. This involves specifying exactly what they are. The researchers have used a definition of the company car in the strict sense, namely a car which is made available to a worker by his or her company or employer and which may be used for private reasons. Therefore, personal vehicles belonging to self-employed workers (primary, secondary or assisting) or service vehicles which an employer makes available to staff for exclusively professional use, are not included in this definition. Two categories of beneficiary are included in this definition: employees and company directors, with the latter having the status of self-employed worker.
The problem is that it is impossible to estimate precisely the number of company cars in Belgium, as we do not know how many are made available to company directors. There were at least 550 000 in 2015 (425 000 for employees and 125 000 for company directors, for whom they are recorded distinctly) and in all likelihood at most 670 000 if the estimate is based on the type of owner of a vehicle, which implies that 80 % of company directors are beneficiaries. Certain observers state that 2/3 of company directors have a company car. Based on this more cautious estimate, one may state that there were approximately 625 000 company cars, which corresponds to 13.5 % of workers and 11 % of the total number of cars in Belgium.
The mapping of the place of residence of employees who benefit from company cars shows that – in relative terms as well – there are more company cars in Flanders and Brussels than in Wallonia. However, by refining the analysis to district level, Walloon Brabant has the most. Overall, overrepresentations are observed essentially in the large metropolitan areas of the centre and north of the country.
An approach centred on the workplace (and not on the place of residence), carried out for the Brussels-Capital Region, shows a high level of variability in the use of company cars from one company to another. The vast majority of those which provide this benefit most often to their employees belong to the service company sector, with a location which is highly dependent on the use of cars: more parking spaces are provided and access by public transport is mediocre. They are located mainly in business parks in the outskirts, but their workers do not necessarily cover the longest distances between home and work. The companies in Brussels which are proportionately less marked by the use of company cars are those with a more central function from an operational or historic point of view. This of course includes the public administrations, as well as banks and insurance companies, as well as commerce.
Apart from the difficulty to make an accurate assessment of the extent of the phenomenon, the figures and cross-referencing of data presented in these fact sheets highlight the fact that the intensity of use of company cars is associated with the mobility profile of the companies considered. The question of company cars is therefore not limited to the issue of the tax shift and the mobility budget. Statistical questions are also raised (Who are the beneficiaries and how many of them are there?), as well as questions regarding the organisation of work and land-use planning, through close relations between the sectors of activity, location profiles and mobility profiles. All of this takes place on a metropolitan scale which transcends the regional administrative divisions.