The public transportation system in Brussels is moderately accessible to wheelchair users. The most accessible means of transit is the city bus system, which is almost completely accessible. The city’s subway system can be navigated at many stations, but will require extensive planning and patience. Additional information is outlined below.
The Brussels Metro, or subway, is composed of 4 individual lines which run primarily below ground. The network serves a total of 59 stations. About half of these stations are equipped with elevators and are thus able to accommodate wheelchairs. The following stations offer step-free access from the street to the metro platform:
- Line 1: Alma, Centraal Station, Crainhem, De Brouckere, Etangs Noirs, Maelbeek, Sainte-Catherine, Stockel, Tomberg, Weststation.
- Line 2: Botanique, Delacroix, Gare du Midi, Osseghem, Porte de Namur, Rogier, Weststation, Yser.
- Line 5: Aumale, Bizet, Centraal Station, CERIA, De Brouckere, Demey, Eddy Merckx, Erasmus, Etangs Noirs, Hankar, La Roue, Maelbeek, Petillon, Saint-Guidon, Sainte-Catherine, Veeweyde, Weststation,
- Line 6: Belgica, Botanique, Delacroix, Gare du Midi, Heysel, Houba-Brugmann, Osseghem, Pannenhuis, Porte de Namur, Roi Baudouin, Rogier, Weststation, Yser.
Although step-free access may be available to the platform, it is not always possible to roll-on or roll-off the trains without assistance. Particularly in the underground stations of central Brussels, a step of up to 6 or 7 inches may be present. This is a barrier that is difficult to safely overcome in a manual wheelchair, and virtually impossible for most powered wheelchairs.
The city provides staff to assist passengers in wheelchairs with boarding and alighting the metro trains. Ramps are available for use, but must be requested. Assistance can be reserved in advance by calling +32 2 515 23 65 or by filling out an assistance request form on the www.stib-mivb.be website. Assistance can also be requested at the stations, either by speaking to a member of station staff or by using one of the contact points available at the entrance to each station. Because not every metro station in staffed, response times will vary and travelers are advised to prepare for a wait of up to one hour. A staff member is dispatched to assist with the ramp at both the departure and destination points.
At stations outside the city’s historic center, the gap/step from train to platform is typically between 2-4 inches. I strongly recommend wheelchair users request assistance for every journey to avoid the risk of being unable to get off the metro if a station is inaccessible. Other passengers may be happy to assist, but heavy power wheelchairs should really make use of the ramp. Passengers with wheelchairs should always board into the first car – the one in which the subway operator is located. While the subway network does pose challenges to wheelchair riders, it is an important tool for accessing sights like the Atomium and Mini-Europe, which cannot be easily (or quickly) reached by city bus.
There are currently 61 city bus routes in Brussels, 11 of which operate through the night. Almost all of the buses that operate on these routes are equipped with wheelchair ramps at the center or rear door which permit easy roll-on/roll-off access.
The ramps are electronic and deploy from underneath the door, as pictured in the photograph here. Wheelchair users should signal the bus driver who will activate the ramp and lower the bus using its hydraulic feature. One wheelchair space is available on each bus, though securement straps are not often available.
For the city bus, one way fares can be purchased onboard for €2,50. Fare cards purchased in advance from a ticket office or sales outlet are €2,00 per ride. In practice, passengers in wheelchairs ride free on the city’s bus network, as the fare box is located at the front of the bus. While this is not official city policy, drivers extend this courtesy. Fares are not ever waived due to disability on the metro subway, as stations are equipped with wheelchair accessible fare gates and ticket machines. Complete route maps and timetables are available on the STIB-MIVB public transportation website. You can also use the journey planner to map out a route between two locations. Information on lines 12 and 21, which provide city bus service to the airport, is also available.
Fares: City Bus & Metro
Tickets and fares for public transportation can be purchased at designated outlets, inside metro stations at automatic GO machines, from city bus drivers, or online. The following fares and passes are available. Only 1-hour JUMP fares can be purchased onboard the city bus.
- JUMP Single fare (free transfers) – €2,10 / €2,50 if purchased on bus.
- JUMP One-day unlimited travel pass – €7,50
- Airport Line (plus 1 connection) – €4,50 / €6,00 if purchased on bus.
More information on tickets, fares, passes and purchase options can be found at www.stib-mivb.be.
If you wish to travel internationally by train from Brussels, it is likely that you will begin your journey at the Gare du Midi/Zuid “South” train station. Trains with service to Northern France, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom operate from the Brussels-Midi station. These rail providers include Eurostar, ICE, Thalys and TGV, among others.
The station is fully wheelchair accessible with dedicated, family restrooms for persons with disabilities. You will need to contact your rail provider in advance to request wheelchair assistance for boarding/alighting. More information on international rail service to/from Brussels can be found in my review of the Eurostar Train from London to Brussels.