Several companies offer their services in Brussels - this is Belgium, after all! First and foremost, there is STIB or MIVB, depending on which side of the linguistic divide you prefer. The "Company for inter-communal transport in Brussels" was founded in 1954 and is a public utility operating metro, tram and bus lines. Frequency depends on the time of day and whether it's a weekday or weekend. If you're a night owl, check out their NOCTIS network of night buses. Further public transport providers include TEC, which operates in Wallonia, and De Lijn, which covers Flanders and also runs the charming Kusttram on Belgium's coast. Both companies offer bus lines into or out of Brussels - just check their maps here or here.
So where do you get tickets? Almost everywhere, actually. You can buy one on every bus or tram, albeit with a hefty premium, especially on the Airport Express Bus. The better option: the vending machines called "Go", that you'll find almost everywhere, certainly at every bigger stop or metro station. If you prefer the human touch, go to one of STIB's outlets. Tickets are valid not only for STIB, but also for the Belgian railway, De Lijn and TEC. Even for casual travelers, the best option is a 10-trip ticket. Should you need more, consider a monthly or yearly card (some employers will reimburse some or all of the cost). If you plan to use public transport regularly, do yourself a favour and get a MoBIB card. It will hold all kinds of tickets and plans (which are also cheaper this way) and is actually the only way to get into metro stations since entrance gates have been installed by STIB to crack down on fare dodgers. Additionally, you can use your MoBIB card for car-sharing and bike-sharing. De Liijn will even let you buy tickets via text message.
Accessibility is a bit of an issue, especially in some of the metro and pre-metro stops (Kunst-Wet comes to mind). However, STIB is working on this issue and things should improve in the not too distant future.
As for almost anything today, there are plenty of smartphone apps for the up-to-date traveller: STIB has a mobile version of its website, a text message service called SYNCRO and official apps for both iOS and Android devices, but you should also check out iMobi or Brussels Lines. If you prefer the big screen, Google Maps will help you plan your trip with real-time public transport information in Brussels.
There's one thing, however, that epitomises the good and bad of public transport in Brussels: getting to the airport (Zaventem or Brussels National airport). If you don't want to go their by car (parking at the airport is not cheap) or by taxi (not exactly cheap, either), you can take the bus or the train. The trouble is that there are actually two bus lines, depending on what day it is. Line 12 is the official Airport Express Bus which only serves a handful of stops. During rush hour, do not take the word "express" too seriously, though, and plan enough time in order not to miss your plane. Line 21 is also marked as an airport bus, but it only serves the airport on weekends, which confuses so many people everyday - simply because STIB doesn't make it clear enough on their signs. Sigh. Nice alternatives are De Lijn's 359 and 659 bus lines. Just hop on in Zaventem and get off at Roodebeek, which has bus and metro connections aplenty to get you into Brussels (and vice-versa).
Now you should be ready to venture into Brussels on your own. Have fun and share your experience with us!
This article was originally published in the May 2011 edition of the Sunbeams Newsletter.