In his Brussels technology tips our tech guy Colin Moors looks at apps that can improve your daily life in the capital.
Of all my scribblings about tech for this magazine, I realized I have yet to do a roundup of useful apps for Brussels-based people. So, whether you’re here for a short-term contract (which is how the majority of us ended up staying ten or more years) or zipping over for the weekend, here are the apps that’ll enhance your stay and just maybe make life a little easier. For convenience, I have tried to make sure all apps are available for iPhone and Android devices and that all are free, or fully useable but with paid extras.
First and foremost, you’re going to need to get around. One of the joys of car ownership in Brussels is the sheer number of hours you’ll get to watch pedestrians whizzing past as you wonder why it’s taking so long and what the hell that bozo up ahead is playing at. This can all be avoided by using public transport. Yes, the system is not without its detractors and sometimes it’s mystifying, but it is still the best way of getting from A to B, for the most part. The three transport apps that are always in my pocket are:
STIB/MIVB: The official app of the Brussels area transport authority. The web site is good but complicated on small devices, so the app is what you need here. All the bus, tram and Metro times are shown in real time, or as close as is possible, so if the app says the bus is 10 minutes away, it usually is. Great for checking transport times but not so great for planning a trip.
CityMapper: This is the go-to for getting around – and it is useable in many major cities, too – not just Brussels. You can let it find you by location services, or just plug in where you want to get to and from and let if figure out the best combination of transport. For a free app, this is ridiculously good. If you have the phone’s GPS on, it’ll give you step-by-step directions to your destination. It’ll also tell you how many calories you burned on the walking bits, and how many trees you’ve saved by not using your car. It also includes full transport maps. I have no idea how they make any money, as I have yet to see an advertisement on there.
UberX: I suspect you’ve heard of this, as it’s powered by Google, a company not shy in promoting its services. In case you don’t know it, it’s like a taxi service, except people use their own vehicles. No money changes hands, as it’s all taken off your credit card by UberX, not the driver. Routes are pre-agreed and you can check that they are going the right way directly from your own app. The regular government-licensed cabs in Brussels go from quite expensive during the day to frighteningly expensive after dark. Using UberX to get you to the airport is a no-brainer.
So, you know how to get around – but where will you go? Many of the mainstream travel apps seem to work on the basis that you already know the city but I prefer the ones that are slightly off at a tangent.