By TP Saran
Some time back, commenting on the incident wherein a lady driver hit the tram at a prohibited turn in the Vandermeersch segment, the example was given of how the police in Mumbai used the nudge technique devised by behavioural economists to prevent vehicle drivers from continuously honking when the red light was on.
The article concluded by suggesting the following: ‘In the case of the local metro, one possibility is to have the train beep as it approaches an intersection, either automatically or by a manual operation. But given the level of sophistication of the trams installing such a beeper should not be a big deal, and we feel it should be considered, and the public informed accordingly. If the metro authorities have an alternative or better idea, by all means that should be implemented. But something must be done, that’s for sure. Let us hope – or pray – that something is worked out and implemented as soon as possible, before another mishap takes place.’
Unfortunately, another accident, this time fatal, has occurred before any such measure could be introduced. In fact on Sunday last in the evening 27-year old Yannick Permal succumbed to his injuries when he attempted to rush through the red light as the train was approaching and collided with it. While expressing our sincere condolences for his deep and unfortunate loss to the bereaved, widowed father with this only child, we cannot help reflecting on this tragic episode based on what information is available to date.
In so doing we take note of the on-the- spot and immediate reactions of the crowd that gathered at the site of the accident on that evening, of the reported accounts in the media, of comments by the general public and some internauts, and of the reply given by the Minister of Land Transport Hon Alan Ganoo to the PNQ addressed to him in the National Assembly on Monday 24th February.
It is now established that the Train Captain has tested negative for alcohol, and that when the accident happened he applied the emergency brake as per protocol. Something new that we learnt from the reply to the PNQ is that the train slows down to 20 km/hour as it approaches an intersection – and any regular driver will tell you that going at 20 km/km is practically like crawling. So the force at the moment of impact in any accident involving the tram will derive mostly from the vehicle that collides with it, although we do concede that its slow speed notwithstanding, there will definitely be a significant momentum because of its weight – as a simple knowledge of physics will inform us.
As regards the victim going through the red light, l’express of last Monday published the brief account of a witness Mr Govind Mooroogen, who said: ‘Oui, le feu était au rouge. Et nous nous sommes arêtes. Mais un piéton a traversé malgré cela. Apres 30-35 secondes, on a vu arriver à grande allure un homme à moto. Il klaxonnait et le train arrivait en même temps. Il a heurté de plein fouet le métro… Je suis sorti immédiatement de ma voiture pour l’aider, mais il était trop tard’ (italics added).
We will never know what went through the head of this young man as he made the headlong rush that cost him his life. Did he feel empowered and have a surge of adrenaline, and wanted to test himself as it were, given that, according to his cousin Florianne who was close to him – again as published in l’express of Tuesday 25th February – ‘il avait une passion pour la moto’? Having seen any number of young men riding on powerful motorbikes, we have a good idea of how excited they feel and are oblivious to risks that they may take – to their detriment.
On the other hand, it is a fact that legally the train has a right of way on the track and at intersections, according to the reply given to the PNQ, and that was the rule that was being followed at the moment of the accident. There is, however, another dimension to this aspect of the system, and that is the responsibility of the public, more so of vehicle users, to strictly follow the rules of the highway code. Sadly, in the present case, there was a breach on the part of the victim, and this should serve as a warning in future to all those who are likely to interface with the metro.
In the reply to the PNQ, allusion is made to the police authorities who emphasise the responsibility of road users. In the same vein, several internauts from places as far as Sweden and Italy have commented that they have similar trams in their respective countries and that people are very cautious when it comes to intersections which are also without any barriers. Besides, the barriers that are planned shortly will only be temporary, so road behaviour will have to adapt and adjust accordingly – but we await impatiently to know what form of security or warning will be provided.
One of the ‘hot’ reactions we hear in a video-clip of the accident is that ‘bisin arête rouler sa couyonade la’. Very simple to say, but the reality is that the metro is back to running normally, as we have ourselves seen, and are full of passengers. So far, revealed Hon Alan Ganoo, about 800,000 people have travelled by the metro, and many are those we have met who are fully satisfied with the service, especially in terms of time saved and the convenience and comfort. One can understand the emotive exclamation of the bystander who was there, but that would not be the view of the hundreds of thousands – and counting — of metro travellers.
One last point that needs to be made is about the level of the metro track: former Minister Anil Bachoo is on record as confirming that in the original plan, the track was elevated at designated areas, including where the accident took place, and that the incoming government modified it. This is a serious matter, and the government must come clean on it. It there are any cogent and valid technical reasons why the change was brought about, we don’t see any reason why a government with such a strong mandate should repeatedly risk its reputation and not disclose the exact information so as to put to rest any further contentions on the original plan.
As we embark on the next phase of metro extension, we hope that we will be guaranteed that no stone will be left unturned to maintain absolute vigilance about the security aspect.
* Published in print edition on 28 February 2020