By T.P. Saran
There is no gainsaying the fact that Mauritius needs an efficient and sustainable alternative mode of transport – as part of its overall development and to cope with growing socio-economic activity which entails the mobility across the island of increasing numbers of its population. It has been nearly a couple of decades that the Light Railway Transit or LRT mode was identified as the “best option” for an alternative mode. The existing mode of road-based vehicular traffic comprising cars, commercial transport vehicles such as buses, lorries, vans, etc., as well as two-wheelers was proving to be swelling in numbers by the year, resulting in traffic congestion which has system wide impacts – delays along the road, accidents, human toll and so on. The LRT idea was maintained when the initial National Physical Development Plan (1990) was reformulated as the National Development Strategy (NDS, 2004). NDS is due to be reviewed and tenders have already been launched for the purpose.
Finally, after making its way down the years through successive regimes, it has fallen to the current government to implement the LRT. As pointed out by Minister Nando Bodha in the National Assembly, ‘In reply to previous PNQs relating to the Metro Express Project, I had had the opportunity of highlighting that the Metro Express Project is the most complex infrastructure project embarked upon in this country.
And I also explained the different stages which have been carried out for implementation of this project. Following various studies carried out, it was concluded that the Light Rail Transit is the most effective solution to address the need for transforming and modernising the public transport sector in Mauritius.’
It is the Singapore Cooperation Enterprise (SCE) that has been ‘entrusted with the task of carrying out the Business Case and Reference Design Project for the development of the Mauritius Light Rail Transit’, and the different stages involved in the assignment include, importantly, ‘transport planning and modelling’, and the ‘Reference Design, including engineering feasibility and selection of preferred route, and economic impact assessment’.
Among the several requirements that were incorporated in the Environmental Management and Sustainability Plan of the contractor were the socio-economic aspect, hydrology and surface water, and utility services. As the Minister pointed out, ‘before embarking on the construction works, Larsen and Toubro Ltd carried out the following: Geotechnical Investigation, Topographic Survey, Condition Survey, Utilities mapping, and Traffic Assessment. Emphasising this aspect, he stated that, ‘It is clear that all necessary requirements, including technical, engineering or otherwise, have been fulfilled and the required technical and environmental parameters have been complied with to ensure that the project is being carried out in the best possible condition’.
As far as utilities mapping is concerned, he said that the latest technology has been used, namely the Ground Penetrating Radar, from 29 Nov 2017 to 24 Feb 2018 for the stretch of Rose Hill to Port Louis and that the SCE was fully satisfied that the mapping was done successfully and the mapping was done as per the norms. Nevertheless, in spite of making use of the latest and the best, there have been some issues that have resulted in complaints. Amongst others is reduced accessibility to their premises by some people, but the Contractor has ensured that tailor made alternative accesses/routes are being provided and maintained for all businesses along/near the works site throughout the works with due regards to safety aspects for all users’. Further, ‘any complaints from the businesses should be addressed to Larsen and Toubro, Metro Express and to my office, so that there is a better coordination, and legal advisors of Metro Express and Larsen and Toubro will consider the cases. As in the first case of 10 million, the lawyers of Larsen and Toubro are addressing this issue’.
In any project of such complexity and size, which is expected to be a game-changer for the country as the transport modernisation is projected to ease traffic congestion. But this cannot happen unless there is an integrated approach that takes into consideration policies regarding the importation of cars including reconditioned/second-hand ones, which add to the float of vehicle plying the roads. In other words, the LR must not be a stand-alone project, and apparently this is the case, as clarified by the Minister: ‘I would like to highlight that the metro express project is not a stand-alone project. It is being accompanied with a regeneration of the whole urban areas along the Port Louis-Curepipe corridor’. In this perspective, ‘Government decided to embark on the redevelopment and modernisation of urban terminals along the Port Louis-Curepipe corridor namely: the Victoria and Immigration Square terminals in Port Louis, Place Margeot in Rose-Hill, the stations in Quatre Bornes, Vacoas and Jan Palach in Curepipe’, and this will involve an investment of Rs10 billion from the private sector.
All this said, however, as much as we have no choice but to trust that the strategic aspect (the route traced out) will be aligned with the local context in the towns, such as Quatre-Bornes for example, there is still confusion in the public’s mind as to how far the expected decongestion and improvement in fluidity of traffic will take place. Here comes into play too the behaviour of the traveller, and we have not come across any official allusion to this human dimension, which we think is a significant aspect. It is about persuading people to change to a combination of walking and using the LRT instead of the private car. Such an attitudinal shift cannot be enforced or regulated, so every physical feature of the LRT and infrastructural accompaniments must be designed and implemented with this aspect in mind. There is also of course the cost aspect which will influence the user’s decision, and we hope that there has been some cost-benefit analysis in the course of the feasibility studies.
We would all welcome a transformative change in the transport landscape that would, in addition, improve not only mobility but enhance the quality of life through associated developments to match. Will 2019 gratify these expectations? Does LRT have the answer, will it be the solution? We genuinely hope so.
* Published in print edition on 30 November 2018