P. Sungeelee

The LRT… the art of coercing the population into financial, physical and moral agony

— P. Sungeelee   

 

If you were reading Mauritius Times in the early nineties, you surely know that I am dead against the LRT. You probably expect detailed reasons.

 

 

To start off you should know that the LRT/Métro Léger is anything but light/« léger ». It is a type of tramway having a mass of around 40 tonnes. By comparison the mass of a bus is just about 6 tonnes. So why is the word « léger » used? Simply because the rails are light. They are essentially ordinary angle bars (fer angle) or the like but not the « I-section girders/rail » used for Express trains and Mass Rapid Transits of London, for instance.

 

 

The result is that the average speed of an LRT is only 26 km/h in Hong Kong (Tuen Mun) and 19 km/h in Tunis, essentially flat regions. So we cannot expect more than 22 km/h in hilly Mauritius. This means that a single trip from Port Louis to Curepipe will take over an hour and fifteen minutes. I therefore consider it misleading for any local magazine or TV to display a « TGV » capable of 300 km/h while talking of « Métro Léger ».

 

Next, you should know that the Light Rail Transport has iron wheels running on steel rails and is thus incapable of taking any gradient superior to 1 in 17. As such, if you want an LRT to move at 4.5m above Arab Town of Rose Hill or the Quatre Bornes market, ramps of 4.5 x 17m will be needed on either side of these shopping centres. Buses take gradients of 1 in 4, needing ramps of only 36m instead of 153m for the LRT.

 

Further the LRT, with steel moving on steel you have much greater amplitudes of vibration/forces in action. It is therefore almost out of question to have a 40 tonnes LRT go over « La Foire Belle Rose » or any Town Centre: out will go Arab Town and the likes. MPs and Councillors of urban Mauritius at least should really have public debates on the matter: this is advance notice that I will be a participant – unless directives « from above » prevent them from doing so, which has often been the case in the past.

 

Let’s briefly talk about politicians and transport. From 1983 to around 1994, « chemins velours » (smooth roads) were made; it started with villages and reached the main road Beau Bassin-Rose Hill around 1989. No significant new road construction followed. Instead the public was made to « dream » about a « romantic métro léger » — a nightmare in reality.

 

From 1995 to 2000 the road to the airport was converted into a dual carriageway: more useful to tourists than to Mauritians at large. The Transport Minister of the time kept talking about accident reduction but had no programme of road construction for us common mortals.

 

The most heartless government in this connection was surely the one from 2000 to 2005 : Among their achievements, (i) Road Tax went up from Rs 1500 to Rs 3500, (ii) VAT from 10% to 15%, (iii) Parking tickets from Rs 1 and Rs2 to Rs5 and Rs10 respectively, (iv) large increases were slapped on vehicle insurance (and blamed on Ben Laden), and (v) The « Automatic Pricing Mechanism » was introduced when that government could not/would not « protect the public » in keeping fuel prices low as promised before elections. Remember also that that was the government that would have « descended on the streets » if the LRT were adopted when it was in the opposition but as soon it was in power changed to “whether you like it or not, the LRT is needed for Mauritius”. The link road from Rose-Hill to Ebène was the only significant realization of the time.

 

Thus all governments have not been alike vis-à-vis the transport problem. With the 2005-10 government, I gladly agreed to pay a road-tax increase of Rs 500, with free transport for students: it does make a national difference. The Gymkhana Road, the Phoenix-Port Louis Motorway, the Verdun-Riche Terre, the Port Louis Ring Road, etc., the bus-lane in places to start with are very promising realizations.

 

This year, to the question « who do you want for Prime Minister? » I am sure that transport decongestion must have been one of the major items taken into consideration by the public before voting.

 

But governments the world over are not « innocent ». They make a lot of money from mainly middle-class car owners, viz 100% tax on new cars, 40% tax on fuel, imposing heavy fines « as a deterrent to accidents » rather than making roads safer, heavy road taxes or tolls, etc. So what’s the incentive for governments to solve traffic problems properly?

 

If the LRT is contemplated, please realize that you will be crammed in at 6 to 8 passengers per square metre (French brochures give the figure at 6 passengers to the square metre — but we are leaner here…), i.e. 80% of passengers will be standing as opposed to 80% seated at present. The Mauritian expression « sardine dans boîte » is what you could/should check on the Internet before you believe anyone.

 

Next is the cost of the single trip from Port Louis to Curepipe. This will be no less than Rs 100; let’s say about Rs 150 without any government subsidy. In case the latter comes into operation, either taxpayers nationwide will pay or else the price of electricity will rise implying that Mauritians in rural regions will pay for an LRT for Urban Mauritius to travel slowly, in crammed compartments, at the highest price that the authorities or the operators will authorise themselves to impose. You should know that a « Go as you please ticket » in London was about Rs 700 daily in London some four years back. For Malaysia, its star LRT, pro-rata priced at Rs 42 the single trip, went bankrupt to the tune of Rs 43 bn in about six years…

 

China, Indian and Brazil for instance are progressing because they are finding value-for-money solutions to their problems. When our trading partners in Europe are having problems and the price of oil is going up, do you think we should blindly go for a coercive « Métro Léger » which is not « léger » or should we have a national debate on the matter – which we have not had for some 20 years now?

 

It took the Association of Consumers (ACIM) and the undersigned to produce the first report on the LRT in August 1994 when the government of that time refused to release reports produced using taxpayers’ money. In those days, this move was only supported by Mauritius Times and Le Dimanche, and more recently Radio Plus. There is however some more media coverage these days. But there’s nothing better than word of mouth: please verify LRT figures through encyclopaedias and the Internet, and if you are convinced that this paper has reported the truth, tell your friends, relatives, students and colleagues.

 

There is no reason why we should have the LRT thrust down our throat. 

 

P. Sungeelee

Reg. Professional Engineer & Transport Consultant 

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