Scaling up the Light Railway Service

Let’s look forward to an efficient metro service, to trains that will not be dirtied and littered – or vandalized – by miscreants – and to the next leg of the metro up to Mahebourg

By TP Saran

One of the Cabinet decisions taken in its meeting held on Friday 27th December under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister is about the fares to be applied for travel on the Metro Express, and reads as follows:

‘Cabinet has agreed to the promulgation of the Light Rail Fares and Light Rail Tickets Regulations 2019 which relate to payment and issuance of tickets through electronic means and provide for offences related to fare evasion. The Regulations also make provision for the free travel of senior citizens, students and disabled persons on board the light rail.

Cabinet also noted that a two-stage approach would be adopted with regard to the fares,
inter alia, to be charged on light rail:

            (i)         for adult, Rs 20 for a single-stage trip and Rs 30 for a two-stage trip; and

            (ii)        for child, Rs 11 for a single-stage trip and Rs 16 for a two-stage trip.

Cabinet further noted that the feeder service would be free of charge, pending the introduction of the Electronic Ticketing System on feeder buses, for all passengers as from 6 January to the end of February 2020.’

Interestingly, the reference is to ‘Light Rail Fares and Light Rail Tickets’ (italics added) – not to the Metro Express, an appellation which had given rise to quite a bit of comment, to the effect that it was more like a tramway than a metro, which has definitely some truth in it. Perhaps the name Metro Express was chosen because it is more ‘sexy’ as youngsters today would put it! So it was rather revealing to read about Light Rail – this was in fact the term that was being used when the idea started to be flagged, Light Railway Transport or LRT. Anyway, the controversy about the correct terminology is, hopefully, now over, so we’ll stick to Metro Express.

Metro Express service set to scale up

From reliable sources we have learnt that as the service rolls out with more members of the public travelling, more trains will be put into service on the line. The turnover time for the trains, which currently stands at 15 minutes, is planned to be reduced to 10 minutes and eventually to 6 minutes when all the 9 trains are fully operational.

As of Sunday last, the maximum number of passengers carried in one day was 24000, as against a capacity of 28600. The total number of passengers who had travelled was nearly 186,000.

On the other hand, we are informed that the power supply quota required of the CEB is being delivered on a daily basis to the five substations of the metro line as a dedicated input. This is an important arrangement as it ensures that there will be no interruption of electricity supply – and therefore of the service – in case of a problem in the national grid, at least we hope so. In fact, in an earlier article about the metro service, we had pointed out that in several countries abroad the metro network had its own power generation, outside of the national grid, precisely so as to ensure that any power cut in the latter would not interfere with the running of the trains. What we can say is therefore ‘so far so good’ for Mauritius, but this issue must be kept in the forefront on the radar with a view to putting in place a more robust arrangement in future should the need arise.

There was the unfortunate incident when a driver didn’t stop at the intersection, but luckily this didn’t turn into a major accident – which was a real possibility. What is clear is that Mauritian drivers of all kinds of vehicles will now have to readjust to a new culture of driving, especially in the regions where the metro operates. We have to acknowledge and accept that such an innovation in transport will require of road users a behavioural change and a change of mindset so as to adapt to the new arrangement on the roads. Admittedly, this will take some time, but we have to make the effort as, like it or not, the metro is now a fact of life in our transport system, and we have no option than to adjust so that no danger is posed to either vehicles or to people.

But we have also heard rumours to the effect that there is an attempt on the part of some to make the metro service ‘fail’. In fact, there has even been a tampering with the electrical cables, one of which was cut. But the technical team of the metro is very vigilant and the cable was promptly restored.

This reflects a sick mindset on the part of the perpetrator(s) who did not hesitate to put lives at risk. Should the culprit be found, s/he must be charged accordingly and the severest legal sanction taken to deter any such act in future.

Extension of the metro southwards

This said, we must also hope that all the ‘environmental’ works in connection with the Rose Hill -Port Louis sector will be completed at the earliest so that both travellers and other citizens can gain trust in the official announcements and the metro system as such as it blends into our landscape. The trains do look elegant, and as they glide along to complete the Rose Hill-Port Louis journey in 19 minutes one can look forward with some hope to a reduction of road traffic based on cars. But it’s too early to tell, we have to wait some time.

On the other hand, as the works on the South sector have already started, here too an appeal must be made so that the proper arrangements be made so as to avoid any inconvenience to road users. This applies especially to areas where there are schools or colleges, where parents or those responsible for transporting children are constantly on edge for their safety and respect for the school timings.

So let’s look forward to an efficient metro service, to trains that will not be dirtied and littered – or vandalized – by miscreants – and to the completion and operationalisation according to schedule of the next leg of the metro up to Mahebourg.

* Published in print edition on 10 January 2020

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