Metro: Laurels or Thorns?


By Jan Arden

We have to recognise here that the completion of the tramway line (Metro express) between Port-Louis and Curepipe, going through the country’s major urban centres, is an achievement bringing modernity, reliable and comfortable travel conditions to several thousands daily. Larsen and Toubro aided by a variety of Mauritian authorities responsible for electricity supply, water drains, local authorities, etc., have delivered on time the baby that the Prime Minster, the MSM at central or local levels and India’s high representative can justifiably be proud of. The CEO of Metro Express Ltd (MEL) estimates that ridership is presently at some 40,000 daily and may reach 50K on that critical axis, all of them, standing or seated, enjoying the ride.

Nevertheless, we as many observers here and in other media, had expressed reservations on several aspects of the project and, even as we applaud the technological and managerial feat of competent professionals, or the tram riders that look on happily from air-con carriages, some of those observations bear recapitulation as they have as yet found no satisfactory answers and detract from a more fulsome commendation.

  1. Capital costs – While we have little real independent accounting of its operational or financial state, according to a reported off the cuff statement of the PM, the investment costs of the main metro line, would have been of the order of Rs 24 billion. Further estimates of the suddenly urgent derivative line through Reduit to Cote d’Or adds another Rs 21 billion, suggesting the capital forecasts of the two lines would be close to Rs 50 billion, out of which India generously contributed some Rs 10 billion (some say in counterpoint to doing away with DTAA provisions and any other favours Mauritius may have granted our big brother security partner in the Indian Ocean). The rest, some Rs 40 billion, seems then to be public-debt financed for a combined daily ridership of around 60,000 of which an unknown proportion are non-revenue generating senior citizens and students.

As these are public monies and debts which the whole population has to bear, probably over several generations, the stage has come for a fuller disclosure of operational and economic/financial forecasts by a credible, independent team of transport logisticians/economists who naturally can take on board the derived larger socio-economic benefits for the country. An associated question which has bearing for this or any future government is the level of public subsidies that are or will have to be included to maintain the tickets affordable, either on stand-alone trips or to attract weekly/monthly travel card holders.

  1. Commuting and congestion – Most of us are for the modernisation of the country’s transport infrastructure and the comfort of 40,000 daily commuting travellers, but this should not blinker the authorities to the resulting difficulties that need urgent attention if only to mitigate the predictable effects of the tram which have heightened the daily plight of some 200,000 commuters trapped in hair-rising traffic congestion in most urban agglomerations. Quatre-Bornes, Vacoas, Floreal and to a lesser extent Phoenix, have been all badly hit by a decision to place the tram on the ground-level, thus adding a most disturbing competitor forcing pedestrians, two-wheelers, cars, buses, vans, trucks, ambulances and emergency services to coexist with the tramway on our existing congested streets and traffic.

Last year we asked here, at maximum carrying capacities of some 900 every 10 minutes starting from Curepipe, how long it would take to tackle rush-hour commuters into Port-Louis and how long those stuck at intermediate stations would have to wait before getting on board the jam-packed lines from Curepipe. The same applies for afternoon return trips from the capital. Feeder lines are still in limbo and prevent many townsfolk from enjoying the tramway transport, keeping them locked in congested traffic.

Those awkward questions can now be answered. Many shops and small business activities alongside the metro line have suffered or are closing down due to the inconveniences caused, even temporarily, by the construction works to lay down the infrastructure while the much-vaunted Urban Terminals are yet to offer credible alternatives even in Port-Louis. At a total Rs 50 billion spent, we suspect that most of the tramway could have been on elevated platforms, but there is no point in crying over a bad decision for a road-level tramway line, except for more roundabouts and fly-overs, displacing one road traffic nightmare a few hundred metres further away, raising fuel consumption and the phenomenon of road-rage. Read More… Become a Subscriber

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 21 October 2022

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