Bus Rapid Transit system: Simple, economic, fast and Mauritian-friendly
Let me place on record that on Monday the 27 September 2010, during the evening news of 19.30 hrs, we Mauritians saw the Prime Minister of Mauritius suspended to some sort of hook inside a Light Rail Transport (LRT).
(Sam Ammigan would have used the word “porte-manteau”.)
I don’t want to be funny; I only wish to stress a point. If such a system of transport, where very few “porte-manteaux” are available and where it appears that 90% of passengers will be standing, were to be adopted, then there’s bound to be problems down the line.
First, there are those who will sooner or later suffer from varicose veins – any doctor would know that.
Next, disgruntled passengers will quickly resort to private cars and motorbikes to attend work, and that will increase congestion, which is the norm in most “civilised” cities, be it Washington, London, Paris, Delhi, etc. I explained in my article of 17 September last that by doing so we pay a lot in duties and taxes to governments the world over. Here 250,000 cars paying Rs 4000 in road tax annually alone contribute to Rs 1 billion at least to the national coffers.
And what about those who will be forced to use the LRT? Such a system is made to last some 60 years. Young Mauritians, please understand that you will spend 30 years of your life at least standing on the way to and back from work. Whether you will enjoy such rides, apart from the novelty of the first day, will be up to you to decide. Will you be fresh at work or back home fresh for house chores? Remember also that your children will then have to foot the rest of the bill during the next 30 years…
The public also witnessed an elevated system bearing a short LRT on TV. Engineering works above ground, as a rule of thumb, cost three to seven times more than work on the ground. Just think of a slab on the ground which hardly needs any steel and one for the roof of one of our houses which lots of Mauritians cannot afford and for which the government here has granted some Rs 50,000 or so: you will clearly understand that elevated systems are very expensive. It’s good for builders, but not for those who will pay for it subsequently.
MBC-TV finally explained the mix of Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), LRT and buses. If the LRT is expected to work, why show MRT and buses? The reason is that MRT and buses do a good job but not the LRT. MRTs are capable of high speeds while LRTs in general will do less than 22 km/h here – nothing like the High Speed trains (“TGV” in France) or the Formula 1 cars which the Prime Minister saw in Singapore, these being capable of hundreds of km/h.
I am not against an electric MRT in other countries where 45,000 passengers have to be whisked per hour and per direction (p/h/d). Here we do not even have the required critical population mass for an LRT at some 10 000 p/h/d.
And so now for solutions. Unions have rightly called for decentralization of government offices away from Port Louis. These organisations have also rightly requested that a system of flexi-time be adopted as in the UK for instance. These requests have been in vain in general – maybe they will be adopted when the price of petrol rises to a level high enough to create panic as it did just before the last recession.
The simple, economic, fast and Mauritian-friendly method of solving our transport problem, not only in urban Mauritius, is to adopt the Bus Rapid Transit system. This is in use in Curitiba, Brazil – the creation of an honest mayor, Jaime Lerner, a rare commodity these days. That city transits up to 23 000 p/h/d.
All we need is an exclusive road for buses — only at peak hours. The result will be a trip from Quatre Bornes to Port Louis in around 20 minutes minimum instead of over 90 minutes at present.
Four types of buses of least, namely Express, Ordinary, “Blue line” system and lower-than-present-price, mainly standing- configuration for short distances will have to be adopted. All of them will be quick. To accelerate service, buses will have to be fitted with more automatic doors for quick entry and exit. My additional idea is to create entry platforms at bus stops at a height of 128 centimetres, the height of the floor of conventional buses, so that there are no steps to be mounted for bus-entry. These platforms should have ramps at both ends to facilitate access even by wheel-chairs.
At a democratic national debate on TV all details can be discussed – but this has not been done in the last two decades… and there are more interesting solutions.
Taxing new vehicles as well as resales, 40% tax on fuel, parking fees, road fines, road taxes, taxes on insurance companies (vehicles component), etc., earn governments the world over so much that decongestion solutions become secondary to people we vote for. At least here, for some time now, some road improvements have been witnessed.
All that we Mauritians can do is for the informed among us to tell friends, relatives and close ones about the stakes and the details of the slow, expensive and crammed LRT v/s the other proper solutions that exist.
Registered Professional Engineer & Transport Consultant
* Published in print edition on 1 October 2010
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