Q. Why do we need a Metro Express?
A. To carry people from the towns to Port Louis and then back home.
Q. Why do all these people come to Port Louis?
A. They come to work, to buy vegetables, fish and meat at the Central Market, groceries in ‘Demi-Gros’, shop in hardware shops, effect administrative ‘demarches’ at ministries and public departments, meet lawyers and notaries, queue up at public offices such as National Transport Authority, Registrar General Department, etc, queue up to pay bills or fines, do their driving tests, collect parcels from Customs, go to schools, etc.
Q. How can we reduce the number of people coming to Port Louis?
A. By decentralising Port Louis, shifting offices around the island, opening regional branches, reviewing procedures to make things easier, introduce online services for applications and payment of bills, fees etc.
Q. If we decentralise Port Louis, then won’t this reduce the number of passenger traffic to Port Louis, thus affecting the metro viability?
A. Indeed, the metro needs huge passenger traffic to Port Louis to be viable. If we now start decentralising Port Louis, then this will affect the Metro.
Q. We heard of an e-Licensing Platform coming soon, to increase services online. Will this affect the metro?
A. Yes, to some extent. If many people can effect their transactions online, then they won’t need to come to Port Louis. Metro Express will lose passengers.
The Mauritian Paradox
We have dozens of primary and secondary schools in Port Louis, and the bulk of their students come from outside Port Louis. Everyday, we have so many school buses and ‘van lekol’ ferrying thousands of children into Port Louis and then taking them back home in the afternoon. If the concept of regionalization and ‘catchment areas’ had worked perfectly, then we would not have seen so much school traffic in Port Louis. If we move all these schools out of Port Louis, the capital will be able to breathe better!
Vegetables cultivated from across the island are transported by trucks to Port Louis everyday and sold at the Central Market. These are purchased by buyers who come from outside Port Louis. So we have a system where a customer may be travelling miles to Port Louis to buy vegetables that have perhaps been grown and harvested in his own vicinity!
The Land Acquisition Paradox
Our roads are congested by the increasing number of cars. As people earn more and get richer, they use their own cars to travel, while those who can’t afford cars travel by bus. Buses get stuck in traffic congestion caused by cars. To solve the problem, government decides to introduce a Metro system. The first victims are the poor people themselves, as they have to vacate their properties to make way for the metro track line. Rich people will not necessarily opt for the metro, they will continue to use their cars to commute.
Road congestion is not limited to the Curepipe-Port Louis corridor. When the idea of a light rail system was first conceived, traffic congestion in Mauritius occurred mainly in the Curepipe-Port Louis route. Today, congestion is a daily feature across the island, be it at Flacq, Grand Baie, Riviere du Rempart, etc. The construction of bypasses and flyovers has helped to some extent to relieve some areas, but another issue is the absence of a seamless road network. In many cases, we have simply shifted the congestion problem from one place to another, rather than solving it. The St Pierre bypass is a glaring example. The newly opened Rs 50 million Link Road at Arsenal is another example where the designers failed to take a holistic approach, as congestion has simply moved from Calebasses roundabout to Bois Marchand in the evenings. Many of our road congestion situations can easily be improved through minor structural adjustments to our road infrastructure. Unfortunately, there is a lack of thinking process on reengineering of roads. Even in Port Louis, if we reverse some road directions, there will be major improvement that allows faster entry and exit of vehicles.
Many observers have opined that the introduction of congestion charges will force people to travel by the Metro, thus leaving their cars at home. However, any congestion charge will be unfair on those motorists who come from areas not served by the Metro. Secondly, congestion charge is only applicable when there are alternatives routes or travel system.