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The Mauritian Metro

15.01.2020

The Metro is up and running. The section from Port Louis Victoria Station to Rose-Hill is in operation. Going on a ride is a must. A Lalit friend and I did a trip yesterday. We drove to the Coromandel stop (at Monte S) and parked in the Metro Parking at the very beginning of the Black River Road. There were already five other cars parked there. A marsan dalpuri had already set up shop, which was reassuring. Someone else joined us as we walked along towards where we guessed the trains were, and said he’d already been on a ride yesterday and was going again. So, we had a guide on how to use the lift down to the platforms. And from then on, we had people either guiding us or us guiding others who knew even less than us. No-one was reserved. Everyone chatting to everyone. Like after a cyclone. Only without the disorder and worry. On the platform, we found a resuscitation, a materialization, a re-incarnation of the most beloved of all things lost: a public water fountain. Announcements over the loudspeakers are gentle and local (as opposed to colonized). They are in Kreol, good ordinary Kreol, and in English.


In about two minutes a train arrived silently. As indeed had been announced on the led-lighted signs on the platform. In the midst of much excitement, a batch of us all went in (while a few came out) and we found place to stand (sitting places were all taken). A few workers from Bangladesh were enjoying a first trip, too. The view was instantly spectacular from the big windows, as the train took off heading for the bridge over Grand River North West. Then, you see parts of Port Louis from new perspectives, and after the recent rains, all the mountains that surround Port Louis are emerald green. And everyone was still talking to everyone else. Inside the train cars, as well as a diagram of all the stations that will exist from Curepipe to Aapravasi Ghat, there is a led-lighted sign announcing the next stop, and also the temperature outside at the next station. This last bit of information seemed odd (as if one was flying in to the Himalayas) until I remembered that, once Curepipe is in the loop, this is essential information for Port Louis, say.  


At the St. Louis station, very few people came in and out. Once the feeder buses are more known, it can be expected to become more used by people in Pailles and perhaps Pointe aux Sables. And, since we were going to the exhibition at the Caudan Blue Penny Museum (on “Lanbrekin” – an elegy to the art of workmen), when we got off at the Victoria Station, we were already right there. After visiting the exhibition and getting a copy of the beautiful book on the “Lanbrequins”, too, we had to look at and try on some sandals at a shoe shop, and then we took the Metro back. The water fountain at Victoria Station was out-of-order, which could break your heart.


But the trip was truly fantastic. The entire trip including a long stop at the museum and trying on a lot of sandals at the shoe shop, was over in less than an hour. So, the Metro can create more time for all who use it.


The same evening, at a LALIT branch meeting in Cite Richelieu which is right near the Coromandel Station and which has the sleeping trains spend the night behind the Cite, we discussed the need for two things as well as feeder buses: a bicycle path, alongside a walking and jogging path, from, say, Petite Riviere (Trwa Bra) right around the edge of Petite Riviere in the cane fields and then behind Cite Richelieu on the State Land, and all the way to the Metro stop. So, this is what we intend to work on, as a model for other places to work towards, too. This way working men and women, college students and pensioners, can walk or ride a bike to the station, where there will be safe bicycle parking spots, and thus really make a difference to life: less traffic, less pollution, more exercise – all in safety from fossil-fuel driven vehicles. This will help make the Metro a success in terms of decongesting roads, limiting fossil fuels, and making Mauritius a better place to live.


I must add that on that same day, I learnt at that branch meeting, there were reportedly delays because there had been a land-slide in a box cutting that had been cut out for the metro, with mud on the rails. A branch member had previously predicted that this would happen at that point in the first rains. 


So anyway, some 60 years after the narrow-gauge train system was dismantled and sold off as old iron, we finally have trains (more like trams) back. This is wonderful. But, we must recall that the previous trains had a bicycle compartment. So when you got to the station, you bought a ticket for yourself and one for your bicycle, and rode your bike on, and later off. So, this can be born in mind for future developments.


We must also perhaps bear in mind that popularizing and developing the Metro (and bicycles and walking/jogging/running facilities) will conjure into life a massive negative lobby to oppose us: those who import new cars from the dealers abroad, those who import second-hand cars from the re-con suppliers, the petrol and diesel importers, the sellers of spare parts and car and motorbike tyres, and so on. This will be in addition to the more clearly impacted bus companies, who may protest, and the taxi drivers who are already protesting because the Metro will also obviously decrease their work in some areas.


So, though Pravind Jugnauth and MBC’s constant trying to glean political kudos for the MSM from the Metro is annoying in the extreme, the thing itself is, indeed, potentially a big positive social change for Mauritius. Pravind Jugnauth will have a political price to pay one day for his abuse of MBC, and indeed for his claiming credit points for collectively created realities. What we need to do is to organize for improvements and extentions to the system. For example, we need to mobilize for the use of bicycles to be built in to the entire scheme of things (even part of a carriage dedicated to taking them along), and for safe pedestrian walks to be designed in to each Metro station. Trains always have had a kind of egalitarian possibility for people using them. And they have always had the possibility of creating more free time, and of opening new vistas for people. In Mauritius, we already have the wonderful advantage of the Metro being free for pensioners (old age and disability) and students. We should imagine a day when transport is free for everyone. It is not so difficult to imagine. The bosses, i.e. all employers, should just pay the totality of the travelling allowances of their staff into the fund. Easy! 


Other possibilities are, like the Labour government’s plan (which cost a good deal more) could include using the infrastructure at night for moving some goods from Port Louis overnight – to maybe even one depot to begin with. This, too, would de-congestion Port Louis, on the one hand, and it would help pay the Metro debt on the other. It would also bring further counter-lobbies this time (the importers of lorries and all their bits, of fuel, and the lorry owners as well.) Anyway, what the Metro shows is that, with political will, huge developments are possible, and can be implemented very fast.


Lindsey Collen


Can someone please do a follow-on article with their own experiences? Or, say, with analysis of if and how ticket-buying, and ticket-topping-up works? And other ideas on improvements?