When told that she was wasting one and a half month?s work each year in traffic jams, Veena could neither believe her ears nor the mathematics of her colleagues. This civil servant, mother of two, living near Vingta, in Vacoas, started the calculations over again and obtained the same answer from her calculator. She sits for 600 hours every year in traffic jams. Unbelievable.
The situation is not much better with her colleagues coming from Beau-Bassin, the north or the east of the island. Wasting around a month?s work a year in road congestion is now the standard for those commuting to Port-Louis by bus. In contrast, an average American commuter wastes a week?s work a year in traffic jams.
Mauritian civil servants and private sector employees using their own cars waste not only time, but also money in gasoline and often have recourse to aggressive driving in very stressful conditions. As the nightmare of commuting to work and back worsens month by month, office employees are leaving home earlier. They are at the bus stop at 7 a.m. ? 6.30 a.m. for those coming from the east, to be in the office at 8.45 a.m. or 9 a.m. Since government started to crack down on late arrivals early this year, traffic congestion has worsened.
Overcrowded roads mean delays, production and business losses, air pollution and health damage. Yet, no serious studies have been carried out on the money road congestion is costing the island. Government?s statement that the island is losing Rs 2 billion per year because of traffic problems is yet to be proved. Road users have lost all hope of a rapid solution to their nightmare.
Things may however change rapidly as from this week. The ministry of Transport is now contemplating a technological fix for the chaotic situation and has called in Gopinath Menon from Singapore to help introduce an electronic road-pricing scheme.
This Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) expert arrived in the island yesterday. It is however not clear if Mauritius intends to move into the world of high-tech traffic control or use only part of that system. Government can use only the electronic toll at high rate to slash down on the number of vehicles entering the capital during peak hours. Or it may go full Singapore style, meaning cameras and sensors along roads and highways, wired via fibre optics to a sort of mission control. Traffic is then managed in the control room the way air controllers manage the sky over overcrowded airports, warning and directing drivers with overhead LED signs.
The answer is yet to come after consultation with the Singaporean expert. It will be a question of money and time. Introduction of electronic road pricing will cost less time and money than a mass transit system or the construction of a ring road at the foot of Signal Mountain, through Vallée-Pitot and Vallée-des-Prêtres to meet the highway at Roche-Bois. These two mega-projects and the dream bridge over the harbour are ideas that government has not yet shelved.
Nevertheless, electronic pricing and high parking fees ? Rs 20 instead of Rs 10 per hour ? are two of the six measures that government intends to introduce shortly. Flexitime for civil servants, car restriction scheme, executive bus service and a holding area for buses at Coromandel are the four other measures due to be implemented very quickly.
The idea of a holding area for buses at Coromandel is the result of a study, which shows that hundreds of buses enter the capital by the south entry through Grand River, during peak hours. Each of them has only about ten passengers when crossing Grand-River bridge when it can carry a maximum of 60 passengers.
If government has its way, these buses will now stop at a station to be built in the industrial zone of Coromandel and unload their passengers into minibuses commuting from that station to Port-Louis at full seat capacity. This decision was due to be implemented at latest in December. It is still under evaluation.
The car restriction scheme aims at restricting by 25% the number of cars entering the city. It is as yet unclear what types of vehicles will have restricted access. To encourage car owners to commute by bus, all the major bus companies have agreed to copycat the National Transport Corporation with an executive bus service scheme.
Government also hopes that, with flexitime, which allows civil servants to attend work according to a flexible schedule, congestion will be eased. But none of these measures, even the introduction of flexitime, can be implemented immediately. It will be a question of months, which may drag into years.
?Electronic pricing and high parking fees ? Rs 20
instead of Rs 10 per hour ? are two of the six measures.?
London reduces congestion by 40%
There is a worldwide move towards curbing traffic congestion through road pricing these days. This momentum is building with the success of London where the most extensive road-pricing project in the world was launched in February last year. More than one year after its inception, the London congestion charge project has increased traffic speed by 37%, congestion has dropped 40% during charging hours ? 7 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. on weekdays ? and round trip journey times have been reduced by 13%. Paris, Sydney and Stockholm and major cities are exploring the possibility of adopting the London model. Mauritius may be going for the Singaporean model introduced in 1975 when the country introduced a plan that levied a charge for the right to enter a 2.3 mile restricted zone within the city?s busiest central area during morning peak travel. It reduced traffic by 45 % and the number of cars travelling into the city by 75%.