Gridlock Snags Island Economy: Traffic Congestion Is Costing Mauritius around $100M as Workers Find Themselves Trapped for Hours at a Time in Traffic. the Problem Is So Bad That Solutions Proposed Include a Free Public Transport System. Nasseem Ackbarally Reports from Port Louis

By Ackbarally, Nasseem | African Business, May 2009 | Go to article overview

Gridlock Snags Island Economy: Traffic Congestion Is Costing Mauritius around $100M as Workers Find Themselves Trapped for Hours at a Time in Traffic. the Problem Is So Bad That Solutions Proposed Include a Free Public Transport System. Nasseem Ackbarally Reports from Port Louis


Ackbarally, Nasseem, African Business


Everybody, from workers to bosses, using the roads in Mauritius' main cities during the morning and evening, rush hour have the same complaint: "It's too much! We cannot continue like this," before asking, "when will the situation ever improve?"

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Indurjeet Leelachand, a journalist who travels by public transport to his office in the capital, Port Louis, comments: "Before 6.30am, you rule the road like a king, freely breathing the fresh air while going to work either in your own car or by public transport. It takes you just half an hour from Vacoas to Port Louis, a distance of 30km. But if, heaven forbid, for any reason you hit the road after 6.30am, you are dead. Anticipate up to two and a half hours for the same destination as people and vehicles start swarming like ants onto the roads. Congestion starts from the moment you leave your home." Most Mauritians commute on the 2,800 buses belonging to one public-sector company, five private companies and 12 cooperative societies. In recent years, many have switched from public to private transport because the bus service is so poor.

"A poor service coupled with a rising standard of living leading to increased car ownership means that private means of transport have constantly increased. With rising car ownership and the increasing concentration of employment in Port Louis, traffic congestion has steadily worsened and has now become severe during the morning and the evening peak travels," says Professor Soonil Rughooputh from the University of Mauritius, the head of a team of researchers who have completed a study on the issue.

The number of vehicles is increasing very fast. There were 35,406 registered vehicles on Mauritian roads at the end of December 2008 for a 2,021km road network. Over the last decade, the number of vehicles has increased by 55%, while the road network has expanded by a mere 6.1%. The number of vehicles for each kilometre of road has risen from 111 in 1997 to 133 in 2002 and 170 in 2008.

Since the economic boom of the 1990s, as in much of Africa, car ownership is no longer just for the wealthy but increasingly, an emerging middle class. Having bought cars, owners tend to use them to commute alone to their workplace. This has contributed to such high levels of traffic congestion that journeys that used to take just half an hour a decade ago now take more than double the time.

Double whammy for workers

Triolet Bus Service director Viraj Nundlall says that he is being forced to put additional buses on the road, causing more congestion because the number of trips made by each vehicle has fallen as traffic congestion increases. As an example, he cites the case that 10 years ago a single bus could make six return journeys daily between Triolet to Port Louis. Now it can only complete three round trips. Public sector workers, an 80,000 strong workforce, suffer the most, as late arrival is viewed as a very serious matter, according to the head of the Government General Services Union (GGSU), Rashid Imrith.

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"Public officers are being penalised blindly and unconditionally, Imrith says. "They are paying heavily to compensate for their lateness. They are foregoing their leave entitlement and even suffering from cuts in their salary as penalty for lateness. …

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Gridlock Snags Island Economy: Traffic Congestion Is Costing Mauritius around $100M as Workers Find Themselves Trapped for Hours at a Time in Traffic. the Problem Is So Bad That Solutions Proposed Include a Free Public Transport System. Nasseem Ackbarally Reports from Port Louis
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