In September 2019, the UN Secretary-General called on all sections of society to mobilize for a decade of action on three levels: global action to secure greater leadership, more resources, and smarter solutions to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Climate Action towards investing and supporting vulnerable economies contributes not only to SDG 13 but to other SDGs too. In Mauritius, achieving the Paris Agreement targets of limiting global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius and striving to limit temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees, requires concerted action and investments across all sectors including transport, as defined in the country’s NDC targets.
Modernising the public transport system in alignment with Mauritius' development goals
The Mauritian economy requires a modern, resilient and low-carbon transport sector as its backbone. However, in recent years economic growth has enabled a gradual shift from public transport to private modes of transport and this has resulted in increased traffic congestion, GHG emissions, and pollution. As per data from National Land Transport Authority (NLTA), vehicle registrations have nearly doubled between 2010 and 2021, with growth driven primarily by personal cars.
Conversely, and because of increased demand for private modes of transport, the public bus transport fleet has decreased from 2,034 in December 2017 to 1,962 in June 2020, while average vehicle journeys per day have decreased from 8.8 in 2010 to less than 8 in 2019. This has led to several challenges such as (i) increased road traffic congestion and gridlocks, (ii) increased road accidents and casualties, and (iii) increased Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions and air pollution. Mauritius’ bus fleet is considerably less fuel-efficient than it ought to be, and outdoor/ambient air pollution has become a key public health concern, particularly in urban areas.
In response to these challenges, the Government aims to modernise the public transport system in alignment with Mauritius’ development goals including decarbonisation objectives, by attracting more citizens to use the public transport system. Buses, together with the Metro Express, form the principal modes of public transport in Mauritius. As of June 2021, there were 3,126 registered buses in Mauritius, of which about 2,000 were public transport buses.
Less is more: Investing in Sustainable Transport
The Covid-19 pandemic has been a disruptive event worldwide including in Mauritius, causing demand for public transport, in particular, to shrink. Without an integrated, modern, and low-carbon transport system, the demand will continue to shrink in Mauritius. Together with MetroExpress, investments in a public bus transport system will be critical to driving more travellers towards using public transport.
In 2014, the Ministry of Land Transport and Light Rail (MLTLR) introduced the Bus Modernization Programme, providing capital subsidies and exemption from VAT to public transport bus operators to modernize their fleets. The policy aimed to ensure that, by 2023, 75% of the country’s bus fleet would be less than 10 years old. The initiative, however, had limited success, due to: (i) insufficient capital subsidies, (ii) and newer semi low-floor buses having lower fuel efficiency than the older buses they replaced. More recently, Mauritius approved the Metro Express project in 2016, with the Phase 1 corridor (13 km) beginning full operations in January 2020, while Phase 2 is scheduled for completion by 2022.
Globally, technological innovations and efficiency improvements have made low carbon electric buses viable. Investing in electric buses for public transport in Mauritius is critical to reduce overall fossil fuel import costs and air pollution. The Government has recognized this and extended its policy incentives to electric and hybrid buses too, and it has proposed to further enhance these incentives under a new budget announcement made in June 2021, while approving a '10-Year Electric Vehicle Integration Roadmap’. However, additional incentives and enabling policy/regulatory environment are needed.
Incentives to Promote Low-carbon Electric Public Bus Transport
Following a request from the Government of Mauritius in 2019, UNDP developed a Global Environment Facility (GEF-7) concept note for a ‘Promoting Low-carbon Electric Public Transport in Mauritius’ project. The objective is to modernise the public bus transport sector by establishing an enabling regulatory environment and providing financial incentives for public transport bus operators to replace 60 of their diesel buses with electric buses, and for the installation of 15 solar-powered charging stations for electric vehicles.
The project also aims to mainstream gender in the transport sector through training and capacity development initiatives designed to support women’s employment. The project also proposes measures to improve women’s safety on public transport buses, as a contribution to achieving an overall increase in access to safe public bus transport for women commuters.
From a climate perspective, the project is expected to directly reduce over 76,000 tons of CO2-equivalent GHG emissions by 2040, and indirectly reduce over 316,000 tons of CO2-equivalent GHG emissions by 2044.
This is Only the Beginning….
This GEF project is only the beginning. There is significant scope and opportunities to develop a larger investment program to scale up the baseline of the activities. Further opportunities exist for investments in the de-carbonisation of public transport bus fleets; the expansion of the policy and regulatory framework to include taxis/ride-sharing fleets; the integration of vehicle fleets (buses, cars, etc.) in the tourism and corporate transport sectors; and e-commerce/logistics delivery fleets (light commercial vehicles, 2-wheelers).
Furthermore, proper conditions exist for the exploration of a Transit Oriented Development (TOD) policy. This may include mobilizing investments for bicycling and walking pathways and park-and-ride schemes at Multimodal Integration (MMI) transit hubs; and operationalising a Battery Recycling Facility, to further enable the transition to a sustainable development pathway for the transport sector.