SAPNA NUNDLOLL

 

I arrived in Mauritius just a month ago (yes!), and to get from the airport to my parents’ place 35 kilometres away in Quatre Bornes, I took the bus. As someone working in the transport industry, and used to taking public transport everywhere, I was curious about how things were in Mauritius. I had to keep it as a surprise to my parents (topic for my next post). In the meantime, here’s what I found:

1.It costs MUR 64 and magnitudes cheaper than a cab ride (~MUR 1,000). It’s worth remembering getting someone else to pick you up means you do have to factor in their time of travel, and cost of fuel, for a fair comparison.

2.You can plan ahead. Prior to flying to Mauritius, I planned my route online, on Mauritius-Buses (select SSR International Airport as origin). ATOL Mauritius, who operate the airport, provide a map of the bus stop location on their website as well as bus schedules of the three lines from Mahebourg servicing the airport.

3.The first mile is terrible, but you can ask the way around. The « first mile » is transport-speak for the first leg of your journey (in this case from the terminal to the bus stop on foot). At SSR airport, although it is only a two-minute walk and ATOL offer an app (which I didn’t test, being protective of my data, where I can), the bus stop is hidden from view and (appallingly) there is no signage supporting visitors. There’s plenty of signage, on the other hand, for parking facilities and taxis. Luckily policemen patrolling the premises are happy to help. Stay clear of the taxi drivers, who have no interest in you succeeding!

4.It’s hard to re-route or make a decision on the fly when bus stops are not signed with the lines they service; you can ask the way but it’s not quite as efficient. Unlike stations in the Plaines Wilhems (within which Quatre Bornes is located), even major bus stops are not signed in the district of Grand Port and that includes the airport’s. One can ask for advice from the bus conductor; even so, it’s less enabling than suddenly seeing a familiar number en-route. Having bus numbers in large format on the bus stop could be considered. It’s not enough to kill sociability (safekeeping our love to talk and a bit of hyper-local knowledge); plus, if done right, it would make the bus stops look great. Food for thought!

5.Designing for inclusivity benefits travellers with luggage. I couldn’t have got on the bus for the first leg of my journey without the help of the conductor who was at the top of very narrow (1-person wide) stairs. But I had more space to manoeuvre and was therefore able to handle my suitcase on my own in the case of the semi-low Yutong on the 219 line from Curepipe to Quatre Bornes. Sadly I’ll have to admit it worked fine for me, but probably would not suffice for someone in a wheelchair.

6.Buses are great social spaces. People meet and greet on the bus and swap their stories of the day. An old lady spontaneously asked me about my trip and my work. A young girl recognised a friend; I think I also saw an improvised date. There’s something quite special in these exchanges; they give you a feel for the country in no other way. In my case I felt connected to place and enjoyed a quiet anonymous moment before reuniting with the family (emotions running high).

7.You get to see places. Mauritian buses have big windows! The number 9, which I took, takes you to Curepipe via the Old Royal Road. Highlights for me included a gorgeous bit of green in Nouvelle-France (tropical!). There’s also nothing like seeing where new builds are (religious, residential, …) to get the lay of the land a year ahead of the general elections.

8.No matter what they say, ground truth matters. Good maps (and reports) are great but you still need to get out in the real world and see for yourself – what works, what doesn’t, how and where services could be improved.

And you, have you ever taken the bus from the airport? How did you find it?  What came as a real surprise for me were the reactions from relatives and friends when I told them about my trip, revealing unexpected insights I’ll share in my next post. Bye for now!

This lush, green corridor in Nouvelle-France, Mauritius, feels a bit like Costa-Rica. It’s just a short stretch of the road, but think of the potential!

PS. Fun links:

•Did you know there’s around 200 bus lines and 900 bus stops in Mauritius? Read about how this – and a few other things, namely the machine-readability of sources – have impacted the design and development of the Mauritius-buses online query tool.

•Pedro Cunha’s (author of « Moris dan Bis »‘) interview to Koze.

•One for the kids, an anime to watch, from Studio Ghibli: « My Neighbour Totoro » (1988). The trailer features glimpses of the iconic wait at the bus stop and the catbus.

BIO

Sapna Nundloll holds degrees in Electrical Engineering and Mathematical Ecology. Since 2014 she has been working as a Spatial Analytics and People Movement Consultant, a job which consists of looking at the provision and experience of space for pedestrians and crowds in a wide range of settings, both enclosed and open. Her projects include crowd flow consulting on Porlwi by Nature in Mauritius and movement analytics for the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London.