Meeting demand, reducing emissions and easing urban traffic key priorities for Moroccan transport sector

 

As Morocco’s main urban centres become increasingly congested in the face of population growth, economic development and migration from rural areas, the need for improved urban transport systems has become more acute. Authorities have reacted by ramping up investment policy interventions in recent years. Notable projects include new or extended tram systems in Casablanca and Rabat, the rollout of improved bus services in Casablanca and the introduction of the continent’s first bike-share scheme in Marrakech.

GRAND CASABLANCA: Among the directives that will underpin the development of urban transport in the country’s commercial capital is Casablanca’s 2015-20 Strategic Development Plan (SDP). The comprehensive scheme aims to elevate Casablanca to a well-connected financial centre that is also a top destination for travel and living. Four pillars drive the strategy: quality of life; connectivity and mobility; economic, educational and administrative excellence; and leisure and entertainment. From a total budget of Dh33.6bn (€3.1bn), Dh27bn (€2.5bn) has been allocated to mobility and infrastructure. In addition to the tram and bus network projects, the plan envisages 15 park-and-ride facilities, the realignment of key road junctions and a video surveillance centre to regulate the city’s traffic.

TRAM NETWORK: Casablanca’s first tramline, T1, was inaugurated by King Mohammed VI in December 2012, following three years of construction. A further investment of Dh4.15bn (€384.3m) was made to the city’s tram system in 2017, including the extension of T1, the continued construction of T2, and preparatory works for two additional lines, T3 and T4.

Construction of T2 started in January 2016, with platforms installed along 15 km of the line’s 17-km route, and rails laid along 7 km by the end of the year. The installation of electricity substations is already well under way, and the first carriages were delivered in August 2017, with additional planned shipments set to follow every two months until the end of 2018.

Engie Ineo of France and Engie Cofely Maroc were awarded contracts for a combined $52m in December 2016 to provide equipment for the extended T1 and T2 lines. This includes the installation of signalling equipment on both lines, CCTV, intercoms and public address systems, as well as access control and fire-detection systems. The target date for T2 to become fully operational was set for October 2018.

According to a report by Global Mass Transit, the four-line tram network will eventually cover a total of 105 km. The T3 line will span 14 km from Lahraouyine to Gare Casa Port, while the T4 line will run 14 km to connect Mohammed VI Avenue to Sidi Maârouf. The main work on the third and fourth lines is expected to be completed in 2021 and 2022, respectively.

CHANGES UNDER WAY: Concluding a selection process that began 12 months prior, in June 2017 Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens of France was selected to operate and maintain the city’s tramlines from 2017 to 2029. The three candidates vying for the job were RATP Dev, Transdev of France, and West Midlands Travel of the UK in partnership with Alsa Transport of Spain and National Railways Office (Office National des Chemins de Fer, ONCF). Operation and maintenance is a grand undertaking, as traffic on Casablanca’s tramlines amounted to 36m passengers in 2016, and the figure is only expected to grow.

In 2017 the price of a disposable tram ticket was increased to Dh8 (€0.74) in order to encourage the uptake of rechargeable tickets, which cost Dh6 (€0.56) for an unlimited journey. However, ticket prices continue to be subsidised by the municipal authorities to the tune of around 40%, which amounted to a total of Dh103m (€9.5m) in 2016. Efforts are under way to replace the funds for subsidised tickets with advertising revenues. Further increases in ticket tariffs may be warranted once the new lines become operational.

INTERCITY RAIL: The Rabat-Salé tramway that links the two cities entered into service in May 2011. The network currently consists of two lines, extending 19 km and counting 31 stops with capacity for 120,000 a day. Work began in January 2017 to extend line 2 by 2.4 km from the Moulay Youssef terminus, and by 4.6 km at the Salé end. These works entail some Dh1.4bn (€129.6m) in investment and are scheduled for completion by mid-2019. It is projected that these extensions will allow for additional capacity of 50,000 passengers per day. In total, some 29 km of line extensions, financed by investments of Dh5.6bn (€518.6m), are foreseen by 2022. The network is eventually set to include a link to the future ONCF-Agdal high-speed rail system, with plans to connect the city of Temara for the first time.

TAKING THE BUS: In contrast to the ultra-modern tram system, the bus network – which still forms the backbone of the kingdom’s urban transport system – is widely viewed as beset with operational challenges. This is due in part to the proliferation of informal bus services, which do not necessarily meet the standards of their officially provided counterparts.

In the face of these challenges, authorities are trying to improve the service. For example, a renewed Urban Transport Plan for the Rabat-Salé-Temara area is expected in the first half of 2018, succeeding a call for tender for its provision. Moreover, following the awarding of the operation of Casablanca’s tramlines in late 2017, local development company Casa Transport launched a tender process for operation of the city’s bus network from 2019 onward, when the concession of the current operator, M’dina Bus, is due to expire. For its part, M’dina Bus launched Morocco’s first-ever electric bus, called M’dinaEbus in late 2016.

In accordance with Casablanca’s SDP, Casa Transport foresees the development of two additional high-quality bus routes extending 24 km. Such rapid transit solutions – known locally as the bus à haut niveau de service – have already been successfully pioneered in Marrakech, but they have yet to be rolled out extensively in the country’s other principal urban centres.

MANAGING TRAFFIC: Alongside investing in public transport as a way to encourage people to leave their cars at home, Morocco’s urban authorities are also taking steps to optimise traffic management so that congestion can be mitigated even as the total number of cars on the road continues to increase. Road traffic in Casablanca alone increased by 3.5% in 2016, for example. In early 2017 the Ministry of Equipment, Transport and Logistics launched a new national travel mobile application, MarRoute. This provides commuters and passengers with the latest news and information regarding traffic and road conditions across the country. The application is free to download and populated by announcements by municipal governments, but it is also designed to be a two-way participatory service for users to share their traffic concerns, thereby contributing to the quality of information available both to the authorities and to other road users.

Since early 2016 a Dh460m (€42.6m) video surveillance system has been in operation in Casablanca, both as a security measure and to help regulate traffic. It consists of 760 CCTV cameras, 220 km of fibre-optic wiring, two central stations and 22 mobile stations. The system will be integrated with existing video surveillance systems on the tramway, at the ports and at airports, as well as in some commercial establishments.

A further Dh520m (€48.2m) of investment has been allocated to traffic-regulation measures under the SDP. This includes the Dh15m (€1.4m), 2466-sq-metre video surveillance building located at the Casablanca police headquarters, which is set to serve as the nucleus of the traffic monitoring system.

ON YOUR BIKE: Morocco marked its hosting of the COP22 UN Conference on Climate Change event with the launch of Medina Bike, Africa’s first bike-sharing scheme, in December 2016. Some 300 bikes were made available across 10 docking stations around central Marrakech. Passes can be bought by the day, week or year for Dh50 (€4.63), Dh150 (€13.89) and Dh500 (€46.30), respectively. The concept was developed with the UN Development Organisation and promoted by Morocco’s Ministry of Environment, with an international tender launched to secure the required equipment. Smoove of France was awarded the contract in partnership with Estates Vision, a local company.

LOOKING AHEAD: While demographic and economic pressures are likely to lead to further traffic congestion, maintaining the momentum created by COP22 in November 2016 is crucial to ensuring Morocco’s cities are suitably equipped with public transport options. Additional initiatives will likely be necessary to provide financial and operational sustainability over the medium to long term, and ensure that public efforts such as the tram networks and Medina Bike spur more innovation over time. Moreover, it will likely be necessary to extend investments beyond the main cities to improve public transport systems in secondary centres, where an increasing number of Moroccans are choosing to live. These developments should help the country achieve its carbon emission reduction targets, while improving the quality of life for inhabitants in urban centres.

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