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So You Need to Get Around Madagascar?

For newcomers, public transportation can be a challenge in Madagascar. There are many reasons why. For its size, at 590,000 km2, the country's road infrastructure is antiquated and underdeveloped. The railroad network is expanding but still is not available in most of cities.

In the urban centers, public transportation is limited to overcrowded buses and minivans and the urban railroad remains a project only for the capital city, Antananarivo.

Public transportation is a well-known issue in the capital city. Thee are close to two millions inhabitants and an estimated total of 110,000 cars. The urban roads are often congested, as seen on the photo below:

Urban traffic in Antananarivo via Mada aventures CC-NC-2.0

Urban traffic in Antananarivo via Madagascar-aventures. CC-NC-2.0

The impact of traffic on urban commuting is also recorded in a video here by vive Madagascar:

This type of congestion is so unbearable for the residents that the Antananarivo government is evaluating the possibility of installing an urban cable car system between the two most populated hills of the city [fr]:

Cette ligne devra desservir la Haute Ville et Mahamasina. Toutefois, le PDS n’a pour l’instant fourni aucun détail quant au début des travaux ni au coût financier du projet.
En ce qui concerne l’utilisation de téléphérique urbain, la Capitale se dotera de ce mode de transport en commun après la Paz.

This system will link the Upper Town District and Mahamasina District. However, the mayor has yet to provide any details about the start or the financial cost of the project. Regarding the choice of an urban cable system, the capital city will get inspiration from the system developed in La Paz.

Givien the estimated cost of such project (estimated at 166 million euros or 230 million US dollars for the system in La Paz) and the rampant poverty in the city, many wonder whether such a project is appropriate. Marc Harmelle wrote [fr]:

Plutôt que de penser construire un téléphérique, ne faudrait il pas commencer à raser les bidonvilles , reloger ces gens comme des êtres humains , soigner et scolariser leurs enfants ?

Rather than thinking of building a cable car system, should we not start with cleaning the slums, relocate the people to places that are more in line for human dignity, give them healthcare and educate their children?

Public transportation in Madagascar

If congestion is the main issue inside the cities, the interstate roads are also in need of major maintenance work. Bill on Madagascar Tribune noted that there is a lot left to be done [fr]:

11 700 km de routes à réparer dans tout Madagascar en 6 mois [...] l’OTU (Office des travaux d’urgence) va se consacrer aux travaux d‘urgence et aux entretiens provisoires des routes endommagées par les catastrophes naturelles

11,700 km of roads need to be repaired throughout Madagascar in the next six months [...] The UTO [Office of Emergency Work] will be in charge of the roads in need of urgent repair and the temporary repairs of the roads damaged by natural disasters.

The NGO Lalana (Roads in Malagasy) alerted readers to the status of the RN2 highway linking the capital with the main port of Madagascar Toamasina [fr]:

Le patrimoine routier du pays se dégrade. La crise politique a complètement chamboulé le mécanisme de financement du programme d’entretien routier et des travaux d’urgence. Des dégâts, laissés par les cyclones qui ont frappé le pays, l’année dernière, ne sont toujours pas réparés à l’heure actuelle. C’est le cas, entre autres, de la route nationale 2, reliant Antananarivo à Toamasina. Plusieurs mini-éboulements, des portions de route emportées par les torrents

Roads around the country are deteriorating. The political crisis has completely messed up the funding mechanism for road maintenance and urgent repair programs. Damages from the hurricanes that hit the country last year are still not repaired at the moment. This is especially true on the National Highway 2 linking Antananarivo to Toamasina where several rockfalls can be seen. Portions of the road were also washed away by water floods. 

National roads in Madagascar - viaTananews- Public domain

“Rural taxi” on national roads in Madagascar. Via Tana News. Public domain

Traveling across Madagascar through public transportation is still a unique experience. The most affordable way to travel is via the rural taxi, Taxi Brousse. Taxi Brousse comes in many kinds of vehicles, but mostly as a minivan, as seen on the previous photo. Once in a city outside the capital city, one can travel via “pousse pousse”, the local name for a rickshaw, as seen in the following video:   

Ariniaina, a Global Voices author based in Madagascar, pointed out that the legislation has changed in Madagascar regarding rickshaws, but it is still an important means of transportation for many locals

Rickshaw as a mean of transportation pulled by a human being has been considered a violation of human rights. So the Commune [city hall] of Antsirabe [the second largest city in Madagascar] launched the “cyclopousse” – a rickshaw pulled by a bike.  Yet, “traditional” rickshaws are still the main transportation for many Antsirabe residents.

Ariniana posing with a rickshaw owner and his rickshaw in Antsirabe, Madagascar (with her permission)

Ariniana posing with a rickshaw owner and his rickshaw in Antsirabe, Madagascar. Used with permission.

Public transportation is trying to catch up with the rapid evolution of the fast-growing Malagasy population, but given the important economic constraints, it's to be expected – at least for a little while.

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