Chennai Metro to go to Poonamallee town in Phase Two

G. Ananthakrishnan

Chennai Metro’s Phase II, which is awaiting sanction from the NDA government in New Delhi, is to be extended up to Poonamallee. This will ease the bottleneck that is choking most of Arcot Road, from Porur to Virugambakkam. Read the government’s announcement reported by The Hindu here.

There is a wider economic benefit to the move, which will approximately cost Rs. 3,850 crore, or about $600 million.

A couple of thousand apartment units already built between Manapakkam and Poonamallee, more coming up. There is bound to be a real estate dividend from the Metro move, with prices likely moving up immediately. Major gated communities already complete or nearly ready include Prestige Bella Vista in Iyyappanthangal, Osean Chlorophyll in Porur, Prince Highlands, Sterling Ganges, Appasamy Platina, and previous developments such as Southern Shelters, ETA Jasmine Court, Audco Nagar, Jeeva Nagar and so on. Thousands of houses are already built along the arterial Mount – Poonamallee road.

The Metro Phase II should be implemented as quickly as possible, without the long delays that marked the First Phase of Chennai Metro Rail. The Hindu reports that the extension of the corridor "will run from Light House to Poonamallee Bus Depot crisscrossing areas including Ramachandra Nagar, Kattupakkam, Kumananchavadi and terminating at Poonamallee Bus Depot."

This rail link will have a multiplier effect on growth of economy and better services in the entire region. Logically, Chennai Corporation should also extend its reach up to the Metro services area, subsuming poorly performing Town Panchayats like Porur and Mangadu.

At present, Poonamallee is connected by a range of MTC bus routes, touching CMBT, Anna Square, Broadway, T. Nagar and Mandaiveli, besides Avadi to the West and Tambaram to the South. Kumananchavadi is a transit point.

Poonamallee is also a major hub that links places in neighbouring Thiruvallur and Kancheepuram districts, not to mention the industrial enclaves in Sriperumbudur.

A hybrid of Highway and City Road

The Mount-Poonamallee Road is a hybrid, which caters to rising highway traffic from some southern parts of Chennai bound for Bengaluru, Ranipet, Sriperumbudur and so on.

Rising motorisation created a serious bottleneck at Porur junction over the years, which the DMK government tried to remedy with a flyover, but got overtaken by electoral defeat.

The AIADMK government sat on the project for a full five years from 2011, citing land acquisition problems, Metrowater pipeline relocation and so on. Ultimately, it was opened recently.

Yet, mobility options for the region have been limited to buses and share autorickshaws operating without permits.

A Metro line, in the absence of a BRT, will change the dynamics of travel in the entire region, which includes such institutions as the DLF IT Park and Sri Ramachandra Medical College.

The massive Aravind Eye hospital is coming up near the Kumananchavadi junction, while Saveetha Dental College and ACS Medical College are already close by.

One can envisage land acquisition for the Metro in Poonamallee town, which is an ancient, congested area, to be difficult, especially at the Bus Depot point. Giving handsome compensation and alternative land would convince the owners to accommodate the government’s demands without posing legal hurdles.

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Chennai MTC gives confusing route information on official website

Wrong information being put out on the official Metropolitan Transport Corporation of Chennai MTC website, www.mtcbus.org on the routes that it operates. The website itself is unfriendly, and the design is years old.

While MTC operates several ‘small bus’ routes, it has wrongly prefixed regular routes with S in the database, while not giving information on Small Bus routes. For example, the regular route 7E is prefixed as S07E from Broadway to Ambattur Estate. S26 has been listed as if it is a small bus, when in fact it is route 26, from Broadway to Iyyappanthangal.

Such wrong information given over Internet confuses the public, especially someone visiting Chennai from outside. It reflects complete lack of application of mind by the administration at MTC, which needs to be shaken up for a more consumer-focused attitude to services.

MTC even invested in a facility like GPS to reflect actual bus operations but have failed to provide such real time information for a few years now. It removed the bus information boards from those stops where they functioned earlier, such as Omandurar Estate on Anna Salai, near the MLAs hostel, and the converted superspeciality hospital housed in the former Secretariat.

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How ‘smart’ are Metro rail websites in India?

G. Ananthakrishnan

Just weeks after attending the Global Summit of the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) in Montreal, Canada – where a 60-strong Indian delegation of transport bureaucrats was present – I am looking at the opening of ambitious Metro rail in Kochi and the full phase of Namma Metro in Bengaluru.

This is an exciting moment not just for those who live in these cities, but also for armchair travellers who like to explore Metro systems worldwide. A tourist who plans to visit will first look up the online presence of the Metro network in the city, the map of the various lines, the interchanges, the types of tickets and passes available, and the ease of purchase.

Indian transport managers are generally not good at providing any consumer takeaways from their websites, although they have had the benefit of attending international conferences and reviewing how foreign operators provide service.

So how do these new ‘Metro’ cities compare?

Kochi: The website of Kochi Metro Rail Limited (https://kochimetro.org/) has the bare minimum of what a passenger wishes to see – a clickable map of the line with stations, the tariff information, a widget for the Twitter feed of KMRL, and links to some old blog posts. Although the much-awaited system that cost almost a billion dollars was opened by Prime Minister Narendra Modi today, it had nothing on service launch even after 4 hours.

As with other Metro operators in India, the KMRL website suffers from a personality clash – is it meant to advertise tenders and contracts, or is it focused on the passenger? You could be confused, because the home page is full of tender announcements and other material that is simply useless to a user.

What does work for Kochi Metro, however, is its distinct turquoise logo which stands out anywhere, can be brightly printed on to visiting cards to indicate the station nearest an event, your office or establishment, on letterheads and public displays.

The tariff is also highly affordable.

Bengaluru: Namma Metro is now a little older at the game, and its website with a set of widgets has more for the traveller, although by no means a full set of transit information offerings. The route map did not load on my Chrome browser, but the schematic map in .pdf could be downloaded.

The opportunity to use logos to indicate disabled friendly stations and lift facility was lost in the map-making exercise. Future maps could do that.

Links to fares on the Purple and Green lines did not work.

Ticketing information is available, as are links to top up smart cards from the home page of the site.

Namma Metro also has a distinct logo, which is highly usable in the same kind of ways that I spoke of for Kochi. This has been the trend globally for long.

Chennai: But I live in Chennai, where the Metro has been slow to roll out. We got three stretches going so far, which provides a rump of a network, but it is also the costliest to use in the country – it is almost priced in dollar terms without any idea about purchasing power!

The website as it exists has a mix of features, once you get past the monstrous inauguration pictures of AIADMK and BJP politicians sitting in a train that they normally will not ride, and which they had little to do with for long – in fact the AIADMK opposed the plan.

The route calculator above, built on Google Maps is a nifty tool, since it gives you the fare based on your station selection, and the distance. You may find #Uber cheaper for a three-person ride, but CMRL is not going into that issue right now.

#Chennai Metro’s logo is the least impressive. It has, however, escaped the fate of being turned into the shape of two green leaves because the project was launched by the DMK under M. Karunanidhi, and not by Jayalalithaa.

Indian Metro Rail operators are yet to go ‘smart’ with real time passenger information on smartphones. So no apps to speak about. That is the subject of a separate discussion.

What’s your experience with Metros in India?

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Chennai’s popular ‘share autos’ operating illegally: Transport Dept to RTI query

Share autos, or 7-seater mini vans operating in the hundreds in Chennai are illegal, and cannot pick up and drop passengers at random, the Tamil Nadu Transport Department said in reply to an RTI query that I filed in March, 2017. The RTI application was filed to the Secretary, Transport, Tamil Nadu, who forwarded it to the Transport Commissioner, who in turn sent it to RTOs.

The response of the department exposes the lack of a regulated scheme for shared transport in Tamil Nadu, although such services have been operational for a few years now and are highly popular with commuters, especially women. Even the Chennai Metro Rail acknowledges the popularity of these services as feeders from some of its stations. The share autos also provide night transport till almost 2 a.m., which the State government has failed to.

The monopoly bus operator in Chennai, the MTC, has responded grudgingly to the need for small-format transport and introduced a couple of hundred 24 seater mini-buses (besides at least 12 standing passengers) which are also well-patronised. However, for apparently political reasons [not wanting to upset autorickshaw interests], the MTC has not expanded the scheme of mini-buses in a targeted fashion, connecting railway and Metro stations, residential areas and bus termini.

On the RTI query, when asked whether 7-seater or 6-seater vehicles could operate under any law in the city of Chennai and the neighbouring districts of Thiruvallur and Kancheepuram as ‘share autos’, taking passengers from the roadside for drop at random, the Regional Transport Office, Chennai (North West), Chennai 600102 said “No” in its response dated April 3.

So what action is being taken by the Transport Department to regulate the operation of such ‘share autos’ – currently seen operating from areas like Mylapore, Thiruvanmiyur, Nesappakkam, Porur, Chennai Central, T.Nagar, Anna Nagar and Mogappair?

“The Motor Vehicles Inspectors are conducting regular checks on these vehicles and booking for offences committed,” the RTI reply said.

Shared transport in Chennai

A 7-seater share auto in Chennai. Usually, these vehicles carry a minimum of 9 people, and at night, up to 13, charging between Rs.7 and Rs.30 per head for a 1 km -10 km ride.

The RTO (North West) also provided figures of how many 7-seater and 6-seater vehicles were given taxi permit for operation in the city of Chennai, Thiruvallur and Kancheepuram, within its jurisdiction.

The details of the taxi permits are as follows:

Year 7 SEATER 6 SEATER
2011 12 3
2012 05 01
2013 01
2014 05
2015 03 21
2016 02

Data from Regional Transport Officer (North West), Chennai, 600102

The RTO did not respond to questions on whether the Transport Department had any rules in existence or proposed any to enable the operation of shared passenger vehicles, using commercial transport apps for smartphones and on the internet, such as Ola Share and Uberpool. “This office is only a Regional office. Hence the question not related to this office,” the reply stated.

A similar response was given to a question on whether the Transport Department was taking steps to incorporate the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways report on Guidelines for Taxi Cab Operations in Cities for urban mobility, which MoRTH had published in December 2016 and which was sent by the Union Joint Secretary for Transport, Abhay Damle to the Secretaries of Transport in the States.

Need for answers

Both Chennai Metro and MTC are members of the UITP, the international association of public transport which will hold its summit in Montreal, Canada between May 15 and 17, 2017.

Forming a proper scheme to introduce regulated shared modes of transport in Chennai, besides expanding the static bus network of the MTC are major issues before the city. Delegates from Chennai will be called upon to explain their plan to meet these objectives during and after the UITP conference.

 

 

 

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Chennai Metro fares may be subsidising station car parking

Who pays for the construction of the parking lot at Chennai Central station that the Times of India says will have seven levels to keep 4,000 cars (story here) ? The other development of the Chennai Central tunnelling work reaching a milestone with the last of the TBM points forging through on Friday is reported here by ToI and here by New Indian Express.

chennai_metro_rail_at_koyambedu

A Chennai Metro train at Koyambedu station. Photo: KARTY JazZ, Creative Commons

In the absence of any differentiation in the costing of the Metro construction between core facilities and such add-ons that have no universal value, we must assume that the cost is distributed across the entire system – which means, it is loaded into the fare that everyone pays.

If this is not the case, Chennai Metro Rail Limited is duty-bound to explain how it is arriving at parking fees, in order to segregate the expenditure and cost recovery.
Since Japan, whose investors have funded the Metro, is also deeply interested in India’s car sector, having a thriving business in the country with its Toyotas, Suzukis, Hondas and so on, it is likely that there is a convergence of interest between the local car lobby and the decision.

Why criticise commuters?

Many people criticise bus, rail commuters for demanding better services at affordable fares, which are not anyway available. There is no effort at bringing link buses to the Metro stations. Even pedestrian access to the Metro stations in Vadapalani, Koyambedu, Alandur are crudely designed, and hence dysfunctional.

Secondly, while we welcome mass mobility systems, Chennai Metro Rail maintains an aloofness with users characteristic of all public services in India. It does not think public transport is a partnership, rather a top down offering to helpless users. Thus, its proposed Chennai Metro app (for Android) may not have real time information on trains, just static maps, an outdated model. The report on the app in The Hindu is here.

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Uber Everything finds a ready urban transport vacuum to fill

Today’s point to note in the world of transport is Uber Everything, story here.

At the International Transport Forum (https://twitter.com/ITF_Forum) conference in Leipzig earlier this year, I heard from Alain Flausch, secretary general of the UITP, that buses, urban rail and trams have been the original pioneers of the sharing economy.

That is undoubtedly true, and they continue to innovate by incorporating new technologies into operations, and for passenger information. What is more, the traditional operators providing universal service also see the new entrants as partners, who can extend their reach through regular services or exclusive PT partnerships.

Not so in India, though. Here, a massive surge in demand for public transport and a struggling public sector with outmoded technology combined with lack of investment have created an enormous unserved market, ripe for picking by entities such as Uber.

Thus, Uber Everything is all set to crop the surplus that could have been easily mopped up by public operators, but who are now left with passengers who will readily migrate to affordable, comfortable and modern alternatives.

I can imagine an 15 to 18 seater air-conditioned bus (Picture below shows Force Motors small bus for route operations) operated by Uber Everything with Real Time Passenger Information along defined arteries finding commuters flocking to it in droves. That is the traffic that the local monopoly bus operator could have got, if it had planned ahead.

Most Indian cities have under-performing bus systems. They have uncomfortable buses built on lorry chassis without damped suspensions, with a floor height of 1,100 mm on average. Their seats are not designed with normal ergonomic considerations, but for maximised revenue. They have no GPS in most cities, perhaps with the exception of Bengaluru’s BMTC. Thus, they have no linkages with smartphone applications, and cannot provide much-needed real time information to passengers either on phones or at bus stops or termini.

Chennai offers rich potential

In such a milieu, it is inevitable that an Uber Everything, which is reportedly to be trialed in Bengaluru, finds excellent support, just as its recently launched UberPool has. Chennai, with its Old Mahabalipuram Road (Rajiv Gandhi Expressway or IT corridor), St. Thomas Mount-Sriperumbudur artery of manufacturing units, and the Chennai – Chengalpattu GST Road with residential, commercial and IT presence, is also a ready – and rich – prospect for such an arrangement.

At the Leipzig 2015 ITF forum, David Ploufe, the senior vice-president for policy and strategy at Uber said "Uber and other services like Zipcar and Bla bla car are part of a new mobility ecosystem." Since then, the phenomenon has only grown stronger, and expanded to several new cities around the world, including India.

It will be interesting to watch how this experiment fares, although there is little doubt that if it is allowed to operate with minimal regulation (as Chennai is allowing unregulated share autos to run services by the thousands already), travel demand management will enter a whole new era.

If traditional bus systems are intelligent, they will run high capacity systems between termini, along well-recognised routes, leaving the small bus system of the sharing economy to connect these termini with neighbourhoods.

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Chennai’s MTC starves S30 with solo weekend service

When they were introduced after a long delay, the ‘small buses‘ of Chennai’s Metropolitan Transport Corporation were intended to cater to congested areas that had little or no public transport connectivity – these places were at the mercy of autorickshaws that do not ply by meter. In some areas, they were meant to mop up the revenue being lost to 7-seater taxis that operate illegally, often overloaded to about 12 or even 14 passengers.

S30, operating from Mahalingapuram Ayyappan Temple to Ashok Nagar [Metro Station] via Kodambakkam, Rangarajapuram, West Mambalam and Ashok Nagar is one such small bus route.

s301

On a Saturday evening, there are too few people in this S30 service to Mahalingapuram, in West Mambalam. Photo: G. Ananthakrishnan (CC)

It may sound incredible, but MTC has reduced the number of buses on S30 on Saturdays and Sundays to just one. Yes, one bus.

On other days, there are 2 buses on the route, which means a frequency of approximately 30 minutes. Even on weekdays, if a bus breaks down, the waiting time may be doubled.

On July 2, I waited for this bus at the Ashok Nagar Metro Station for 20 minutes at 7.30 p.m. The conductor later said the route fetched poor returns, sometimes just Rs.350 per shift.

Not a smart move by Chennai MTC

The S30 waiting at Liberty Bus stop on a trip towards Ashok Pillar. Note the wooden board that obscures the LED route display. Photo: G. Ananthakrishnan

 

 

MTC management problem

But the problem with the poor collection and low patronage is of MTC’s own making.

The Chennai Metro Rail does not really go anywhere right now, so there are few passengers to take the small buses from Ashok Pillar or Alandur.  But there is another well-patronised train station that S30 and other buses could touch, yet do not: the Kodambakkam Suburban Railway station.

If S30 is re-routed via the Kodambakkam Railway Station rather than cover only Viswanathapuram Main Road, it will attract people who want to reach Rangarajapuram, West Mambalam and Ashok Nagar.

In the future, when Chennai Metro has a fuller service, those who want to go to Kodambakkam station or residential localities nearby can board it at Ashok Nagar. [Story on present ridership is here]

No data insight on passengers

MTC has also shown lack of data insight into the transport demand in Rangarajapuram, where bus connectivity had dwindled over the past 15 years. With better planning, S30 could have been deployed partly on Rangarajapuram Main Road, to create better access (as route S35 does in Jones Road, West Saidapet).

Historically, route 11 D to Parrys/Broadway that used to pass through Rangarajapuram, specifically Rangarajapuram Main Road, has been withdrawn, and refashioned as 11G which does not touch the area – it uses Brindavan Street instead, from Arya Gowda Road.

S30 could have provided some connectivity to the residents of Rangarajapuram area, helping them reach the Kodambakkam Suburban Railway Station in one direction, and the Ashok Pillar bus stop and Metro Station in the other.

These tweaks to the S30 route, together with an increase in the number of services operating on it, are vital to improve its viability. It would be a shame if the route was completely done away with because MTC has not made a proper demand study, and the choice has been imposed without consulting the public.

The pity is that Chennai MTC does not provide real time information on its services to passengers. If a passenger knew the time of arrival of a small bus, or its location, it would be easier to plan the journey.

MTC is the perfect example of India’s transport service providers not keeping pace with technological developments, and the capabilities of smartphones to deliver travel information, even in a major city like Chennai.

 

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