UMTA for Chennai: Will MTC and Railways play ball?

The Times of India today reports that the Tamil Nadu Government is to introduce legislation to create a Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority for Chennai.

The UMTA is not a new idea but one that was mooted way back in the first government formed by Ms. Jayalalitha. It has remained in cold storage ever since, with the Central and State transport agencies unwilling to talk across the table. Even now, without sustained pressure from the media and campaigners, mainly commuters, it may remain a non-starter.

It is our considered view that the announcement of the UMTA is, for the present, only to fulfil the requirements stipulated for funding under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, which in turn is derived from the National Urban Transport Policy. None of the other actions of the Tamil Nadu government have been in consonance with objectives of national policies mentioned above.

To bring about the kind of easy travel that the Times has portrayed today (and which is normal for professionally run cities), some measures do not even have to wait for the UMTA.

Top among these is the availability of Travel As You Please passes issued by MTC. These are not sold on a cyclical basis — that is, on any day of the week, for the next 30 days. Instead, MTC expects passengers to go to selected depots between the first and 15th, to get a pass. There is also no information available in the public domain about the pass options from MTC. This is unfriendly to the commuter and goes against the stated objective of NUTP. It is also uniquely inefficient from any professional management perspective. Lastly, the railways do what is proper right here in Chennai — you can buy a pass on any day, for the next 30 days on any of the suburban lines and the MRTS.

Given their recalcitrant stand to integrate operations, fares and provide seamless travel, it is unlikely that the MTC and the Southern Railway will come to an agreement soon. It remains to be seen whether the new agency will be run professionally, since there is no record of such management in the two Dravidian party governments that Tamil Nadu has had so far.

We note with regret that the urban transport sector is used by the DMK and to a lesser degree, the AIADMK, as labour banks to draw upon for political purposes. This does injustice to workers by treating them as mere political entiries with loyalty to politicians, rather than proud members of a professional transport workforce. It has also created an anomalous situation where the transport staff display a hostile attitude to commuters, whose interests are paramount in any such system.

It remains to be seen whether the UMTA, if it is indeed formed and run professionally, will take up these core issues that affect Indian transport in general, and Chennai in particular.

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