Chennai gridlock gets some media attention

People using Chennai’s roads today would have realised the futility of trying to move from one point to another. After waking up late to the need to lay underground cables all over the city, the Arasu Cable Corporation is ripping up footpaths and road margins in a tearing hurry, creating huge bottlenecks. The number of vehicles on the roads has also been rising exponentially, while commercial encroachments have proliferated.

Although the Chennai media generally has little insightful coverage of the problems of urban chaos, an attempt has been made by today’s Times of India to focus on various questions.

Page 2 of the Chennai edition of the newspaper has tried to look at the problems and solutions, including congestion charging, fast-tracked transit projects such as metro rail. There is, in our view, insufficient emphasis on pedestrianisation and cycling, two of the cheap, ready to implement alternatives.

The various features in the Times today cover the following aspects:

Chennai Inc gives a wake-up call

Bikes grow in numbers, buses crawl on roads of Chennai

Experts favour satellite towns

Chennai waiting for Metro rail

We are not in agreement over the advocacy of greater sprawl in Chennai as an overarching solution for decongestion, although it is our stand that good transport links must be built without delay. Having chosen to allow residential construction between Chennai and Tiruvallur, Arakkonam, Sriperumbudur, Chengalpattu and Sholinganallur, the DMK Government can no longer remain indifferent to the transport needs of these arteries. But the sad reality is that the Government has been asleep at the wheel of its rickety transport system.

The Times also reports today that there is a proposal to augment the city bus service with a limited number of routes and with 10 air-conditioned buses. See MTC to launch 13 new routes today . We reiterate that these piecemeal solutions are NOT helping to reduce transport inflation for Chennai residents, or provide a comfortable, reliable and efficient alternative to personal vehicles. The DMK Government must stop window dressing and address itself seriously to the crisis at hand. Moreover, MTC seems to be interested in competing with suburban transport corporations in neighbouring districts, rather than improving services within the commercial districts of Chennai that more people have to use for business and social purposes. Is the laggard character of MTC traceable to its anxiety to please autorickshaw owners who command and control the price of travel today?

We must also take this moment to condemn the statement, if it was accurately reported by the media recently, that the Builders Association of India prefers to have smaller footpaths (as opposed to wider ones) and make way for more vehicles to use roads. This is a cussed, ill-informed, unprofessional and pedestrian-unfriendly attitude from an organisation that ought to know better.

The pedestrians of Chennai have accommodated a roguish class of builders serving commercial entities for a long time now. These builders have corrupted all wings of Government and ensured that available space goes to serve commercial spaces, through schemes such as CMDA’s regularisation plan, without realising that it is ordinary people who keep the cash machines ringing in the shops. Without being able to walk to shops comfortably, commercial activity can only reduce, not increase.


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