Straphanger Updates on Chennai transit coming back, in a big way!

I realise that this blog has not been updated in a while. That’s partly because of attention devoted to the Lok Sabha elections and some other preoccupations. There is every reason to start writing aggressively on public transport and straphanger concerns, because of the non-performance of both the UPA at the Centre and the DMK Government in Tamil Nadu in this area. The Karunanidhi government has shamelessly been talking about the new Metro for Chennai being completed in six years, when the city’s existing rail lines and bus service are in tatters. More on that soon.


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  1. At last, I’ve found my way into writing on what’s become my latest mode of transport.

    It’s more than a mere mode of transport, its a relief — from the chore of driving, and, needless to say lighter on the wallet.

    What do I find on the MRTS. To begin with the positives:

    The broad setting: Millions of Indians travel to work. I am one among them. Seems routine: people all over the world travel to work, unless you are one of those fortunate enough to work from home. Yet, this is a fundamental building block to evolve a good public transport system.
    As I could not find the exact numbers from the website of the Census of India (which, when I accessed it at 0019 hours, Dec. 22, 2009, returned variants of 404), I took recourse to an alternative site.

    The big picture: a) We got some computation to go by
    b) We got it all messed up
    c) Metros fare the worst. (red dots in the graphs).

    That’s enough for the data. Of course, data given by the UK Office of National Statistics, at least on paper, gives a better understanding of the situation. Perhaps censuses could include such data, and, more important, make them public and accessible.

    Now back to reality:

    Normally, these are the options to get to work;
    a) Walk — ruled out — as work place is more than 15 minutes, its, let’s say 15-odd k.m.
    b) Bicycle — ditto — plus the condition of traffic would mean that one would have to risk limb, and possibly life, to get around (I will come back to this point in a while)
    c) Two-wheeler — could be an option.
    Yet, let me be honest its not a choice for more than one reason: a colleague showed up with “neck pain” diagnosed subsequently as Spondolysis. For the uninitiated, this means your spinal chord is messed up. It’s like a plumbing line gone awry, and your nerves get entangled between the vertebra (i.e) your nerves get mashed like its caught in a pincer. (OK I may have been a bit dramatic there, but it sort of says it). Reason: Ask any Orthopaedician and the first risk factor is two-wheeler driving, thanks to our beautifully laid roads, that tells not where the next pot hole is.
    The second reason is plain and simple — I have a teenager son at home, and unless its an effeminte vehicle, I’m going to lose the two-wheeler to him, and given the state of our roads…I dont want two spinal chords tangled…
    The third reason: Plain and simple age..OK let’s be honest. At 44, when there is an option, I would rather not two-wheel around.
    c) Buses — good option. Only, I’ve got to take that walk to the bus stop (less than a k.m.), but I don’t know the frequency, I don’t like to run from one corner to another, not knowing where the bus will stop. But these are silly reasons, and the bus remains an unexplored option, as of now.
    d) Auto-rickshaws — at Rs. 250-plus for a one-way ride. Thank you very much. My money does not grow on trees. And, yes, this is after a haggle, which I would rather not. One should pick one’s battles, but most certainly save them for causes worthier than one’s individual travel to work.
    e) Motor car: Wow!!! Here kicks in the typical South Asian mindset. “I drive to work” “In my car” Just that by doing so, I vaporise about Rs. 200 a day (just on fuel) – that’s Rs. 1,200 a week, which is 4,800 a month, Rs, 57,600 a year. And, if fuel rates remain the same (assumptions, how easy!), and if a 44-year-old has 16 years of service remaining ….Rs. hold-your-breath 9,21,600. Thank you very much. I would rather walk!

    Enter MRTS — Mass Rapid Transport System…
    The basics: Home to MRTS station — 4-odd KM (against 15-odd km to work)
    Parking fees: Rs. 20/day
    Train fare: Rs. 10/day two-way (much, much less if its a 3-monthly pass, which will be the next step)

    Ok…now a typical day in the journey of a newly-convert straphanger.

    Drive from home to MRTS station — normally fine, except if there is a major, major traffic hold up at a junction. That could take, on a typical day, about 10 minutes to clear. On a clear day 2 minutes to clear. That, sort of says it all.

    The parking lot …. best explained as: Spacious, very spacious, secure, as it is in the basement of the station, not too pricey, given the alternative calculations.
    Not know for: Illumination — Got to turn on headlights as one enters
    Not known for: order — One is not talking precision parking, but the manner in which two-wheelers park their vehicles is atrocious, here, there, all over the place. This they do taking advantage of a disabled person who mans the token stall. After all, he cannot chase them into parking their bikes in the right place, can he?
    Not known for: Cleanliness. I’m not talking squeaky clean, but just the basics. Debris all over, concrete thingys lying all around.
    Also known for: Dampness: The slightest opening of the sky means the basement — yes the basement — gets puddles of water, not from water flowing down from the road, but through the roof .. of the two-storeyed complex that is the MRTS station.

    Next halt: The ticket counter. Oddly-placed. One enters the station, the stairway is straight ahead from the entrance — that’s fine, the elevator is in the corner in the right, and the ticket counter, on the other end of the building. Yes, I know its just a few paces this way and that, but our planners have made it clear that one needs to walk this way and that before getting to the elevator. Or, in the case of the stairway…Do NOT touch the railing (So the Mrs. said one day, which was when I looked to see the mess the aluminium contained).

    Next, the platform itself…to be fair its been getting caressed by the broom of late, but till about a fortnight ago, it was a…well, dump. Plain and simple dump. Litter right under your bottom, if you choose to sit on those skimpily laid chairs—a MASS transport railway station, with a few odd garden-like chairs that can seat about four (max) a piece. Some Mass they expect to travel.

    A leaky water tap. A toilet, which was very, very recently thrown open to public use (timing unknown).

    Graffitti littered walls, and so on…

    Well, I’ve been writing, and writing, wonder what the time is….I look around, if I were at the station, I would have to keep looking to mile’s end and end up not discovering a clock anywhere. Not even a semblance of one in the next station, which is within eye-shot, if I may say so.

    When is the next train due…I have no idea if I were a new comer to the station.

    But all is not that bad, its a pretty long platform. And, forget about the clattering of hammers and the once-in-a-way workman trying to fix the odd fan, or raise the odd ceiling. Its good for a walk. Now, with no idea when the next train would be (just a guesstimate), what remains to be done? Walk. Up and down the platform…Its a good walking track, if nothing else. Count your steps and keep walking. Up and down. The only hazards being: a) you get taken for a nutter — fine by me, and b) more important, you may miss the train if you are in a corner and the train pulls up in such a way that the last coach is beyond reach. The solution to b) is pretty straight. Walk just upto the estimated length of the train (assume its a six-car, and not a 9-car). Good so far.

    Then, the train pulls up. Pretty simple from there on….You get driven to work. In at work in about 15-20 mins from time you board the train.

    Its been my routine, and I love it.

    What’s more, I’ve lost 5 kg since I started being a straphanger (to be honest, I get a seat most of the time) 🙂

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