Airport-City bus links: What Bangalore can teach Chennai

Reaching the major rail or air terminal in a city in India is a challenge – so is the task of getting home from these transport hubs. But in Bangalore, the BMTC has laid the foundation for a bus service from various parts of the city to Bangalore International Airport.

It is not difficult to spot these airport buses for some very basic reasons: They are air-conditioned Volvos, painted bright red and featuring electronic sign boards with route information – those that are exclusive to the airport have a “Vayu Vajra” tag and have the picture of an airplane on the sides.

It is a short walk from the bus bays to the airport terminal. Of coure, there are some touts waiting to get the unwary passenger close to the terminal...

It is a short walk from the bus bays to the airport terminal. Of course, there are some touts waiting to get the unwary passenger close to the terminal...

If you were to compare Bangalore and Chennai, what sets the service in the two cities apart is the weak quality of services offered by Chennai’s Metropolitan Transport Corporation. It is limited both in  scope and plan.

In Chennai, the MTC operates just one route from Chennai Central to Tiruvanmiyur, the A1, both in the lower-tariff deluxe mode and the more expensive air-conditioned service.  We used to read about another service from Central station to the Chennai airport. That now appears to be missing, since the information on this route is not available on the MTC website.

The A1 is a rudimentary service. What is more, the MTC has ensured that not much is not known about its availability to the arriving passengers at Chennai Central.

Contrast this kind of service with that of the BMTC in Bangalore. There is a frequency of 20 minutes, and I tried this out on October 18 on the Electronic City – BIAL route. It worked well. There are bus services from the airport to several other areas too in Bangalore, involving a tariff of Rs. 125 to Rs. 150, depending upon where you want to go (and the ride is one hour-plus at high speed, indicating the distance involved).  It is also fairly frequent, at one every 20 minutes. You can board the bus at the major regular BMTC stops en route.

From the bus bay to the entrance to the terminals is a short walk, via this canopy.

From the bus bay to the entrance to the terminals is a short walk, via this canopy.

It may be argued that the Chennai service is far cheaper with an advertised fare of Rs. 25, but that alone does not make it successful. For one thing,  passengers are not told about the buses being available right outside the Chennai Central concourse, and the frequency is poor. The crew is unhelpful when it comes to obtaining information about the service.

But things could be a lot different, if Chennai learned from Bangalore. Look at the map of the city, and you immediately notice the thick life-giving arterial roads in deep yellow, that radiate from the ‘heart’ of the city, the traditional Georgetown. There are Anna Salai, Poonamallee High Road, Thiruvanmiyur road along the beach, and growing in importance, the Old Mahabalipuram Road (IT corridor) and State Highway connecting Mount and Poonamallee (SH 113) which is a direct link from the airport. Of course there is also the Jawaharlal Nehru (Inner Ring) Road, which touches many residential localities, and forms a wide arc from North to South Chennai.

Note the road alignments in thick yellow, which are the arteries

Note the road alignments in thick yellow, which are the arteries

It is obvious that if good quality modern bus services could be operated along these arteries, they would cover the bulk of the distance from the airport to the inner city, and to the Central/Egmore railway stations (which are in close proximity); the services will also provide valuable choice to the city commuter en route. The demand for such service is strong, but MTC apparently has other priorities. It is interested only in high-demand routes with disproportionate density of demand, rather than normal service provision.

Is this because there is a tacit understanding to create a bottleneck in the inner city? With its high density, it gives the autorickshaws and call-taxis a straight advantage. The lack of expansion of the service in Chennai Central and the Airport certainly indicate this kind of design.

The DMK Government has been trying to use its clout within the UPA for JNNURM funds to augment metropolitan bus services, but in implementing its transport schemes, it has been displaying the worst pre-modern era arrogance. The attitude of the MTC seems to confirm what many believe – that the bus service is only to be used as a tool to maintain a hold on urban life and mobility of the masses, and as a weapon — through labour protests — whenever it suits the Government politically.

The Government of India should STOP funding the MTC until it reverses course and takes up fundamental reform of the Chennai bus system.

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Filed under Buses, Chennai, Commuters, Explore, India, MTC, Public Transport, Transit, Transport Information

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