Mercedes Citaro, Bonn, and the DMK’s outmoded transport policies

There are millions of commuters in Chennai who watch from packed buses at peak hour everyday, as people around travel in the latest cars, in cool comfort, listening to music, or pitying the rest of the world, never mind the fuel price. The latest cars in the world are here in their Indian avatars, the Mercedes Benzes, Audis, BMWs, Toyotas, Lexuses and so on (we are leaving out non-luxury cars here).

So is it possible, within their lifetime, for these miserable commuters to get a comfortable ride, and keep their conscience intact in matters like climate change and pollution?

Yes it is. As we have noted in the past, if the Transport Regulatory Authority for Chennai is given a proper legal framework (under pressure as it happened for the Right to Information law), it can set the process in motion for genuine modernisation of the city’s bus fleet and operating systems. Once this happens, it should be possible for city residents to ride in air-conditioned Volvos and yes, a Mercedes Benz Citaro bus.

The German automaker Daimler has hit the road for many weeks now, offering their bus line to us here in India. Some States like Karnataka, which have made good progress in inducting air-conditioned buses to the BMTC fleet in Bangalore and elsewhere, have decided to run the Mercedes buses, starting with trials. Not Chennai, though.

This reinforces the view that the DMK and AIADMK are unwilling to give good facilities to the residents of Chennai. Their attitude to bus service is rooted in the arrogance of the 1970s. The DMK have inducted a minimum number of Volvo buses, imposed a tax on them to make them unattractive, and refused to introduce ticketing reform. There is still no day ticket for Chennai covering all buses including Volvos, and even the existing ticket is kept virtually a secret. What is more, when it was time for the World Classical Tamil Conference, the government drove the Volvos off to Coimbatore, without so much as the courtesy of informing regular travellers in Chennai. Clearly, the DMK government thinks the buses are party property. We did not hear a murmur from the MoUD in Delhi, possibly because of the clout wielded by the DMK in the capital.

The reception that good buses get can be gauged from bloggers, such as this writer who has posted several pictures also. Rajasthan’s transport corporation has announced that it will be running ten Citaro buses between Jaipur and Delhi, and the market is just opening up.

Back to the subject of Mercedes buses, I had the experience of visiting the German city of Bonn and use the services of the SWB, which is the regional integrated operator of buses and trains. The SWB proudly advertises its strengths as “Bus and Bahn (rail)”, something that Indian transport operators are yet to learn. These pictures of the fleet operating in the Siegburg/Bonn area provide glimpses of what we could have in Chennai, and other Indian cities, if the UPA government and the State regimes act with sanity.

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We desperately need such comfortable buses to pull people away from their cars for regular (peak hour) commutes, reduce fuel demand, and improve the quality of life for Indians. The question is, will the DMK show sufficient maturity before approaching the Chennai electorate for next year’s elections and modernise its aging systems and fleet?

I have filed a Right to Information Act petition with the Metropolitan Transport Corporation asking for the Detailed Project Report that it has submitted to the Ministry of Urban Development to get JNNURM grants for the buses, including Volvos. That document will be posted here as soon as it is received. Perhaps it has some pointers to where the MTC is going.


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