Chennai Mini Bus Scheme may offer too little

The Hindu today returns to the issue of Mini-Bus service in Chennai with this story: Mini buses likely on city roads soon . You might ask how a “likely” service can be promised “soon”, but that is not the primary concern here.

According to the report, the experts at Anna University have given much thought to the need for mini- bus service for this city of 7 million people and come up with the recommendation that there is a need for 100 routes and a fleet of 200 mini buses.

To our mind, that would translate into an allocation of 2 buses per route even if this is to be just a token start. With that kind of fleet, you would have to wait for a bus for one full hour at any given point, since it takes about 60 minutes to cover the route length, traffic, stops and all. It somehow seems difficult to believe that it takes an expert to come up with this suggestion. This is an outmoded service model straight out of the 1970s.

There is a clamour for mini-buses in suburbs and interiors of city localities of Chennai alike, as Tamil Nadu is one of the three most urbanised states along with Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh as per the provisional Census 2011 findings. The price of petrol has risen sharply from the time the Tamil Nadu government talking about mini buses.

It is possible that the AIADMK government, which has a history of allowing laissez faire transport operations to weaken trade unions and breaking strikes, will choose a model that will set high benchmark fares and be loosely regulated. That model has been in vogue for long, in the private inter-city bus sector in the State (referred to as omnibus operation).

The ideal mini-bus size would be such as this Mercedes van, with large windows, high clearance, features that Tata Magic type vehicles lack
The ideal mini-bus size would be such as this Mercedes van, with large windows, high clearance, features that Tata Magic type vehicles lack. Photo: Mercedes Benz

If the AIADMK government is sincere it should set the terms of operation and invest in mini bus networks that are either owned and operated by MTC, or by a whole new public sector corporation, or at least by individual entrepreneurs who meet standardised, transparent norms. What is good for Cable TV should be good for bus service as well.

We need dependable connectivity from main roads in all residential localities to bus termini and railway stations.

But the mini bus idea is a half-measure, since the Jayalalithaa government is silent about augmenting overall bus fleet strength in Chennai, engaging in ticketing reform to sell bus passes for one week and one month widely (as cell phone SIM cards are sold), and integrating buses – including the promised mini buses – with train operations. For all this, it would have to take the lawfully constituted Chennai Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority seriously, and treat transport as a professional service, not as charity. The full text of CUMTA is here.

Before the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections, we had asked the question, “Will Karunanidhi or Jayalalithaa give us better wheels?” – Although it is the latter who won, there is no indication that things will significantly improve.

If you would like to suggest a mini-bus route for Chennai, visit this page on Ushahidi’s Crowdmap and enter the destination information in the form provided. Alternatively, you can put it out on Twitter with the hashtag #chennaiminiibus


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