I often go to a particular part of crowded Saidapet, which has expensive real estate, great population density, but poor hyperlocal transport connectivity. This is a western corner of this old village close to the Adyar river, where the streets are sometimes just wide enough for a car to pass, and has over the years been heavily built-up to support small trade. There are thus no footpaths.
Until 2014, there was hardly any choice: you either walk, or use an autorickshaw to reach the interior parts of West Saidapet.
In such a large cul-de-sac, in spite of the island of middle classness that exists in the form of Parsn Nagar (some 200 houses), autorickshaws are not happy to venture. They usually ask for double the normal fare (no justification, of course). The Saidapet suburban railway station is about 1.5 km from here.
Last year, things changed a little. This part of Saidapet got MTC S35 – one of the mini bus routes reluctantly introduced as part of the new mini bus series, by the AIADMK government; the idea was originally that of the DMK government which was slow off the block.
It is a short route, starting at Ashok Pillar just outside the Metro station and terminating at Defence Colony. The small Leyland bus runs like a noisy bug, blowing an air horn, through Jaffarkhanpet, chock-a-block Jones Road, West Mada Road close to the Perumal Temple, Kothawal Chavadi Street, and on to Guindy industrial estate via the new bridge and then Defence Colony.
S35 touches a part of Saidapet that at one time was covered by an infrequent 18K Extension bus that would go up to Parsn Nagar (crossing the point where Annai Velankanni College of Arts and Science is now located). The service was withdrawn, probably because it cut into the neatly sewed-up autorickshaw monopoly in that middle class enclave. It was also a large bus that found it tough to negotiate the lanes.
So S35 gives you the opportunity now to escape the take-it-or-leave-it autorickshaw groups in the area. You just have to wait at the junction of Kothawal Chavadi Street and West Mada Road / Anjaneyar Koil Street for one to turn up. Many people do just that, and this service is never lean, even on a Sunday.
Sadly, the AIADMK government which is bidding for Chennai to be a #smartcity with funds from the Narendra Modi government does not provide real time information on the actual bus service operation (MTC does not have any such system in operation for any of its buses). So on Sundays, you might have to wait for 30 minutes for an S35, when in fact you should be able to look at the position of the bus on a map, and decide when to leave home.
My experience on Sunday was tweeted:
It would, of course, help also to have one bus operate every ten minutes, but the prevailing economics in favour of cars will not let that happen. Even the prospect that people could move quickly to Vadapalani and Koyambedu bus terminus from Ashok Pillar using the Chennai Metro has not been explored. All you need to do is to call such routes Metro Connector.
Okay, from S35, I move to S30. This MTC mini bus service also starts at the Ashok Pillar Metro Station, and goes to the Mahalingapuram Temple via West Mambalam and Kodambakkam.
The route is a tourist’s delight. The bus exits the main road at Ashok Nagar, and enters the lanes of West Mambalam, squeezing its way to Arya Gowder road. Thereon, it moves to Thambiah Reddy Road, Station View Road close to the Suburban Rail Station of Mambalam, cheek-by-jowl with jasmine flower vendors, vegetable sellers, the popular Bakiya Fast Food hotel before turning into Lake View Road.
Since it does not really enter residential localities (again, shadow of autorickshaw lobbies?) the bus is often near-empty as it approaches Five Lights, en route Liberty and then Mahalingapuram Temple.
I have two observations here: If these services had been tailored to cover the suburban rail stations – S35 to touch Saidapet, S30 to touch Kodambakkam besides going closer to Mambalam – there would be many more patrons. It would serve a felt need for hyperlocal mobility.
Adding a layer of Information Technology to it in the form of a bus locator system would make it even more popular, since more passengers would arrive with certainty, and avoid waiting.
One more thought: Could MTC stop putting wooden route boards on these buses (and others too) that block off the LED route information that is already available on the bus? They serve no purpose because there are no lights to illuminate these dumb boards in the dark.