When they were introduced after a long delay, the ‘small buses‘ of Chennai’s Metropolitan Transport Corporation were intended to cater to congested areas that had little or no public transport connectivity – these places were at the mercy of autorickshaws that do not ply by meter. In some areas, they were meant to mop up the revenue being lost to 7-seater taxis that operate illegally, often overloaded to about 12 or even 14 passengers.
S30, operating from Mahalingapuram Ayyappan Temple to Ashok Nagar [Metro Station] via Kodambakkam, Rangarajapuram, West Mambalam and Ashok Nagar is one such small bus route.
It may sound incredible, but MTC has reduced the number of buses on S30 on Saturdays and Sundays to just one. Yes, one bus.
On other days, there are 2 buses on the route, which means a frequency of approximately 30 minutes. Even on weekdays, if a bus breaks down, the waiting time may be doubled.
On July 2, I waited for this bus at the Ashok Nagar Metro Station for 20 minutes at 7.30 p.m. The conductor later said the route fetched poor returns, sometimes just Rs.350 per shift.
MTC management problem
But the problem with the poor collection and low patronage is of MTC’s own making.
The Chennai Metro Rail does not really go anywhere right now, so there are few passengers to take the small buses from Ashok Pillar or Alandur. But there is another well-patronised train station that S30 and other buses could touch, yet do not: the Kodambakkam Suburban Railway station.
If S30 is re-routed via the Kodambakkam Railway Station rather than cover only Viswanathapuram Main Road, it will attract people who want to reach Rangarajapuram, West Mambalam and Ashok Nagar.
In the future, when Chennai Metro has a fuller service, those who want to go to Kodambakkam station or residential localities nearby can board it at Ashok Nagar. [Story on present ridership is here]
No data insight on passengers
MTC has also shown lack of data insight into the transport demand in Rangarajapuram, where bus connectivity had dwindled over the past 15 years. With better planning, S30 could have been deployed partly on Rangarajapuram Main Road, to create better access (as route S35 does in Jones Road, West Saidapet).
Historically, route 11 D to Parrys/Broadway that used to pass through Rangarajapuram, specifically Rangarajapuram Main Road, has been withdrawn, and refashioned as 11G which does not touch the area – it uses Brindavan Street instead, from Arya Gowda Road.
S30 could have provided some connectivity to the residents of Rangarajapuram area, helping them reach the Kodambakkam Suburban Railway Station in one direction, and the Ashok Pillar bus stop and Metro Station in the other.
These tweaks to the S30 route, together with an increase in the number of services operating on it, are vital to improve its viability. It would be a shame if the route was completely done away with because MTC has not made a proper demand study, and the choice has been imposed without consulting the public.
The pity is that Chennai MTC does not provide real time information on its services to passengers. If a passenger knew the time of arrival of a small bus, or its location, it would be easier to plan the journey.
MTC is the perfect example of India’s transport service providers not keeping pace with technological developments, and the capabilities of smartphones to deliver travel information, even in a major city like Chennai.