Category Archives: MRTS

An ‘App-less’ Chennai Metro, MTC

The world’s cities develop a culture of commuting, in which the trains, buses, stations, rickshaws and even pavements acquire a personality for the commuter.


I live in Chennai, where the transport landscape has been evolving without much help from the government. The Chennai Metro, a modern train system but one without a distinct identity – not even a bright logo – is experiencing a long gestation. In the case of the MTC bus system, the only help it received was during the JNNURM scheme of the UPA, when deluxe and air-conditioned buses were added to an ageing fleet. But the A/C option quickly vanished from core city routes and was either diverted to suburban routes or deployed in the upmarket IT corridor.


The other big cultural shift was towards shared transport, in the form of “Share Autos”, the description for 7-seater mini vans owned by entrepreneurs, most of whom have some political patronage. On paper, these share autos with commercial taxi permits are illegal, since they transport passengers just like the buses do, along a route, exhibiting major stops. After dark, some of them take even 12 passengers in space meant for 7. The culture of Chennai takes care of all that: the authorities levy a token fine almost everyday, which the Share Auto cabbie is happy to pay, and the passengers are grateful for the service in a global city where real bus numbers have remained stagnant for the better part of a decade.


These are familiar features of Chennai’s transport scene. More recently, Ola and Uber swooped down on the city, taking the hardened autorickshaw mafia by surprise. Ola even launched an autorickshaw service. The smartphone universe has loved all this.


Nice Alstom trains, but too cold and remote. Chennai Metro at Ashok Nagar. Photo: G. Ananthakrishnan


But the promised icon of the Chennai transport universe, the Chennai Metro, remains a disappointment. It is not yet complete, and the first leg now in operation shows that it may be cold and aloof even in the future. Here’s what I think is making it obscure already: There is none of the excitement or pride of a major Metro rail system even among the people running it. In contrast to, say, Kochi Metro, Chennai has little visibility. No emphasis on identifying colour, no symbol. The only things visible are its barely-literate security personnel, who seem to have a sense of crude ownership of the system, especially since they are asked to do 100 per cent frisking. Like the MTC, they also feel they are doing passengers a favour.


Chennai is also unique in having a Metro with a First Class, in which you have to pay double fare – perhaps a global first, and an amusing decision, because Metro trains are intended to transport people quickly in a span of 10 to 20 minutes, rather than replicate long distance trains in which you sit for an hour or more.

What I would do

If I were running the Chennai Metro, I would have created a bright map by now, explaining to the public how it could be used in conjunction with the Beach-Tambaram and MRTS suburban rail lines. Nicely made maps are icons for the culture of the Metro systems, and I have had the pleasure of experiencing this in London, Paris, Berlin, Munich and New York.


Schematic Chennai rail map by IRFCA, a voluntary effort 

System maps, and smartphone apps, of course, flow from a visual identity. There has to be an emblem for a system, but Chennai Metro has none. It has a funny logo that looks unfinished, is not adequately popularised and is simply not found anywhere in the city, even along the truncated route it operates currently [Koyambedu – Alandur]. That is a pity because Chennai Metro has comfortable climate-controlled coaches from Alstom.


The London Underground is probably the best mapped system in the world. 

I would also have had a few meetings with the user public, which would have effectively brought out the fact that the AIADMK government has not thought it necessary to properly integrate MTC bus operations with the Metro stations, particularly in Alandur.


The half-hearted operation of mini-buses from some of the stations like Ashok Nagar and Alandur should have been replaced by a well-supplied system of small buses going to the surrounding neighbourhood, specifically called Metro Link to brand them. Since no one of consequence uses public transport in Chennai, such integration plans spoken about in the early days of the Chennai Metro lie by the wayside. Things are, of course, worse with MRTS and suburban railways.

Not a smart move by Chennai MTC

The S30 waiting at Liberty Bus stop on a trip towards Ashok Pillar. Photo: G. Ananthakrishnan

I use the description of half-hearted for the Small Buses of MTC because there is only one every 20 or so minutes, with no real time information on when the next one is expected. In some cases, such as S30 [Mahalingapuram to Ashok Pillar], there are only two buses in operation, so you might get one only in 30 minutes if you are lucky.


So currently, you have neither sufficient connectivity nor information about buses that connect the Metro stations, and the Chennai Metro itself is ‘App-less!’ Such neglect calls into question the commitment of our politicians to global goals such as reduction of carbon emissions and mitigation of climate change, through a “modal shift” from personal vehicles to public modes.


The culture of the Chennai commute is evolving under the influence of deprivation – of information, of service, of integration.





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Filed under Ashok Nagar Chennai, Buses, Chennai, CMRL, Commuters, Metro Rail, MRTS, MTC, Transport

What users said about Chennai MRTS on Facebook

The Hindu’s Facebook page today asked Chennai residents for their views on the MRTS, after a robbery in the Velachery station yesterday. A woman clerk was robbed by two men after the last train had left. Here’s what the users said on the MRTS system.

On Saturday, The Hindu reported the reaction to the lack of safety on the MRTS with two pieces: Here is one as seen on Facebook.

The discussion on social media was itself summarised in this report:

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How Chennai residents lose walking space

This picture of work being carried out outside the Chintadripet MRTS station taken today is a typical example of how Chennai residents are losing walking space to vehicular traffic. The stones being used to form the kerb carry the CC symbol, indicating that they are from the Corporation of Chennai.

Chennai roads are made for vehicles, subsidising them at walkers' expense

The new kerb is a foot and half closer to the wall of the Chintadripet MRTS station, Chennai. Walkers lose that much space.

With no thought to the impending increase in the number of commuters who will want a good footpath outside MRTS when it links up to the Metro line in the next two years, the Corporation of Chennai, obviously aided by other government agencies, is engaging in negative development.  This road has a not-so-famous name : Deputy Mayor Kabalamurthy Road, connecting Anna Salai and Egmore through Chintadripet. It is bang opposite the May Day Park. The MTC bus stop for Simpson can be seen at the far end of the footpath in the picture.

The story is the same in many other roads of the city. Walkers lose, vehicles gain. Is anyone talking about this massive subsidy given to vehicle users by the government and its agencies? Is not the car industry being aided indirectly with such prime real estate worth millions, at the cost of walkers? And the AIADMK government has no compunctions in making energy-saving commuters feel guilty for the avoidable losses of the transport corporations!


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Filed under Chennai, Commuters, India, Life, MRTS, MTC, News, Pedestrians, Public Transport, Straphangers, Trains, Transit, Transport, Walking

In Chennai, a year on and off the train and bus

Concluding the year with a set of images from infrequent transit riding, or using public transport if you like.

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Filed under Buses, Chennai, Commuters, MRTS, News, Public Transport, Straphangers, Trains, Transport, Transport Photography

If Medellin can provide escalators, why can’t Chennai?

The Hindu had a picture this morning of escalators being installed in a less-than-prosperous neighbourhood in Medellin, Colombia to help people living uphill move about without torturing their knees and ankles. This video provides an even better feel of the new facility.

What crosses one’s mind immediately is the fate of pedestrians in Chennai, who have some of the most difficult walking paths anywhere. Regular commuter on the city’s suburban rail system and the Mass Rapid Transit System (MRTS) find the going even tougher. To switch from the Tambaram-Beach suburban line to the Beach – Velachery MRTS, the available transit stations are Fort, and Beach. You must use a staircase of the kind seen in the picture below.

But at both places, passengers must climb steep staircases. Passengers who are 40-plus find it particularly difficult, especially women who have begun to develop osteoarthritis symptoms. Although Tamil Nadu has been represented on the Union Cabinet by several Ministers of State for Railways, they have done nothing. Our much-travelled Home Minister  P.Chidambaram, who must have seen the Washington DC Metro many times during his visits obviously finds these issues uninteresting.

The Hard Climb

An old woman makes her way slowly up the transit staircase at Fort Station in Chennai, India

See the video below to understand what a climb involves, even for a person with not-so-severe disability.

The pantheon of Dravidian political parties considers walking on the road a clear sign of personal failure – they insist on riding in nothing less than an SUV, and will walk only in their own large houses or party headquarters. Their disinterest in pedestrian facilities is therefore notorious. Thus, they put up steep staircases in Murasoli Maran’s time on Haddows Road and Nungambakkam High Road, which nobody used. A lift was then installed at the latter location, working only part of the day.

Will the example of Medellin make them feel a little bit inferior, and do something for Chennai?

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A painful ‘modal shift’ in Chennai, from MTC to suburban, MRTS

Manmohan Singh’s visit to Chennai for the Ramanujan 125th year celebration inaugural today provided the impetus to go car-free after a spell of ‘driving by compulsion’. As many drivers found out, the PM in town means agonising road blocks.

(Incidentally, his speech on the mathematician is here and an interview with his biographer Robert Kanigel in The Hindu is here.)

Back to the commuting issues, here are the learnings: Lots and lots of people have shifted from the bus to the suburban train, even though it has a limited catchment in terms of areas served. Jayalalithaa’s government has delivered a body blow to the commuting public with its usurious fares, and will inevitably be awarded suitable pain by the angry voter. People are also not going to pardon the MTC for failing to provide at least more and better service.

What makes the shift to the train even more painful, however, is the lack of suitable ticketing infrastructure on the suburban and MRTS railway system of the Southern Railway. At Park, for instance, there was a crowd of a couple of hundred people waiting to buy a ticket at 11 this morning. This is simply unacceptable for an urban train system, or any system for that matter.

To escape this long queue, what the Chennai resident should ideally do is to take out a monthly ticket, which costs roughly the equivalent of two or three autorickshaw rides. For those who drive personal vehicles, the pass costs the equivalent of about two litres of petrol. No one will find that a problem. Which means, if you ditch your car and do a train commute just once, you have saved enough for half a month, and if you have done it on two days, you have a full month’s pass in savings. The rest is naturally a bonus.

In my experience, if you decide to go car-free two days a week, it works nicely in terms of the economics. It also provides a health bonus in the form of a nice walk.

Evidently, the newspapers are unable to communicate strongly, the resentment of the thousands of people who have been thrown to the wolves by the DMK Government earlier (by failing to expand the bus system and instead allowing unregulated feeder taxis to take the place of new buses), and the Jayalalithaa government, which has put even basic mobility out of reach for the bottom rungs of the Chennai population. Both governments dangled the prospects of mini-bus services to meet demand, even produced a self-serving report through Anna University, only to put the issue in cold storage (pressure from the autorickshaw lobby?)

The Chennai Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority, the regulator (on paper) of transport remains simply invisible through all this.

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Filed under Buses, Chennai, Commuters, Explore, India, MRTS, MTC, Pedestrians, Public Transport, Straphangers, Trains, Transport, Walking

Why Chennai Mini Bus tariffs are likely to be higher

A piece by Jarett Walker on the website “Human Transit” dealing with the economics of bus systems with particular reference to costs has relevance to us here in Chennai, India. The “Mini Bus” idea of the erstwhile DMK Government now being pursued by the AIADMK Government has the inherent issue of cost of operation, because there would be fewer seats to a bus, while labour costs would be the same as for the bigger MTC operations.

Tata Magic vans in Chennai. Click on Image to read article in The Hindu

This automatically indicates that the tariff for the Mini Bus would have to be higher than other services to compensate, although that would not be opposed by commuters who hardly have an alternative now, barring costly autorickshaws.

Moreover, the operational dynamics of the “Tata Magic” 7-seater vans indicates that such services would be viable only in the informal sector, with loose regulation (they are not ticketed, and are increasingly adopting non-standard operational routes for instance).

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Filed under Buses, Chennai, India, MRTS, MTC, Pedestrians, Public Transport, Straphangers, Transit, Transport, Walking