Category Archives: Transit

Chennai’s popular ‘share autos’ operating illegally: Transport Dept to RTI query

Share autos, or 7-seater mini vans operating in the hundreds in Chennai are illegal, and cannot pick up and drop passengers at random, the Tamil Nadu Transport Department said in reply to an RTI query that I filed in March, 2017. The RTI application was filed to the Secretary, Transport, Tamil Nadu, who forwarded it to the Transport Commissioner, who in turn sent it to RTOs.

The response of the department exposes the lack of a regulated scheme for shared transport in Tamil Nadu, although such services have been operational for a few years now and are highly popular with commuters, especially women. Even the Chennai Metro Rail acknowledges the popularity of these services as feeders from some of its stations. The share autos also provide night transport till almost 2 a.m., which the State government has failed to.

The monopoly bus operator in Chennai, the MTC, has responded grudgingly to the need for small-format transport and introduced a couple of hundred 24 seater mini-buses (besides at least 12 standing passengers) which are also well-patronised. However, for apparently political reasons [not wanting to upset autorickshaw interests], the MTC has not expanded the scheme of mini-buses in a targeted fashion, connecting railway and Metro stations, residential areas and bus termini.

On the RTI query, when asked whether 7-seater or 6-seater vehicles could operate under any law in the city of Chennai and the neighbouring districts of Thiruvallur and Kancheepuram as ‘share autos’, taking passengers from the roadside for drop at random, the Regional Transport Office, Chennai (North West), Chennai 600102 said “No” in its response dated April 3.

So what action is being taken by the Transport Department to regulate the operation of such ‘share autos’ – currently seen operating from areas like Mylapore, Thiruvanmiyur, Nesappakkam, Porur, Chennai Central, T.Nagar, Anna Nagar and Mogappair?

“The Motor Vehicles Inspectors are conducting regular checks on these vehicles and booking for offences committed,” the RTI reply said.

Shared transport in Chennai

A 7-seater share auto in Chennai. Usually, these vehicles carry a minimum of 9 people, and at night, up to 13, charging between Rs.7 and Rs.30 per head for a 1 km -10 km ride.

The RTO (North West) also provided figures of how many 7-seater and 6-seater vehicles were given taxi permit for operation in the city of Chennai, Thiruvallur and Kancheepuram, within its jurisdiction.

The details of the taxi permits are as follows:

2011 12 3
2012 05 01
2013 01
2014 05
2015 03 21
2016 02

Data from Regional Transport Officer (North West), Chennai, 600102

The RTO did not respond to questions on whether the Transport Department had any rules in existence or proposed any to enable the operation of shared passenger vehicles, using commercial transport apps for smartphones and on the internet, such as Ola Share and Uberpool. “This office is only a Regional office. Hence the question not related to this office,” the reply stated.

A similar response was given to a question on whether the Transport Department was taking steps to incorporate the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways report on Guidelines for Taxi Cab Operations in Cities for urban mobility, which MoRTH had published in December 2016 and which was sent by the Union Joint Secretary for Transport, Abhay Damle to the Secretaries of Transport in the States.

Need for answers

Both Chennai Metro and MTC are members of the UITP, the international association of public transport which will hold its summit in Montreal, Canada between May 15 and 17, 2017.

Forming a proper scheme to introduce regulated shared modes of transport in Chennai, besides expanding the static bus network of the MTC are major issues before the city. Delegates from Chennai will be called upon to explain their plan to meet these objectives during and after the UITP conference.




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Filed under Buses, Chennai, CMRL, Metro Rail, MTC, Public Transport, Right to Information Act, Tamil Nadu Transport, Trains, Transit, Transport, Urban rail

Chennai Metro fares may be subsidising station car parking

Who pays for the construction of the parking lot at Chennai Central station that the Times of India says will have seven levels to keep 4,000 cars (story here) ? The other development of the Chennai Central tunnelling work reaching a milestone with the last of the TBM points forging through on Friday is reported here by ToI and here by New Indian Express.


A Chennai Metro train at Koyambedu station. Photo: KARTY JazZ, Creative Commons

In the absence of any differentiation in the costing of the Metro construction between core facilities and such add-ons that have no universal value, we must assume that the cost is distributed across the entire system – which means, it is loaded into the fare that everyone pays.

If this is not the case, Chennai Metro Rail Limited is duty-bound to explain how it is arriving at parking fees, in order to segregate the expenditure and cost recovery.
Since Japan, whose investors have funded the Metro, is also deeply interested in India’s car sector, having a thriving business in the country with its Toyotas, Suzukis, Hondas and so on, it is likely that there is a convergence of interest between the local car lobby and the decision.

Why criticise commuters?

Many people criticise bus, rail commuters for demanding better services at affordable fares, which are not anyway available. There is no effort at bringing link buses to the Metro stations. Even pedestrian access to the Metro stations in Vadapalani, Koyambedu, Alandur are crudely designed, and hence dysfunctional.

Secondly, while we welcome mass mobility systems, Chennai Metro Rail maintains an aloofness with users characteristic of all public services in India. It does not think public transport is a partnership, rather a top down offering to helpless users. Thus, its proposed Chennai Metro app (for Android) may not have real time information on trains, just static maps, an outdated model. The report on the app in The Hindu is here.

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Filed under Chennai, CMRL, Commuters, Metro Rail, MTC, Pedestrians, Public Transport, Transit, Transport, Transport Information, Walking

MTC Small Buses waiting for smart moves

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.

Not a smart move by Chennai MTC

The S30 waiting at Liberty Bus stop on a trip towards Ashok Pillar. Note the wooden board that obscures the LED route display. Photos: G. Ananthakrishnan

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.

Chennai Metro Vadapalani station April 19, 2015

The alignment of the Chennai Metro Vadapalani station on the elevated track.

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.

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Filed under Buses, Chennai, Commuters, ITS, Public Transport, Straphangers, Tamil Nadu Transport, Transit, Transport Information

When MTC crew become the face of arrogance

Chennai’s MTC bus service is static – a dusted up set of creaking buses built about a decade ago, hardly the system for a fast-growing metro. Its service culture is even more antiquated. The crew are often rude and mealy-mouthed, and commuters are glad to simply get a ride, never complaining.

Not always smooth - inside a deluxe bus of the Chennai MTC

Not always smooth – inside a deluxe bus of the Chennai MTC

As the bus service shrinks in real terms, people are migrating to two-wheelers and cars.

So it was no surprise for me that the conductor of a route 17 M Deluxe to Iyyappanthangal on Saturday night acted with customary haughtiness, when I requested that he stop at 5 lights in Rangarajapuram, which is my regular commute point.

“No. This bus does not stop there. You asked for Liberty, you get off there,” he said, puffed up with arrogance.

I tried to reason with him, telling him that all buses stop there, [they are doing so on their rerouting via Rangarajapuram due to ongoing civil works on the Kodambakkam bridge] and people board the buses there too.

He would have none of it, and flatly refused.

Surly bus crews get me all worked up, and this man was unusually rude. I decided to show him some commuter power.

I dialled the MTC complaints number from my mobile phone, and surprisingly, although it was 10.30 p.m, someone answered. I explained the circumstances to the complaints cell, and the operator asked if I was in the bus.

“Yes,” I told him.

“Please give the phone to the conductor,” the MTC official said, and I did. In the next 30 seconds, the conductor was convinced that he had better do something positive. He returned the phone, with a flat statement, “He asked me to stop for you.”

“Ok. Do that.” I said.

The man was smarting from the defeat, and he sat in his seat, swearing, and cursing his job. “What a job this is!” he said.

“Ask the guy on the street without a job and he will tell you,” I replied loudly. “I am done with my service, Sir,” he declared scornfully.

In about ten minutes, the bus had reached 5 lights. The whistle was blown and the doors opened. “Nanri, thanks” I said. The man raised his hand weakly in acknowledgement, and I was out of the bus.

If MTC conductors are boorish, who is responsible? Is it the invisible top management of the monopoly bus service, their political masters, the small minority of unruly commuters or all of the above?

With little investment in physical infrastructure in the form of better buses, bus stands, ticketing and information systems, and in training and behaviour improvement, Chennai MTC is an unattractive option, unlikely to shift people away from their own personal modes of mobility. And the State government is treating the bus commuter as a lesser citizen.


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Is Chennai MTC bus design deliberately hostile to us?

This MTC bus body violates the National Bus Code AIS 052

A TATA model that has been crudely rigged with a body designed worse than the buses of the 1970s

This new MTC bus in Chennai from T Nagar depot is a design horror. I rode in it Saturday from Chennai Central, route 11 cut service. I was shocked to find the front left seats placed in such a fashion that one has to squeeze between the engine and the seat to sit; a crude black box is placed under the seat (partly seen in photo) – something of a storage container, I imagine. The alternative is to vault over the narrow space. MTC is brazenly violating the National Bus Code standard AIS 052 and is getting no flak for it. It was equally arrogant in the case of mini buses too. Also, it seems to matter little that MTC is a member of UITP, the international association of Public Transport which is campaigning for better quality transport. Who designed this monstrosity at MTC, which has used taxpayers’ money in a way that hurts them, literally?

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Chennai MTC is full of metal sharps that hurt

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We need a Sunday fare – The Hindu

I have a new blog piece today in The Hindu on how we can use the MTC’s fleet of 100 Volvo airconditioned buses better with a new fare idea.  We need a Sunday fare – The Hindu. It is an offshoot of a ride that I had recently from T.Nagar to Kodambakkam at 8 in the evening on a Sunday, and found myself only one of four people in the Rs. 70 lakh bus. The story is the same with most other buses. What do you think?

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Filed under Buses, Chennai, Commuters, India, MTC, Public Transport, Straphangers, Transit