Transport strike: Ola Share Express as an option

The very effective transport strike in Tamil Nadu and its capital city, Chennai now into its sixth day, makes commuting a sort of game, where you have to choose the best available option at the least expense. Of course, walking and cycling are the cheapest.

I have discovered that Ola’s Share Express is good for Anna Salai (Mount Road). I am sure it operates on other fixed routes too.

So I am prompted by the Ola App to book the Share Express ride, when I am at Panagal Park, T. Nagar. The pick-up point is at the corner of Prakasam Road and G.N. Chetty Road, which is currently just outside the Amma Canteen ahead of Saravana Furniture and Murugan Idli. For my 5.5 km ride, the share fare ranges between Rs. 41 to Rs.46. (See location link)

Share Express is a peak hour-only facility, and useful for office-goers, although not many seem to be aware of it, including Ola’s drivers.


I get to my office opposite the new Secretariat -Super Specialty Hospital building beyond P. Orr and Sons in about 20 minutes.

It’s worthwhile trying for an Ola Auto as well, although the benefits are almost similar.

So the next time, try aligning your ride to Ola Share Express. If you have some perspective on this, feel free to share!


How to get around the bus strike in Chennai

The MTC bus workers strike in Chennai since yesterday evening is pretty effective, and the impact is severe on some classes of commuters more than others, and some areas like the suburbs, over others.

Here are some possibilities of moving across parts of the city, while the issue gets sorted out:
20171126_150115-1238x1651 (1)

1. Check the distance to the nearest route where share autos – mini vans – operate. You can get one somewhere close in T.Nagar, Valluvar Kottam, Loyola College, Nungambakkam on College Road, Luz-Mylapore, Inner Ring Road near Ashok Nagar, Tirumangalam, Vadapalani junction, Mogappair, and Velachery-St. Thomas Mount.

2. Use the Chennai Metro if you are going from a point close-by from the limited service, to Kilpauk, Anna Nagar, Tirumangalam, Koyambedu CMBT bus stand, Vadapalani, Ashok Nagar, St. Thomas Mount, Nanganallur and airport.

3. Ola and Uber had regular operations since morning, and it should be possible to get a cab, including share rides. Try Ola Auto and you just may be lucky.

4. Suburban/MRTS trains are an option touching Central, Velachery, Tambaram, and other regular points ranging from Chengalpattu to Gummidipoondi. Download the UTS app and Rs.100 to it, to go paperless (e-ticket) on the Beach-Tambaram route.

5. For inter-city movements, check out an app like Bla Bla Car, taking care to check out the record of people offering rides. Caveat emptor: Do not use this option if you are doubtful, or if you think you carry a higher risk, like a woman travelling alone.

6. Autorickshaws continue to operate, but you need good negotiating skills and knowledge of distances to avoid being fleeced.


Chennai Metro to link DMS and Central to airport by March 2018

By G. Ananthakrishnan

Chennai Metro Rail will connect two more sections with the airport in Tirusulam-Meenambakkam by March 2018: DMS on Anna Road and Chennai Central, the city’s most important rail terminal.

With that linkage, the rail system effectively will connect suburban trains operating upto Arakkonam in the West and Gummidipoondi in the northwest, from Central. It already links the city’s central bus station, CMBT, with the airport by rail.

The timeline for the new connections was highlighted by a Chennai Metro Rail Limited executive recently to a group of visitors including this writer.


Connecting the premier rail head in the city, and Chennai Egmore, the secondary rail terminal and CMBT will provide a commercially viable section to Chennai Metro, while it waits to complete its delayed project on arterial Anna Road and the line to North Chennai. About 150 metres of tunneling between Gemini (US Consulate point) to AG-DMS (see map) is yet to be completed, holding up early operation of the entire line.

Some key points on the current operations of Chennai Metro:

  • Green Line from Nehru Park to Airport: It provides a connection from Nehru Park on  EVR Periyar High Road (Poonamallee High Road) to the Airport (20.6 km), covering Kilpauk, Pachaiyappa’s College, Shenoy Nagar, Anna Nagar East, Anna Nagar Tower, Tirumangalam, Koyambedu CMBT (bus terminal), Arumbakkam, Vadapalani, Ashok Nagar, Eekathuthangal, Alandur, Nanganallur Road, Meenambakkam Metro. The map for the line is here. Normal fare given by Chennai Metro website for the entire stretch is Rs.60. Cards get some discounts. See this page for details.
  • At the moment, only smart cards are sold for travel on the underground section, between Nehru Park and Airport. It costs Rs.10 plus the fare, so you can use it again or keep a ten-rupee souvenir if you just passing through. (It would be environmentally friendly to give the cards a five year validity, so it is not added to the waste pile).
  • Small bus link: While we wait for the connection to Central to be completed, there is a small bus on route S96 operating between Central and Nehru Park, via Egmore. It is not designed to carry baggage, so you have to think twice whether you want to take an Uber or Ola or other mode of transport up to Nehru Park, to board the train to the airport. This is a typical third world bus with narrow entrance and exit, friendly neither to people nor meant to transport passengers transferring between trains and planes. There is an Ola counter at Nehru Park, if you wish to use that in the reverse direction to Central. Another May I Help You counter for MTC route S96 is also there, but it seemed to be unmanned last week at 11 a.m.
  • Integrated tickets: Chennai Metro says it is planning to have integrated tickets between its services and those of MTC, starting with the Small Bus. Details are sketchy, and it is likely to  work using the hand-held ticket terminals used by MTC conductors.
  • Security is a big priority at Chennai Metro and all baggage is scanned, airport-style, and passengers are frisked.
  • Real Time Passenger Info: Chennai Metro also says it has successfully trialled a real time passenger information system, although there is no timeline for its availability on the CMRL Totems that are found outside the stations, or on the official app of the Metro system.
  • Step-free access: Look out for lifts at the Metro stations, since escalators don’t exist to reach the underground concourses and platforms. I have found it difficult to navigate to the lifts at the airport.

Catch a glimpse of the recently opened underground system of Chennai Metro and the work in progress, in this slideshow.


Safety: What a thug did on Chennai MTC route 25G on the last service

By G. Ananthakrishnan

How people perceive safety on public transport is a key factor that determines its popularity and use. This is an attribute that acquires particular significance in India, and other developing countries, due to poor connect between users and operators.

Safety is accorded low priority by State governments, since they look at public transport as an offering for the socially and economically backward, and not as a full-fledged mobility option.

I say this because an experience on an MTC bus on route 25G to Poonamallee from Anna Square on the night of November 24, at 11.20 p.m. makes personal vehicles seem a safer option than green mobility on buses.

A passenger waiting at Safire stop became belligerent, because the car in which I had come to the bus stop, he alleged, blocked his view. I alighted from the car to board the same bus. His charge was false, because a bus is taller than a car and it was right behind.

What followed was a series of abuses and threats from the offended man to me, which I had no choice but to respond equally vociferously – word for word, abuse for abuse.

The incident ended with one more verbal confrontation at Liberty stop, where I asked the thuggish passenger to come to the police patrol car to sort the matter out. He carefully avoided it. A policeman who came up looking at the scene merely ensured that nothing worse happened. The bus went on its way with the thug on it.

Although this is not a terribly threatening incident other than for the prospect of violence by the thug, who was in his forties, it pointed to several difficulties in the use of late night public transport in Chennai.

For one, MTC buses are patronised by many people of a dissolute background late in the evening. They are often nothing more than wastrels and thugs, giving bus crews also a hard time. Many of them are drunk.

In such a situation, it becomes important for the crew to act in the interests of passengers in general, and rope in the Police where necessary. Such enforcement holds the key to a strong perception that public transport is safe in Chennai at any time. In many British cities, buses are now equipped with CCTV cameras, just like newer Metro trains.

During the altercation on board the 25G bus, the crew kept away, not wanting to maintain order on the bus. No enquiries were made by the conductor, who is responsible for the smooth operation of the bus.

It should be the standard protocol to stop the bus at the nearest Police patrol car, and bring the incident to the notice of the personnel. Such an approach would prompt thugs and drunks to think a second time before turning belligerent. Genuine passengers would feel empowered.

Graham Currie and others write in this article in the Journal of Public Transportation that, “Overall, the research suggests that feelings of anxiety and discomfort associated with travelling with people you do not know is the most influential factor driving negative feelings of personal safety on public transport.” Moreover, they say, actual experiences influence perception even if the statistical evidence shows low rates of crime incidents.

Oxford Circus incident

Transport safety was, ironically, implicated in another incident the same night at the same time in distant London’s Oxford Circus tube station. An altercation on the platform between two individuals triggered an alert that was reported instantly around the world. Panic caused injuries and material losses to many passengers and even unconnected people in nearby areas, as they fell down or dropped their belongings to flee.

After what has happened in train stations in Brussels and a couple of German towns, and even in China, the apprehension of physical harm sets in among many users of public transport. The personal automobile then comes to represent a safer place, which causes severe harm to the environment and adds to congestion in urban spaces.

The very reasoning of public transport as a safe, comfortable and affordable alternative is lost.

Record the evidence

It is of course, interesting to consider what options are available to a passenger when faced with a situation threatening her personal safety, and at the very least, expectation of harassment-free travel.

In the Chennai incident, I think it would have been more productive for me to record the altercation on video, which would yield invaluable evidence not just of the immediate occurrence, but about whether the thug or criminal involved is wanted for other such incidents.

That opportunity was unfortunately not seized in the commotion.

If internet connectivity is not an issue, it would even be optimal to livecast the incident on Facebook or YouTube since it provides a new perspective and would alert everyone to an ongoing threat to safety in a public vehicle.

Of course, many bus stops in Chennai lack decent street lighting, making it difficult to even evaluate threats before a journey can commence after dusk.

Chennai Metro to go to Poonamallee town in Phase Two

G. Ananthakrishnan

Chennai Metro’s Phase II, which is awaiting sanction from the NDA government in New Delhi, is to be extended up to Poonamallee. This will ease the bottleneck that is choking most of Arcot Road, from Porur to Virugambakkam. Read the government’s announcement reported by The Hindu here.

There is a wider economic benefit to the move, which will approximately cost Rs. 3,850 crore, or about $600 million.

A couple of thousand apartment units already built between Manapakkam and Poonamallee, more coming up. There is bound to be a real estate dividend from the Metro move, with prices likely moving up immediately. Major gated communities already complete or nearly ready include Prestige Bella Vista in Iyyappanthangal, Osean Chlorophyll in Porur, Prince Highlands, Sterling Ganges, Appasamy Platina, and previous developments such as Southern Shelters, ETA Jasmine Court, Audco Nagar, Jeeva Nagar and so on. Thousands of houses are already built along the arterial Mount – Poonamallee road.

The Metro Phase II should be implemented as quickly as possible, without the long delays that marked the First Phase of Chennai Metro Rail. The Hindu reports that the extension of the corridor "will run from Light House to Poonamallee Bus Depot crisscrossing areas including Ramachandra Nagar, Kattupakkam, Kumananchavadi and terminating at Poonamallee Bus Depot."

This rail link will have a multiplier effect on growth of economy and better services in the entire region. Logically, Chennai Corporation should also extend its reach up to the Metro services area, subsuming poorly performing Town Panchayats like Porur and Mangadu.

At present, Poonamallee is connected by a range of MTC bus routes, touching CMBT, Anna Square, Broadway, T. Nagar and Mandaiveli, besides Avadi to the West and Tambaram to the South. Kumananchavadi is a transit point.

Poonamallee is also a major hub that links places in neighbouring Thiruvallur and Kancheepuram districts, not to mention the industrial enclaves in Sriperumbudur.

A hybrid of Highway and City Road

The Mount-Poonamallee Road is a hybrid, which caters to rising highway traffic from some southern parts of Chennai bound for Bengaluru, Ranipet, Sriperumbudur and so on.

Rising motorisation created a serious bottleneck at Porur junction over the years, which the DMK government tried to remedy with a flyover, but got overtaken by electoral defeat.

The AIADMK government sat on the project for a full five years from 2011, citing land acquisition problems, Metrowater pipeline relocation and so on. Ultimately, it was opened recently.

Yet, mobility options for the region have been limited to buses and share autorickshaws operating without permits.

A Metro line, in the absence of a BRT, will change the dynamics of travel in the entire region, which includes such institutions as the DLF IT Park and Sri Ramachandra Medical College.

The massive Aravind Eye hospital is coming up near the Kumananchavadi junction, while Saveetha Dental College and ACS Medical College are already close by.

One can envisage land acquisition for the Metro in Poonamallee town, which is an ancient, congested area, to be difficult, especially at the Bus Depot point. Giving handsome compensation and alternative land would convince the owners to accommodate the government’s demands without posing legal hurdles.

Chennai MTC gives confusing route information on official website

Wrong information being put out on the official Metropolitan Transport Corporation of Chennai MTC website, on the routes that it operates. The website itself is unfriendly, and the design is years old.

While MTC operates several ‘small bus’ routes, it has wrongly prefixed regular routes with S in the database, while not giving information on Small Bus routes. For example, the regular route 7E is prefixed as S07E from Broadway to Ambattur Estate. S26 has been listed as if it is a small bus, when in fact it is route 26, from Broadway to Iyyappanthangal.

Such wrong information given over Internet confuses the public, especially someone visiting Chennai from outside. It reflects complete lack of application of mind by the administration at MTC, which needs to be shaken up for a more consumer-focused attitude to services.

MTC even invested in a facility like GPS to reflect actual bus operations but have failed to provide such real time information for a few years now. It removed the bus information boards from those stops where they functioned earlier, such as Omandurar Estate on Anna Salai, near the MLAs hostel, and the converted superspeciality hospital housed in the former Secretariat.

How ‘smart’ are Metro rail websites in India?

G. Ananthakrishnan

Just weeks after attending the Global Summit of the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) in Montreal, Canada – where a 60-strong Indian delegation of transport bureaucrats was present – I am looking at the opening of ambitious Metro rail in Kochi and the full phase of Namma Metro in Bengaluru.

This is an exciting moment not just for those who live in these cities, but also for armchair travellers who like to explore Metro systems worldwide. A tourist who plans to visit will first look up the online presence of the Metro network in the city, the map of the various lines, the interchanges, the types of tickets and passes available, and the ease of purchase.

Indian transport managers are generally not good at providing any consumer takeaways from their websites, although they have had the benefit of attending international conferences and reviewing how foreign operators provide service.

So how do these new ‘Metro’ cities compare?

Kochi: The website of Kochi Metro Rail Limited ( has the bare minimum of what a passenger wishes to see – a clickable map of the line with stations, the tariff information, a widget for the Twitter feed of KMRL, and links to some old blog posts. Although the much-awaited system that cost almost a billion dollars was opened by Prime Minister Narendra Modi today, it had nothing on service launch even after 4 hours.

As with other Metro operators in India, the KMRL website suffers from a personality clash – is it meant to advertise tenders and contracts, or is it focused on the passenger? You could be confused, because the home page is full of tender announcements and other material that is simply useless to a user.

What does work for Kochi Metro, however, is its distinct turquoise logo which stands out anywhere, can be brightly printed on to visiting cards to indicate the station nearest an event, your office or establishment, on letterheads and public displays.

The tariff is also highly affordable.

Bengaluru: Namma Metro is now a little older at the game, and its website with a set of widgets has more for the traveller, although by no means a full set of transit information offerings. The route map did not load on my Chrome browser, but the schematic map in .pdf could be downloaded.

The opportunity to use logos to indicate disabled friendly stations and lift facility was lost in the map-making exercise. Future maps could do that.

Links to fares on the Purple and Green lines did not work.

Ticketing information is available, as are links to top up smart cards from the home page of the site.

Namma Metro also has a distinct logo, which is highly usable in the same kind of ways that I spoke of for Kochi. This has been the trend globally for long.

Chennai: But I live in Chennai, where the Metro has been slow to roll out. We got three stretches going so far, which provides a rump of a network, but it is also the costliest to use in the country – it is almost priced in dollar terms without any idea about purchasing power!

The website as it exists has a mix of features, once you get past the monstrous inauguration pictures of AIADMK and BJP politicians sitting in a train that they normally will not ride, and which they had little to do with for long – in fact the AIADMK opposed the plan.

The route calculator above, built on Google Maps is a nifty tool, since it gives you the fare based on your station selection, and the distance. You may find #Uber cheaper for a three-person ride, but CMRL is not going into that issue right now.

#Chennai Metro’s logo is the least impressive. It has, however, escaped the fate of being turned into the shape of two green leaves because the project was launched by the DMK under M. Karunanidhi, and not by Jayalalithaa.

Indian Metro Rail operators are yet to go ‘smart’ with real time passenger information on smartphones. So no apps to speak about. That is the subject of a separate discussion.

What’s your experience with Metros in India?

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.




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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