Category Archives: Transport

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:

Year 7 SEATER 6 SEATER
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.

chennai_metro_rail_at_koyambedu

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

Uber Everything finds a ready urban transport vacuum to fill

Today’s point to note in the world of transport is Uber Everything, story here.

At the International Transport Forum (https://twitter.com/ITF_Forum) conference in Leipzig earlier this year, I heard from Alain Flausch, secretary general of the UITP, that buses, urban rail and trams have been the original pioneers of the sharing economy.

That is undoubtedly true, and they continue to innovate by incorporating new technologies into operations, and for passenger information. What is more, the traditional operators providing universal service also see the new entrants as partners, who can extend their reach through regular services or exclusive PT partnerships.

Not so in India, though. Here, a massive surge in demand for public transport and a struggling public sector with outmoded technology combined with lack of investment have created an enormous unserved market, ripe for picking by entities such as Uber.

Thus, Uber Everything is all set to crop the surplus that could have been easily mopped up by public operators, but who are now left with passengers who will readily migrate to affordable, comfortable and modern alternatives.

I can imagine an 15 to 18 seater air-conditioned bus (Picture below shows Force Motors small bus for route operations) operated by Uber Everything with Real Time Passenger Information along defined arteries finding commuters flocking to it in droves. That is the traffic that the local monopoly bus operator could have got, if it had planned ahead.

Most Indian cities have under-performing bus systems. They have uncomfortable buses built on lorry chassis without damped suspensions, with a floor height of 1,100 mm on average. Their seats are not designed with normal ergonomic considerations, but for maximised revenue. They have no GPS in most cities, perhaps with the exception of Bengaluru’s BMTC. Thus, they have no linkages with smartphone applications, and cannot provide much-needed real time information to passengers either on phones or at bus stops or termini.

Chennai offers rich potential

In such a milieu, it is inevitable that an Uber Everything, which is reportedly to be trialed in Bengaluru, finds excellent support, just as its recently launched UberPool has. Chennai, with its Old Mahabalipuram Road (Rajiv Gandhi Expressway or IT corridor), St. Thomas Mount-Sriperumbudur artery of manufacturing units, and the Chennai – Chengalpattu GST Road with residential, commercial and IT presence, is also a ready – and rich – prospect for such an arrangement.

At the Leipzig 2015 ITF forum, David Ploufe, the senior vice-president for policy and strategy at Uber said "Uber and other services like Zipcar and Bla bla car are part of a new mobility ecosystem." Since then, the phenomenon has only grown stronger, and expanded to several new cities around the world, including India.

It will be interesting to watch how this experiment fares, although there is little doubt that if it is allowed to operate with minimal regulation (as Chennai is allowing unregulated share autos to run services by the thousands already), travel demand management will enter a whole new era.

If traditional bus systems are intelligent, they will run high capacity systems between termini, along well-recognised routes, leaving the small bus system of the sharing economy to connect these termini with neighbourhoods.

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Chennai’s MTC starves S30 with solo weekend service

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.

s301

On a Saturday evening, there are too few people in this S30 service to Mahalingapuram, in West Mambalam. Photo: G. Ananthakrishnan (CC)

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.

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. Photo: G. Ananthakrishnan

 

 

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.

 

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Filed under Ashok Nagar Chennai, Chennai, Metro Rail, MTC, Public Transport, Tamil Nadu Transport, Transport

Sight & Sound: Travel scenes from India

 

bus-mats

Mats for Yogis? India’s city buses are an interesting place to study the country’s transition. This mat seller found no difficulty in hauling his stuff up four steps into the rickety #Chennai MTC bus on its way to Broadway from Mangadu. Most times, such traders pay a small ‘luggage’ fare to transport their wares to distant markets. Because of lack of modernisation, bus networks in India, even in Metros, do not attract the middle class commuter.Photo: G. Ananthakrishnan (CC – attribution)

 

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June 21, 2016 · 9:43 am

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.

metro-out

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.

chennaimap

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.

standard-tube-map-new

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

Junk MTC bus operated as Express route 26 to Chennai Broadway

Please record my complaint that MTC bus Fleet No. VPI 1023 on route number 26 Cut Express at 11,45 a.m. today [May 11] was unserviceable. It had no working clutch, and stalled at each braking point, engine switching off each time. Driver had to restart the bus a dozen times between Liberty and Anna Salai The Hindu.

My ticket number on the bus was 23191, serial HA 35

Please inform what remedial action you have taken to repair or replace the bus.

[ This complaint was sent to MTC at its only known feedback mechanism, which is an email ID: feedback ]

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