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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Why do you think Chennai Metro is low on riders?

A report in The Hindu says the Metro operator, CMRL doesn’t know the reasons for low ridership. Obviously it doesn’t believe in commuter surveys even using their own website + social media.

metro
First world comfort, but poor connectivity. Photo: G. Ananthakrishnan (Usage: CC)
In my view, the Metro in Chennai, with only a small 10 km section in operation currently, and the full 45 km project terribly behind schedule, is more of a novelty because of high fare, lack of integration with the city’s major bus operator MTC (who should be running feeders from stations into the surrounding neighbourhood and to the suburban rail system stations). It was the same story with the MRTS in the early days when it ran upto to Mylapore. MTC did not care about such a facility being available.

I said some of these things on Twitter, as a discussion was sparked off by the news report on low Metro ridership:

One of the arguments was that if the alignment had been along the OMR, commuters in the upper echelons living there would have patronised the Metro more, as they could pay higher fares.

That is certainly true from a purchasing power standpoint, but OMR also needs mass transport connectivity because it is a growth corridor. It needs orderly development.

Since there is no one with responsibility to take a complete view of the city’s networks, all individual parts are neglected. Take my own case. I would like to use trains and buses more and feeders in between, but the costing is such that a shared taxi provided by an App-based company like Ola often does the job better, offering door-to-door ride in an A/C cab, at comparable rates during leaner hours of the day. At other times, they resort to surge pricing, which shifts the advantage back to trains and buses.

It is also interesting that in spite of losing customers to App-based taxis and unauthorised shared vehicles (“Share Autos” in local terminology), the state government networks fail to respond. There is no expansion, no demand assessment. That makes me think something is going on behind the scenes that I cannot see!

https://twitter.com/TheMetroRailGuy/status/720838728252395520

Meanwhile The Metro Rail Guy raised the unresolved issue of the Metro station in Alandur being hostile to the very people that it hopes to serve, with no facility to easily cross the wide GST Road outside the station. That’s something I have personal experience of!

Exclusive: Why Chennai MTC fleet is falling apart – 2 of 3 buses over 7 years old

At the end of the 5 year term of the AIADMK government in Tamil Nadu, we look at the state of the bus transport network operated in Chennai by Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC)

What we found causes a lot of dismay: Nearly two-thirds of the fleet is made up of buses which are more than 7 years old – 2125, to be exact. The addition of new buses has apparently been minimal, and old buses have been running as deluxe and express services without necessary repairs or full maintenance.

It is by now familiar to travellers in Chennai that MTC buses are in a dilapidated condition, and continue to charge deluxe fares even when seats are broken, doors do not work, sharp metal and crude bolts protrude from seats. The LED route boards of the buses have either dimmed beyond usability, or are being obscured by crude painted route boards for some strange reason. Such neglect has happened in a year when the price of diesel was mostly going down.

Many of these deluxe buses were acquired under the Union government’s Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission of the UPA government, when the DMK was in power. A few were introduced by the DMK government even prior to that scheme, the first deluxe services in the city. No major initiative was proposed to augment the Chennai bus fleet during the AIADMK government.

The introduction of small buses was a highlight of the last five years, but even that was delayed. It was originally proposed for Chennai by the DMK, based on the small bus scheme that was introduced in the districts.

The following are other data highlights for MTC, obtained by this blog under the Right to Information Act.

As of January 2016, MTC operated 3,585 scheduled services and during the year January 2015-January 2016, the Corporation added a mere 54 buses to its schedule of services.

No service was removed during this period. Buses were apparently added to the Chennai operations from other state transport corporations, although details were not furnished by MTC. This indicates the low priority accorded to city commuters by the AIADMK government, since these are mofussil buses not designed for city use (wide aisles and entry-exit).

At the Paris Climate Change Conference of the United Framework Convention on Climate Change, India told the world that it intends to cut carbon emissions by modernising its transport system.

On the ground, though, the reality is one of low quality bus systems being operated in even the Metropolitan cities. Now that the NDA government of Narendra Modi has an updated Urban Bus Specification-II, will MTC be compelled to make future acquisitions only in conformity with that? Chennai’s bus system is part of the International Association of Public Transport or UITP.

Here is a graphic on the MTC fleet strength (note the last bar on the number of buses over 7 years old):

3 ways the AIADMK govt lightened your wallet

busview

 

The time is approaching when we must choose a new government for Tamil Nadu. For commuters, the past five years under the AIADMK have been literally expensive in the following ways:

  1. MTC BUS SERVICE IN LOW GEAR: In spite of rapid economic growth, the AIADMK government did not improve Chennai MTC bus service. The bus fleet in real terms remained stagnant, since there was no modernisation programme to run good quality buses that meet at least national standards, if not international ones. By contrast, bus commuters had to merely watch personal car use grow by leaps and bounds with the latest products hitting the roads, some of them made in the city itself – air-conditioned, plush, equipped with great audio, video and given the benefit of government-sponsored road space. It helped that oil price fell, and in spite of increase in pollution, the State government did nothing to encourage the use of public transport. Buses: 3,500 approximately, static. Cars and other private vehicles: a few hundred registered everyday. According to this policy brief put out by TERI in 2014 Chennai has the second highest ratio of cars to population at 100 per 1,000 people after Delhi, against the national average of 13/1,000. Both the DMK and the AIADMK have focused on the growth of car production, while not making significant improvements to bus mobility – despite the fact that Ashok Leyland, located in Chennai, has been announcing several new bus products over the years, including the Janbus. The only “modernisation” of MTC took place with funds from the Union Government through the JNNURM scheme in 2009, although even there, the standards for buses were diluted citing the recession.
  2. HALF-HEARTED MINI BUS SCHEME: The small buses introduced by the AIADMK after much delay were actually the idea of the DMK, which announced the scheme in 2010. However, after the change of government in 2011, it took another two years before the concept became reality in a limited number of routes served initially by 50 buses, as this report notes. This figure went up to a total of 165 buses early in February 2016 (see this report) with the addition of 30 routes that connect some interior areas and in some cases, bus termini and train stations. It remains far from scientific, since there is no policy to connect mass transit stations through such a feeder service.
  3. DELAY IN METRO OPENING:  The AIADMK took its time to open even the small segment of the Chennai Metro between Koyambedu and Alandur, and overpriced it to the detriment of commuters – it does not attract any significant patronage as a result, does not apparently cut congestion on Inner Ring Road (Jawaharlal Nehru Road) on this stretch, and does not contribute to reduced carbon emissions, in spite of the heavy investment. The delay in the opening of the Metro robbed Chennai of clean air, says this report. It is even more frustrating for the Chennai commuter and the visitor, that the Metro work has repeatedly stalled during the five years of the AIADMK regime. Even if the factors were external, such as the Russian contractor walking out, the State did not really protest. By contrast, the government has been pushing for other works with great enthusiasm – the indifference to the Metro system (Ms. Jayalalithaa has a declared preference for mono rail), has clearly resulted in the delay and a representative of the Japanese funding agencies, Muneo Kurauchi, chairman, Japan-India Business Co-operation Committee openly criticised the Jayalalithaa government on this at the high-profile Global Investors Meet.
Not a smart move by Chennai MTC
The S30 small bus waiting at Liberty bus stop on a trip towards Ashok Pillar. 

The failure of the AIADMK government during the past five years has hit the consumer in terms of inflation in transport costs, unpredictability of travel, inefficiency, risk of accidents, pollution and loss of quality of life. There is no law that compels State governments to provide a measurable level of public transport, both in terms of quantity and assessed satisfaction of users. The gaps in the system are filled by companies like Uber, Ola (with cabs, discounted shared cab rides and autorickshaws), and unregulated share autorickshaws that do a lot of service, but illegally, by operating cramped 7-seater carriages that carry up to 15 people sometimes.

We need a revamp of Chennai public transport. I intend to write more on this in coming weeks before the elections. Five years ago, I wrote this post on who would give us better wheels, Karunanidhi or Jayalalithaa? What do you think?

 

MTC fails on climate change goals, with ‘new’ obsolete buses

Campaigners on climate change are hoping that more people will switch from personal vehicles to public transport. Emissions from transport are a significant percentage of atmospheric carbon gases, which contribute to climate change. One piece of Indian Environment Ministry data puts share of transport in total energy-related emissions at 14 per cent (see this presentation on UNEP).

Yet, it is clear that the AIADMK government shares none of this concern. It recently added some buses to the Chennai MTC fleet which are two generations behind even the standards set by the Narendra Modi government for the AMRUT scheme, not to mention smart city goals.

As the picture taken today on Anna Road at TVS shows, there are four steps to climb to get to the floor of the bus, which should translate into some 1100 mm of floor height. This is simply unacceptable, as it is impossible for elderly passengers and those with disabilities, and even children to use.  In the JNNURM scheme, Chennai was sanctioned 800 buses with a floor height of 900/850 mm floor height (which is still high).

Why is the AIADMK government building bus bodies with such a hostile design, when bus technology has advanced so much that people expect it to replicate the “metro” experience – with low floor, damped suspension, air-conditioning and good route boards, besides GPS data? Why did not this government buy a single low-floor Janbus from Ashok Leyland, which is a TN-based company? Is it because the government thinks, cynically, that the traveller should have no comfort in his commute?

A new bus added to the Chennai MTC fleet is nothing more than a crude bus body rigged on to a lorry chassis. Photo: G. Ananthakrishnan
A new bus added to the Chennai MTC fleet is nothing more than a bus body rigged on crudely to an Ashok Leyland lorry chassis. Note the four step climb. Photo: G. Ananthakrishnan

Quite an unintelligent move by the Jayalalithaa government, and requiring censure as much from the Indian Central government, as from climate campaigners. The International Association of Public Transport (UITP) should take note of how its member, MTC is a laggard when it comes to bus design, and also its objective to achieve a “modal shift” – people moving from personal vehicles to buses, trains and other public transport options.

Such outmoded buses lock-in a monopoly bus operator such as MTC into an unfriendly model for years, and the idea that more people would ride the bus out of choice becomes even more remote.

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.

NOT SMART

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.

CONNECT STATIONS

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.

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:

MTC deluxe 11H bus with a breaking floorboard

I made this video today about a deluxe MTC bus on route 11H towards Broadway showing how the city’s main transport system is coming apart at the seams.

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