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.

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.



Can we fix plain old walking spaces in Chennai first?

A city can call itself civilised only if it has a reasonable walkability score, but Chennai is now notorious for not measuring up. The media carries many announcements on expensive plans for total renovation of roads and footpaths, but not the loss of spaces along road margins that can be cleared up with executive measures, not major investment.

I use the Station View Road to reach the Kodambakkam railway station a lot. Here’s what it feels like to walk to this important travel point.   (More Twitter Walkability handles on this list).

For the disabled, a steep climb in Chennai’s suburban rail stations

The Indian state cares little for the disabled in the country. It does not do much even for normal, able-bodied invididuals to carry on with their lives, so what will it do for people with a handicap? Obviously, those running India’s railways have not much use for the concept of universal design — the idea that what you do for the disabled will benefit all people, and, conversely, improving infrastructure for the general population aids the disabled. The problem is that the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 is a toothless law which does not compel any government department to re-engineer facilities to eliminate barriers. Its successor law has been much talked about, but the UPA government is yet to make the great leap forward.

Indian Railway stations are of World War II vintage in terms of facilities, despite the loud talk of GDP growth. A disabled man at Kodambakkam suburban station, Chennai

This man making his way up the staircase at the suburban rail station would no doubt have a lot to contribute to the idea of accessibility in India’s public facilities. The pity is that although our leaders have a fair proportion of older adults (former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi), arthritics, handicapped people (S. Jaipal Reddy), and a Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, who would not be able to hold a grab rail because that involves a vertical lift of the arm (have you seen his waving style?), they care little for the average citizen in such difficult circumstances.

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