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.
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 Thus, its proposed Chennai Metro app (for Android) may not have real time information on trains, just static maps, an outdated model.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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!
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!
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):
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:
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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?