Chennai MTC is increasing its fleet strength by adding ordinary and small buses to establish better connectivity and to increase the efficiency of operations.

Story by: Anusha B

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The T Nagar bus terminus is ten minutes away from the office I step out of. The meeting went well, and the young manager of the company I went to meet treated me well, spoke to me at length, and was courteous. It is the beginning of summer, and it is quiet warm and humid in Chennai. Conceived as a residential locality, T Nagar has turned into a business district better known for its saree shops and jewellery showrooms. The bus terminus off Usman Road that I am headed to, is a hub for services operating to Thiruverkadu, Mylapore, Kodambakkam, Avadi, Nungambakkam, Parrys Corner, Ennore, Manali, Tambaram, Poonamallee, Thiruvanmiyur, Ambattur, Pattabiram and Annanagar. There are also routes to various neighbouring districts like Kancheepuram and Thiruvallur that go from here. Operating under the aegis of the (Chennai) Metropolitan Transport Corporation, which employs an estimated 24,587 people, the T Nagar bus terminus is always bustling with travellers. I want to take a bus to Koyambedu. The route 27c bus arrives in some time. I climb the bus; it is crowded. The bus gets moving after a while and exits the terminus. The traffic on the road forces the driver to drive slowly. Unable to get a seat, I manage to secure a place with two other lady commuters in the front section of the bus. The crowd swells as the bus moves along the route. Many office goers are returning home.

Changing with times

With its roots dating back to 1947 when the Government of Madras nationalised the passenger transport for the first time by introducing 30 buses in the then city of Madras, the Metropolitan Transport Corporation (Chennai) Ltd., is popularly termed as Chennai MTC by the people of the city. Operating buses alongside those that were run by private operators, it was in 1972 that the departmental setup was transformed into a company in order to inculcate a commercial approach without sacrificing the social responsibilities. Thus, Pallavan Transport Corporation Limited was formed under the companies Act, 1956, by the Government of Tamil Nadu on January 01, 1972, with a fleet strength of 1029 buses. The fleet strength gradually increased. So did the population of the city. By 1994, the fleet strength reached 2332 buses. Pallavan Transport Corporation Limited was bifurcated as Dr. Ambedkar Transport Corporation Limited and Palaver Transport Corporation Limited on January 19, 1994. The south of the Chennai Metropolitan City from EVR Periyar road came under the operational jurisdiction of the Pallavan Transport Corporation Limited, and the North of Chennai Metropolitan City from EVR Periyar Road (including EVR Periyar Road) came under the operational jurisdiction of the Dr. Ambedkar Transport Corporation Limited.

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In June 1997, the two were renamed as MTC division 1 and MTC division 2. To make the corporations viable and for better administrative control, MTC division 1 and MTC division 2 were amalgamated in 2001. By 2003, the Chennai MTC came to have a fleet strength of 2773 buses that operated out of 23 depots. The Chennai MTC also came to have a body building unit at Chromepet, a ticket printing press at K.K Nagar and a reconditioning unit at Patullos Road. During FY2003, 117 buses were purchased to replace aging buses. The Chennai MTC fleet strength in 2009 was 3,260 with 25 depots. Today the fleet strength of the organisation is an estimated 7456 buses that ply along 838 routes and cover a distance 3,929 sq. km around Chennai. Serving an average of 5.2 million people per day, the 7456 buses that the Chennai MTC is estimated to operate include ordinary service buses of Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland make; semi-floor buses of Ashok Leyland make mostly (later buses were included under the JNNURM scheme); vestibule buses of Ashok Leyland make having two conductors as they can accommodate almost double of what a conventional bus does; air-conditioned buses of Volvo make that run on select routes (and are estimated to be 100 in number), and small buses of Tata Motors make that connect Chennai with surrounding mofussil areas. Chennai MTC is also said to have 10 double decker buses!

According to Chennai MTC, the buses are segregated as ordinary services with white board and black letters; L.S.S. or PP services with yellow board and black letters; express services with white board and green letters; deluxe services with white board and green letters; deluxe services with green board and blue letters; M services with white board and blue letters, and night services with black board and white letters. Claim sources that MTC has an established transportation planning division, which prepares route plans and schedules for the operation of buses. Specials are also operated during fairs and festivals, they add. The Chennai MTC is also known to operate district services, night services, late hour services and night service to serves the needs of a diverse nature of commuters including those that work in the film industry. For monitoring the operation of buses, MTC has posted time keepers at terminals. There are traffic officers with wireless set that are mobile. MTC also has checking squads, which function round the clock to monitor ticket-less travel and crew behaviour.

The journey

It takes an hour for the bus to reach Koyambedu. I alight, and so do many other commuters. For me and all those who have alighted alongwith me, the Chennai MTC has come to play a vital role in shaping our lives. Operating buses out of 32 depots, with an average parking capacity of 200 buses each, Chennai MTC operates the most buses out of the Chromepet Tambaram depot amounting to 200 in number. Boasting of having the highest occupancy ratio among Indian city buses at 84.35 per cent, each bus of the Chennai MTC is claimed to carry on an average 72 people including 24 standees. This may perhaps make it easy to explain the biggest challenge I face every time I travel in a MTC bus. During peak hours, it is not unusual to have the bus to Koyambedu fill up to the brim. It croaks and moans as it moves. With commuters hanging for dear life, it does not make a pretty site. Bus intervals over the last few years have gone up, I feel. The reason behind this, I am told, is the aging bus population of MTC. Old over aged buses are being replaced with new buses, but this is putting a certain constraint on MTC. My experience is, the staff that communicates with the commuters could be trained to be more responsive and sensitive. I am aware that they work long hours, and six days a week, they would however do with a smile on their face as they interact with commuters. Providing services even on holidays and Sundays, which is perhaps a fact that office goers like me fail to recognise, the ticket issuer, I feel, has quiet a job to manage of the overcrowded bus. The organisation, claim sources, conducts special counseling and yoga sessions for its employees.

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Challenges

Buses in India carry a certain socialist agenda, it is no secret. It is also no secret that many city bus undertakings are incurring losses. The reasons could be many, claim sources. Many times, undertakings end up operating buses on routes that may not be sustainable. This is simply because they are under pressure from the political class to have buses going to their constituencies, or through their constituencies. Incurring losses, the Chennai MTC, hiked fares in 2012. The per km revenue of the organisation increased from 20 to 28. The revenue went up from Rs. 2.2 crore per day to Rs.3.1 crore per day. The patronage however fell. The commuter count shrunk to an estimated 52 lakh from 56 lakh. Surprisingly, the revenue of Southern Railways went up as more commuters turned to the suburban trains. Increasing its fleet strength since 2012, one of the challenges that MTC faces is to be profitable and to have sustainable operations. Said to have a per day collection to the tune of Rs.30.2 million as of today, MTC’s challenge, apart from making profit, would be to be looked upon as an agile organisation.

Providing 50 per cent concession tickets to students, including those that are studying in colleges, technical institutions and medical colleges, MTC also provides concessional tickets to students of evening colleges and part-time education institutions. A chunk of MTC’s income comes from provision of chartered trips, luggage fee for bags that weigh more than 5 kgs, fish baskets and by giving buses on hire to government departments and private parties.

The small buses that the MTC has, have begun playing a role as feeder services to plug the gaps, albeit as the Metro gains in form and mass. The MTC is said to have not yet been integrated with the Mass Rapid Transit System (MRTS) since some of the MRTS stations are located away from bus stops which makes transfers difficult. To connect the city with important travel terminals like the airport, the MTC has engineered bus routes like 18A and 18B. Route 18B has air-conditioned buses plying on it. Chennai MTC, from the airport, offers services that connect with various parts of the city. Many airport passengers and airport employees are known to use these services. The bus stop is close to the international terminal.

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The number of women travellers in MTC has been growing. They often make a soft target for harassment by rude male commuters. It can also get uncomfortably hot and sweaty in the bus, especially during summers. Roughly 65 per cent of the people in Chennai travel by buses, and the rest travel by the suburban trains. The second (8 km) leg of the Metro was recently inaugurated. It along with the earlier 14 km leg is not capable of taking a lot of people off Chennai’s roads, I am told. The Metro is operating in a region of the city that simply does not see as much people travel as do people in other areas. Ironically, an overcrowded bus in peak hours is a sharp reality. Its very appearance can typify that. The slant has become the natural pose after years of carrying passengers on the footboards. A Union Ministry report is claimed to reveal that MTC has the most crowded buses in the country with 1,300 passengers travelling per bus per day. The report titled Review of the Performance of State Road Transport Undertakings (Passenger Services) for April 2014-March 2015 mentions that the Chennai MTC carried the highest number of passengers per bus per day during 2014-15. Sources point out that the on-going replacement of over aged buses is causing overcrowding. Close to 57 per cent of Chennai MTC’s fleet is said to be overaged. New buses are joining the fleet, but it will take time before intervals between two buses on a route come down. Industry experts claim that overcrowding and accidents is an issue that could be resolved with better route planning. Several routes are quite long and not effectively utilised, they add. An article in the New Indian Express last year mentioned about the Second Master Plan Traffic and Transportation Review Committee meeting. In the meeting, a proposal to the state government to amend the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, to permit private bus operators in the city was put forward.

Safety is one challenge that MTC is facing claim sources. They draw attention to the accident branch that MTC has opened in an effort to ensure complete safety of its commuters, staff and fellow passengers. While overcrowding of buses is said to be a reason, the other reason claim sources is the lack of road discipline among fellow road users in Chennai.

The road ahead

Rapidly growing and expanding, Chennai is one of the smart cities announced by the Centre. Setting the stage for implementing the 1,366.24 crore smart city project in Chennai, the government recently issued an order for the formation of Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), a requirement to get funds from the Union urban development ministry. The SPV for Chennai, among the top 20 cities selected for the programme, will plan, approve, release funds, implement, manage, and evaluate development under the project. An official communication from Greater Chennai Corporation has mentioned that Chennai Smart City Ltd (CSCL), formed under the Companies Act, 2013, will be promoted jointly by the state government and the corporation, both having 50:50 equity share holding. How the MTC will align under the AMRUT scheme, and the kind of allocation it will attract, will be clear over a period of time. Under the pan-city plan, smart solutions using information and communication technology have been proposed for non-motorised transport and water management. If such measures ease the pressure on Chennai MTC buses will have to be seen. The need, first and foremost, is to offer safe and comfortable means of transport to the commuters of Chennai. By replacing its fleet with modern buses, MTC it is clear, is committed to providing safe, efficient and comfortable travel to the people of Chennai.

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ò MTC bus connecting moffusil areas.

ðAshok Leyland make semi low floor bus at Koyambedu Junction.

ò Vestibule bus connecting Broadway and Tambaram.

ò Volvo make AC bus runs only on selected routes.

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