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Updated: October 12, 2010 16:19 IST

Access to information on public transit systems inadequate

Ajai Sreevatsan
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Open-source mapping projects are attempting to provide greater access to information about MTC services. This heat map of MTC routes was developed as a student project.
Open-source mapping projects are attempting to provide greater access to information about MTC services. This heat map of MTC routes was developed as a student project.

Know more about the city's transportation system in the weekly column 'Roads and Rails'.

Although the city has gone through a phase of rapid expansion and journey times have increased exponentially, access to reliable information about public transit systems still remains inadequate.

The Metropolitan Transport Corporation, for example, has buses plying on more than 670 routes in the city. But getting detailed information on a particular route or the tentative arrival time of a bus at a particular bus stop is almost impossible.

While the MTC has been reluctant to share such information with commuters, open-source student projects and interested software developers have stepped in to fill the void.

Portals like http://busroutes.in/chennai/, http://my.metrocommute.in/ and http://rab.in/bus/chennai/ are initial attempts at making public transport systems more convenient.

Arun Ganesh, a student at the National Institute of Design, who developed www.busroutes.in, says “The success of public transport depends on convenience of use. Anyone must be able to get easy access to the bus number that he has to take to reach a destination through an SMS-based application.”

According to him, a centralised database containing bus, train and share autorickshaw information must be developed so that commuters can actually plan the trip even before leaving their home.

S.A. Vijayakumar, former head of various State-run transport corporations, says that the Pallavan Transport Corporation used to offer route guides in the 1980s. It provided information, in a booklet form, on the first and the last service of the day, frequency during rush hour and lean hour, fare and the number of buses through a particular route.

“Route information is particularly needed for the floating population. Also, offering services that tap into the GPS data to provide real-time bus movement information would definitely increase patronage of air-conditioned buses. Access to such information is a right, not just a service,” he adds.

Raj Cherubal, coordinator, City Connect, an NGO that is currently doing a pilot implementation of a web-based service that offers information on seven routes for the MTC, says “Many do not use a bus because they do not know certain areas are well connected by public transport. It is a major mental barrier to go wait in a bus stand.”

Besides, many of those who have to be lured to shift to public transport sit in front of a computer very often, he says.

The most important thing, however, is to provide open data access. “Once MTC makes all its route data public, thousands of applications can be built on top,” says Mr. Cherubal.

“Restaurants, coffee shops and hospitals along the route can be mapped and everyone can plan their journey using the underlying framework of MTC routes.”

MTC Joint Managing Director V. Babu said that the corporation was good at driving buses, “not developing maps”. He said that if any third party developer has a detailed project proposal, the transport corporation is willing to consider providing all required data. “We would even be willing to provide data from our GPS-enabled buses that can be used to build an application to provide real-time information to commuters,” he added.

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