Commuters may have to wait at least 2 years for barricade-free roads; the traffic situation remains grim

It has become routine now to curse Metro Rail work while driving through the roads of Chennai. A ride from Anna Nagar to Anna Salai during peak hours may cost a commuter at least 45 minutes.

Many people endure increased congestion and pollution hoping that a better traffic scene awaits them when the Metro Rail becomes operational. But that may not even materialise. While this rail service may improve mobility, it may not entirely help in getting vehicles off roads.

And in any case, commuters have to wait for at least two years to see roads clear of cranes and barricades as the Chennai Metro Rail Limited grapples with delays in construction. The traffic congestion seems to be a pressing issue since the underground Metro Rail work has occupied a lion’s share of arterial roads like Poonamallee High Road and Anna Salai.

In the last few years, traffic congestion has doubled in Chennai, and Metro Rail is one of the contributing factors, V. Subramani of Traffic and Transportation Forum says.

“There is a dire need to activate traffic engineering cells in the city which will greatly help in dealing with traffic issues, especially with the Metro Rail work is in progress. The lack of coordination between various government departments is one more reason why we continue to face this problem,” he says.

Travelling by a Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC) bus on a route where colleges are situated? Wear a helmet or learn some deadly martial arts.

This may be the first thought that runs through the mind of a commuter on seeing the following words inscribed inside an MTC bus plying on Anna Salai – ‘This is our college route.’ A rough sketch of a sickle beneath it adds a dash of menace, too.

The image is only one manifestation of the violence that has spilled out from campuses to buses and arterial roads, and an indicator of how unsafe the most predominant public transport system has become, especially on routes where some colleges are situated.

“We used to fear the dangling rusty metal pieces in buses. Now, they are nothing compared to the violence inside. Chennai was known for its educational standards, now that image is fading away due to the behaviour of students,” says a woman passenger on bus route 21.

The police and MTC staff attribute the violence to bus day celebrations.

“It was meant to be a thanksgiving event. But now, it turns violent.  Students just hijack a bus and climb on top of it and create a ruckus. Clashes between students of different colleges also occur.  They don't care that it is public property or about the inconvenience caused to passengers,” a MTC driver complains.

It is not just college students; some school kids too have instilled fear among MTC crew and passengers. “We can’t even ask them not to travel by footboard. They either abuse or attack us,” says a conductor on bus route 29C.

Passengers feel that the police have to crack down on the violence with an iron fist. “Posting a few policemen on the route, as a knee jerk reaction, will not act as a deterrent, especially because the students are more in number,” says a MTC crew member.

(Reporting by Sunitha Sekar and Vivek Narayanan)

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