Of the city’s commuters, 79 per cent use MTC services

In 2009, the first phase of Metro Rail commenced well and gained momentum. Five years hence, the State government has added two rail projects for the city — expansion of the Metro Rail to the suburbs and a Monorail system. While this may sound impressive and paint a picture of reduced traffic, experts think otherwise.

According to recent studies, only 21 per cent of commuters in the city use rail, with the remaining 79 taking buses. Putting these rail systems in place may certainly improve mobility of commuters but it cannot answer the problem of traffic congestion entirely, given their limited penetration as against buses, and the long intervals between operationalisation of two rail systems.

It has been five years since the work for phase I of Metro Rail started and it may take another two years at least before this becomes functional. Works on phase II of Metro Rail and Monorail are just in the preliminary stage.

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), meanwhile, could make a difference in supplementing the rail system if implemented well, say experts.

In all, it may take only three years, if the government acts fast in bringing it to the city, says Christopher Kost, technical director of Institute of Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP).

“The Metro Rail will provide high quality service on some of the major corridors in Chennai. However, even after the Metro is complete, buses will continue to serve the majority of public transport trips. London, with 1,800 km of rail, still has more passengers on bus than rail,” he says.

BRT is more than a dedicated bus lane and should include an integrated station and bus design, off-board fare collection, and real-time customer information. But BRT can be a success only if implemented well, he adds.

For the more than 50 lakh people who commute between their homes and offices in Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC) buses every day, a quick and a comfortable journey during the rush hours remains a dream.

Rubbing shoulders, residents spend a considerable amount of time in overcrowded buses that fight for space on the roads with cars and motorcycles. A Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, which could complement the Chennai Metro Rail when it is completed, will be a boon to commuters; but why wait till Chennai has a BRT, asks a senior officer.

At a recent discussion on creating sustainable towns through transport in Tamil Nadu, Phanindra Reddy, secretary, municipal administration and water supply department, pointed out that the average speed of an MTC bus was between 15 and 18 km per hour. “If this is increased from 20 to 25 kmph, there can be huge savings on fuel for the government and also lesser time spent in travel for commuters,” he said.

The MTC operates more than 3,500 buses in a day, transporting 50.5 lakh people and earning close to Rs. 3 crore per day. The BRT, a proposal for which is pending with the State government, involves creation of bus shelters and equally dedicated pedestrian lanes and other amenities. Until the time the BRT projects are implemented in Chennai or elsewhere, it would be wise to create dedicated bus lanes, Mr. Reddy suggests.

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