'City Pulse' keeps tabs on what Chennai's citizens think about issues that affect their everyday life.

5.15 a.m. The alarm breaks the stillness of the night. Urvi Pradhan wakes up with a start. She'll have to finish her morning chores before her five colleagues. They live in a rented flat in Thiruvanmiyur and take turns to wake up first. They all work in an IT major in Maraimalai Nagar.

6.15 a.m. The sprint to the pickup point where the company bus makes a halt is always frantic. “Missing the bus would mean taking a crowded MTC bus, then a train and a shuttle,” Ms. Pradhan explains.

6.30 a.m. Once inside the bus, it is time to catch up on sleep or listen to music – for the next few hours. Morning rides are manageable, she says, “but some evenings it almost takes us three hours to reach home, after which we have time only to sleep”.

She is one of the 2.5 lakh IT/ITES employees in the city who hit the road early in the morning everyday. Many of them are from other States.

Ms. Pradhan says “As someone who doesn't speak the local language, we inevitably end up taking houses in safer areas, mostly in well known parts of the city. Apart from incurring more expenditure on the rent, this decision also considerably adds to our commuting time.”

Mobility is one of the key challenges that the city will have to tackle in years to come as industry moves towards the suburbs as part of a long-term expansion and consolidation strategy.

According to a recent study by Regus, a global workplace solutions provider, despite progress in flexible working practices, 26 per cent of office-goers in India travel over 90 minutes every day to reach their workplace. The average work commuting time per day in Chennai is 72 minutes. So, a Chennai resident is on the road for nearly 14 days in a year due to work related commute.

“The last 10 years have been a period of tremendous change,” says Vijai Nagaswami, a psychiatrist. “Apart from the weird work hours, the punishing commuting schedule causes a lot of stress. Time which could be devoted to the family is being spent on the road. Commuting is killing.”

According to him, it does not make sense to commute 3 to 4 hours a day. “A change in mindset is required. If you want more mobility, you have to be prepared to shift residence. The generation which is prepared to shift jobs frequently must also be prepared to shift housing,” he adds.

Akshi Chopra who worked in the IT sector for two years feels the worst implications of commuting is reflected on the health. “Asthma patients and persons with respiratory problems have a tough time battling infections caused by long hours of waiting in congested buses during long traffic jams,” she says, adding that stress, fatigue and backache are commonplace in such situations.

But it is not just employees who face the hassle of commuting. S. Kannappan, a bus driver in Mahindra World City, stays in Hanumanthapuram in Chengalpattu. “My children travel to S.P. Koil for their schooling every day as the village doesn't have healthcare or education facilities. The infrastructure around Paranur might have developed, but the basic amenities are yet to come,” he says.

Most companies have traffic coordinators, or route champions who strategise the best possible way to reach the destination. They have regular meetings with their counterparts from other companies whose buses use the same route. N. Puzhal, a route champion, says: “We chalk out different routes for our buses and different time slots so that the buses taking the same route do not converge.”

Pointing out that 150 Volvo buses of the BMTC (Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation) make shuttle trips to the Electronic City every day, Mohandas Pai, Director-HR, Infosys, says “Public transport has to play a role when such high concentration of people transit to a location every day. The Hosur Road in Bangalore has expanded to a 14 lane from a 2 lane road in just 12 years. Even then, it is still choked.”

The BMTC has monthly passes for Rs.1,250. A significant number of the one lakh employees who work at Electronic City use the pass.

The Mahindra World City is likely to see more employees in the next two years, but the Paranur railway station which serves the SEZ is already saturated, says Mr.Pai.

Southern Railway does not have an exclusive suburban corridor beyond Tambaram in the South and Ambattur in the west. Since suburban trains have to compete with long-distance trains, services cannot be increased beyond a point.

Though the city has expanded, adds Mr.Pai, investment is not being made to expand capacity. “If services are not provided, Chennai will lose out. Working in Chennai has become difficult.”

What they say

K.Purushothaman, NASSCOM Regional Director: The IT Expressway [Rajiv Gandhi Salai] was pioneered by the government with a long-term strategy and plan, but it hasn’t materialised. The road is nowhere near completion. Some kind of alternative to road transport has to be evolved. We have the numbers and the industry is willing to participate in any effort by the government to build better public infrastructure amenities.

Amrita Sunkuru, Employee of an IT company in Siruseri: We have to make a choice between living close to the office, but far from the facilities available in the city or vice-versa. Many of us choose to live in the city. It also helps as the transport provided by the companies is good and is much better than public transport.

M. Sathish Kumar, Sholinganallur resident: The growth in software sector has proved to be a boon for many young men and women in areas along IT Corridor as they manage to get jobs in house keeping, transport and other departments. Mediators in the realty sector have also reaped benefits. However, the increased demand for amenities such as power supply has resulted in frequent powercuts.