The newly inducted AC buses in Metropolitan Transport Corporation's (MTC) fleet are its pride. But an evaluation of its operational routes reveals the story of Chennai's divide. Only about four of the nearly-80 buses of the existing fleet in the city operate in sections of north Chennai.
When it comes to issues of transportation, north Chennai is an island.
For the large working class population that has made the industrial northern belt of the city their home, daily commute to work or an educational institution is not a pleasant experience.
“Since most of the good schools and colleges are in the south, students from the north commute long hours in crowded buses,” says M. Thuyamurthy, a resident of Thondiarpet and an RTI activist.
“Lack of adequate transportation has an impact on a variety of facets such as education, quality of life and recreation which are often ignored.”
However, sources in the MTC say that while there may be a disparity in the operation of AC buses, the overall coverage is similar. Of the 3,160 routes in the city, 1,560 operate in north Chennai (north of P.H. Road).
“Also, 13 of the 25 depots in the city are in the north,” says a senior official.
On the challenges in expanding operation, he says: “The problem is that congestion due to container traffic is very heavy in north Chennai and that coupled with a very poor road infrastructure makes effective operation impossible. Internal evaluation shows that travel time is very high in the north compared to the south for similar distances. So, people feel underserved.”
However, Mr. Thuyamurthy, based on data obtained through RTI requests, points out that most of the old buses have been diverted to north Chennai.
“Buses such as 44 C (Broadway to I.O.C), 56 N (Broadway to Ennore) and 56 D (Broadway to Manali) are in a very bad condition and breakdowns are frequent. When was the last time any one saw an MTC bus being towed in south Chennai?” he asks.
Calling areas of disparity an integral feature of any city's development, H.M. Shivanand Swamy, director, school of planning, Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT) University, says
“Cities around the world have found their own solutions. One model which has been tried in a city like Ahmedabad is decentralised budgeting. There are ward level budgets that are used to spend on local amenities. Imbalance in investment must be addressed somehow.”