Patronage for both MTC and MRTS services on the rise; decline in number of vehicle registrations

On every alternate day, Vinod Velayudhan (36), an IT professional, leaves his car in the garage and takes a train to work. He has increasingly started using public transport as driving a car has become a “costly affair”. “The fuel price is a huge hit on my weekly budget,” he says.

Though he mostly relies on a train, sometimes he takes a bus to cover the 15 km distance from Villivakkam to his workplace in Velachery. “I don't like Chennai's buses. I find them crowded and suffocating,” he says. “But I spend Rs.1,200 on fuel expenses per week if I regularly use a car.”

Ever since oil prices were deregulated in June 2010, the price of petrol has gone up six times. However, there are a few strategies which you can adopt to limit the pinch on your pockets.

Shifting to public transport at least for certain journeys is an obvious move. The Metropolitan Transport Corporation operates 100 air conditioned buses. Though there is no database of all the routes and timings, there are services such as http://busroutes.in/chennai/routes/type/AC/ that map bus stops of many of these buses.

There are also carpooling web services such as http://www.commuteeasy.com/ and many others which can be used to find someone to share a ride with.

There has been a steady increase in public transport usage through the period when fuel prices rose. While 47 lakh passengers used MTC services daily in January, 2009, the number increased to 57 lakh by January, 2011.

The increase of 10 per cent is the minimum projected by the detailed project report for purchase of buses under JNNURM (2009) that says “Trend of passenger growth requires addition of new fleet to improve patronage”. Though fleet strength has not expanded much, the fuel price rise seems to be driving more people towards buses.

The usage of the Mass Rapid Transit System (MRTS) has also improved with an increase of 10,000 passengers per day, compared to last year. All of this at a time when the number of vehicles being registered in the State per day seems to be declining for the first time this decade. Average registrations per day since April 2010 have been 3,722 as against 3,902 in 2009-10.

Brinda Vishwanathan of the Madras School of Economics says that there has been a marginal shift to public transport due to a combination of congestion, pollution and the fuel price. “Transportation has become a big issue in the city as it is on a high growth path. A lot of innovations need to take place and a more fuel efficient means of transportation must emerge out of this high fuel price scenario,” she says.

While such innovations on the battery operated and hybrid fuel front are either too expensive or too niche as of now, R. Thanasekaran, General Manager, Institute of Road Transport, says that the fuel efficiency of the current fleet of vehicles can be improved by following certain steps.

Reduce speed!

“One of the best ways to save fuel is to simply reduce your speed. As speed increases, fuel economy decreases exponentially. The optimum fuel efficiency speed is 45 kmph, but it is fine to travel up to 60 kmph,” he says. Travelling at 55 kmph gives 21 per cent better mileage when to compared a speed of 65 kmph. Other strategies are to tune-up the vehicle's engine regularly, sparing use of air conditioner in case of a car, and reducing the idling time at intersections “Switch off your engine for any waiting time longer than 15 seconds. Spending 10 minutes idling on a 30 minute road trip can double fuel consumption,” he adds.