They aren't taxis exactly, and they aren't buses either, but for a lot of people they are the most reliable mode of transport in areas where buses are not available and autorickshaws charge exorbitant rates.
Intermediate public transport or para-transit options such as share autorickshaws and maxi cabs, despite being an unconventional type of public transport, have developed their own clientele.
With the government announcing a slew of measures to increase transportation options in the city's interior areas, this segment is set for a big expansion.
According to urban transport experts, para-transit vehicles act as feeders and their popularity is set to grow. The city's new seven-seater cabs, which are slowly increasing in number, are now competing with share autorickshaws.
According to J. Seshasayanam, general secretary of the Madras Metro Auto Drivers' Association, seven-seater vehicles are very popular in cities such as Hyderabad, and Chennai is slowly catching up. “Most of the vehicles do not have share auto-type permits, otherwise there will be more competition,” he said.
P. Nagarajan, driver of a seven-seater Tata-Magic, is among the growing number of people who prefer this vehicle over a share autorickshaw.
In the mornings, he ferries tourists and goods, while in the evenings — from 4 p.m. to midnight — the vehicle serves as a share auto from Moolakadai.
“The only disadvantage I have is we are yet to get a share autorickshaw permit, otherwise people would prefer it over autorickshaws. It is spacious, the seats are comfortable and rates affordable,” said Mr. Nagarajan.
A senior Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) official said that para-transit mechanisms, either public or private, must be fully exploited to handle current travel demands.
“Public transport will become attractive only if the last mile to one's final destination is adequately covered,” he said.
The ‘response time' to shift to another mode from a mass transit station has to be drastically brought down, he added.
As new modes of travel fill the gap left by public transportation facilities, challenges in regulation have also cropped up.
Though vehicles such as share autorickshaws are categorised as ‘contract carriage' by the Transport Department, they function like a ‘stage carriage.' That is, they follow a fixed route with a certain number of ‘stops' where people can board the vehicle or get down.
However, parking issues are easier to tackle in case of such vehicles, said a senior Transport Department official. “They can be used for multiple purposes.”