“We make at least 100 bookings a day in this counter,” says Praveen Kumar, Counter Staff, Fast-Track Call Taxi, whose booking centre is located outside the Domestic Terminal at the Chennai International Airport, and right next to bus stop from where the MTC's mini AC buses ply.
While the four fast-track counters at the airport together make around 800 bookings a day according to Mr. Praveen, the 1.08 p.m. service of the mini-bus had only two passengers. According to V. Dhayalan, time-keeper at the bus stop, the bus has been operating only on the Ambal Nagar-Ekkattu thangal- Ashok Pillar- Vadapalani- CMBT- Thirumangalam route since Tamil New Year and runs 16 services (to and fro) a day between 6.45 a.m and 9.45 p.m. “Unlike earlier when we had two fares, Rs. 100 and Rs.150, we now have a standard fare of Rs.110 which remains unchanged irrespective of whether you get off at the first or the last stop. Over the last few weeks, the patronage has increased slightly,” he said. He claims that during rush hours which is between 9 a.m. and 10.30 a.m. in the morning and 7.30 p.m. and 8.30 p.m. in the evening the buses have between three and eight passengers.
Of the two passengers on the 1.08 p.m. service, one was Varghese Ittara, from Shillong who was told by those at the bus stand that to go to Chennai Central, he could take the mini bus to Koyembedu from where there would be buses every five minutes to Central station. “I have to catch a train to Kerala, and for some one who is new to the city, this is a good service. Those at the bus stop were very helpful,” he said. Not many familiar with the city, however, would opt for this route considering that the distance between the airport and the CMBT is roughly 15 km, and the CMBT to Chennai Central another 8-10 km.
While most travellers are aware of the availability of services such as taxis and autos, not many travellers headed towards the bus stop. And the boards put up by the MTC do not seem to be doing much in its favour. Though there are boards put up outside the arrival gates, they give no directions to the bus stop, do not have details such as the time schedule, and only mention the route and the fixed fare of Rs.110. The fact that it plies only on one route may also be a deterrent.
While the above reasons may partially explain the low patronage, another hurdle is also the mindset of many travellers for whom a bus is not a familiar mode of transport. For travellers like Abhishek Rungta, it is apprehension that stops them from taking the bus. “The bus will stop at many places whereas for the price you pay, an auto or a taxi will drop you right outside your house. When I can take a car, why will I take a bus,” he asks. On days that his car is not available, he said that he would rather take a taxi or an auto.
“If a family of three want to go to Anna Nagar by bus, for instance, they would spend Rs.330 and not get dropped outside their house. Besides which the buses don't ply on time and start most of the times only when there are enough passengers,” said Mr. Praveen. According to him, there is a service only once an hour. Abhishek Agarwal, who had come to receive his friend at the Airport said “Going by a taxi or an auto is much more hassle-free.” However, for a lot of others, who may not be able to afford a taxi or an auto, there is still a real need for accessible and affordable public transport from the airport.