The Mass Rapid Transit System (MRTS) corridor has been in existence for over a decade. The 25-km line, which was originally supposed to be Chennai's ‘Metro', continues to be plagued with problems. It transports less than 20 per cent of the projected passenger capacity.

Though the elevated rail line, which was a unique experiment, has been a failure on many counts, it offers important lessons to upcoming public transport systems such as Metro Rail and Monorail, say experts.

Even Chennai Metro Rail Limited's (CMRL) initiation of a multi-modal integration study last week is borne out of the city's experience with MRTS and its lack of connectivity.

K. Rajaraman, Managing Director, CMRL, said: “Physical infrastructure such as ramps that connect upcoming Metro stations with nearby bus stops, skywalks heading into suburban railway stations and pedestrian walkways would be in place by the end of 2015. The study will also have a strong focus on pedestrian facilities.”

But similar promises were made back in 2007 when the MRTS extension from Mylapore to Velachery became operational. Metropolitan Transport Corporation buses were supposed to come inside MRTS stations and pick up passengers. The inability to keep this promise has had a telling impact on passenger patronage.

Though there are 21 MRTS stations, only three account for 40 per cent of the total passenger boarding and alighting. These three stations – Beach, Mylapore and Velachery – have a bus stop very close by.

“These are significant transfer points. It is true that inter-modal transfer is not happening in any other station,” said S.Anantharaman, Chennai Divisional Railway Manager, Southern Railway. “We do raise such issues during coordination meetings, but MTC is grappling with its own problems. The hope is once the metro becomes operational, such transfers will become significant and there will be greater incentive for coordination,” he added.

A senior CMDA official said that other measures that were proposed to be introduced on the MRTS corridor but never took off are shuttle services in the vicinity of the station, privatising maintenance operation as well as the functioning of lifts and escalators, and free passes for school students. The metro would be in a unique position to try such experiments, he said.

Other market building measures such as leasing space in stations for public events and branding exercises that would result in social acceptance for a new public transport mode are also required, he added. For example, the Ahmedabad BRT was operated as a free service for the first three months.

K.P. Subramanian, former professor, Urban Engineering Department, Anna University, said that one disadvantage the metro would face is it will be operating on already over-saturated roads.

“Buses will operate parallel to the metro corridor. There was better scope for coordination and integration with MRTS where buses could have operated on routes perpendicular to the rail line.”

He added that the success of Metro Rail's efforts to achieve multi-modal integration will be a test case for the relevance of the Chennai Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority (CUMTA). Though the authority was set up last year, not even a single meeting has been conducted till now.

“The fact that CUMTA's board is packed with government officials, without any representation from NGOs and academics, is a major drawback. Only if the authority can wield enough influence among various public transit operators will the people's interest prevail over the profit or loss of an individual organisation.”

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