With the State government identifying four corridors to implement a 111-km-long monorail network at an estimated cost of Rs.16,600 crore, the city's committed expenditure on elevated rail transit infrastructure, which includes the Metro, crosses a whopping $5 billion.
While welcoming such huge investments on public transport in the foreseeable future, urban transportation experts also have a word of caution. Unless these mass transit systems integrate seamlessly, ensure high comfort, and offer unified ticketing, much of the investment would go waste.
Even the government's bid document for the Chennai Monorail project notes that the continued expansion and development of the city “demands an efficient, comprehensive and integrated public transport system”. It goes on to state that existing systems are not adequate and efficient enough to meet even the current requirements.
Preliminary proposals to develop a public transit hub in Velachery spread over 14 acres are part of this vision. The monorail corridors are also likely to integrate with bus terminuses along the route, including in Vadapalani. However, there are also locations in the proposed monorail corridor, such as the Kathipara junction, where the station would be a kilometre away from the metro rail corridor. Expecting commuters to cover that distance by foot might be unfeasible.
V.Subramani of the Traffic and Transportation Forum, a suburban residents' collective, says that while the monorail is going to be a boon to localities in the suburbs, it has to be adequately supplemented by other modes. “With the city limits set to expand, we are going to start demanding for a proportionate transport grid in the suburban areas that will merge with the city. Existing bus and train services have to be increased. Also, sufficient number of new bus terminals have not come up on the outskirts to compensate for those that were closed down within the city over the years.”
With connectivity being such a huge problem in the suburbs, Mr.Subramani says that available land, such as the space beneath the Kathipara grade separator where over 100 buses can be parked, should be utilised to build inter-modal hubs.
A senior Schomi International official, a Malaysian firm involved in the Mumbai Monorail project, says that there is a lot of scope to develop several “mini-city” arrangements along the Chennai Monorail route. “For example, Kuala Lumpur Central is a 40 acre complex where all public transit modes and even private taxis converge. It houses a number of multi-storey office spaces, hotels and commercial areas.”
He also points to the four half-a-km skywalks that connect the first 19-km long monorail corridor under construction in Mumbai with the west, east and harbour suburban railway lines as an example that could be explored in Chennai.
N.S. Srinivasan, former Director of the National Transportation Planning and Research Centre, says that a detailed study has to be undertaken to evolve a mechanism to integrate monorail with metro rail.
“The monorail is going to open up economic development and help in the dispersal of the population to a great extent. Unless a single authority is entrusted to collect all public transit revenues and ensure greater coordination, the monorail project's success would be limited,” he adds.