Travelling in a Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC) bus in the city may not be a pleasant experience for many. But, it pales in comparison to the inconvenience commuters waiting for buses are subjected to.

Lack of pedestrian access, the need to stand on roads to wait for a bus and high accident risk are some of the problems often cited by passengers. The collapse of a bus shelter on Marina Beach road last week has added safety concerns to their woes.

Following the incident, Corporation Commissioner D. Karthikeyan said a detailed review of structural safety would be undertaken. “We are also willing to make any necessary design modifications in 642 bus shelters, for which construction contracts will be awarded shortly,” he said.

Though there are over 2,000 bus stops that are served by the MTC, a shelter exists only in about 1,200 locations. Nearly half of these 1,200 facilities are shelters made of cement concrete years ago and no longer usable in many cases. Some shelters have also been removed due to the metro rail construction work.

The primary reason behind the city's lack of world-class bus shelters is a fight over advertising revenue from these facilities, say experts. When the Pallavan Transport Corporation was initially set up in 1972, it had the powers to locate and build shelters wherever necessary. Since the MTC did not have adequate funds, it started looking for sponsors to erect shelters in exchange for advertising space. An annual royalty was also charged for the use of public space. Subsequently, the Chennai Corporation saw the revenue potential and the debate on who actually owns the bus shelters started, says S.A. Vijayakumar, former head of various State-run transport corporations.

A series of legal tangles between the MTC, the Chennai Corporation and advertising agencies since the mid-1990s is the reason why passengers have been left to fend for themselves in the mid-summer heat and the monsoon rain.

R. Anbazhagan, a resident of Mowlivakkam, has been using the Porur Circle MTC bus stop for the past 22 years. He has not seen a shelter come up in all these years. “I wait for a bus for at least 30-35 minutes and it is very tough to stand on the road. MTC knows that commuters like me have no options but to use buses and are not willing to do anything to improve facilities.”

Mr. Vijayakumar says that even the location of many of the existing bus stops violate rules of traffic engineering. Many bus stops inside the city have emerged from those that were used by the tramways and private buses in the 1930s. “Bus stops should not just come up wherever people congregate. They should not come up within 100 metres of a traffic intersection. A bay must be usually provided to ensure that one lane is not blocked by the bus. Also, pedestrian crossing points and subways must be available very close to the stop.”

The traffic police are supposed to authorise the citing of the shelters based on these guidelines, but this is not followed, he says.

Geetam Tiwari, chairperson of the Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Programme at IIT-Delhi, says that owing to a lack of attention to not just the bus shelter but the required infrastructure in the vicinity, many of them have emerged as pedestrian accident-prone zones. Most MTC accidents which involve pedestrian happen very close to a bus shelter. “For example, studies show that if a bus commuter has to wait more than 12 seconds to cross the road, there is a high probability of the commuter running across that results in an accident,” she says.

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