Metroplus

The fast and the curious

An aerial view of the Chennai Metro. Photo: M. Vedhan  

Mode of transport: Car

Time taken: 41 minutes

Cost: Rs. 230

From where I stand, I can see the white building of the Metro Station, where my colleague is waiting for the next train to the airport.

A few feet away, I see my other colleague, helmeted, on an Activa, which to me, looks like the hind of a tamed bull ready to enter the fighting arena. With all the enthusiasm one can muster to fight what already seems like a lost battle, I book my cab to the airport.

It’s just past 5 p.m., and the roads are beginning to choke with Friday traffic.



My cab, a silver Indica, is a guilty contributor. It shows up a few minutes, and two calls, after I book it. Selvakumar G. is one of those drivers who likes to dissect his passengers’ lives while at the wheel. He wants to know where I am flying to and why I do not have luggage. Even as he says it, he realises something, slows down the car, and turns to say earnestly, “Madam, why don’t you get down and take the Metro? It will cost you less than half the fare, and you can reach in less than half the time! I will stop here?”

The car continues to crawl through traffic as we cross SAF Games Village. I tell him to keep driving. “I have the time, it’s all right,” I say. He nods, but doesn’t accelerate. It takes a while to realise that it no longer has anything to do with his concern, or the traffic. Just before Vadapalani junction, the car comes to a halt right on the main road. Selvakumar dives behind the bonnet, fidgeting with a few wires here and there.

He comes back with a nervous laugh, and tells me the car won’t move. Then, to add insult to injury, he blithely suggests the Metro again. I book another cab.

As I wait for the next car, I try not to think about the race I am losing, and instead focus on the office-goers rushing home; a bunch of boys in uniform standing in a circle; a flower-seller knotting the stems of jasmine flowers at a blurry speed. Eight minutes later, I am chatting with my new driver Mohamed Ibrahim. He picks the old subject: the Metro.

By the time I pass Alandur, I figure the Metro has almost reached the airport, and my other colleague is probably parking her bike. I’m passing the Officers Training Academy, St. Thomas Mount, when I get a gloating WhatsApp message from my colleague on the Activa, who’s reached and declared herself the winner. My driver morosely says we still have 20 minutes of travel left, and I sit back defeated. However, we’re at the airport 10 minutes later. “You are lucky, there was hardly any traffic,” he says.

Not lucky enough. I run the last stretch as fast as I can, but as expected, come last. What was unexpected was the close finish. So close that the winner took a picture — and despite the photo finish, if I peer from a certain angle, it looks like I was second.

What works:

The cab drops you right in front of the departure gate, so no walking is involved.

You have the whole backseat to yourself.

Luggage issues are sorted.

What doesn’t:

Traffic snarls during peak hours.

Uncertainties including a breakdown, delay in the cab’s arrival

Costs four times the Metro fare

Naveena Vijayan






Mode of transport: Metro

Time taken: 40 minutes

Cost: Rs. 50

A large family is making its way into the CMBT Metro Station in Koyambedu. They’re taking in the sights and sounds of the station as they saunter onto the escalator. Clearly, they’re in no hurry.

But I am. I am in a race with two colleagues who’re taking the same route to reach the airport — but each of us has chosen a different mode of transport.

Inside the swanky station, two attendants are helping people buy tickets. “ Neenga airport varaikyum ponuma?” asks one of them to a feeble old man, who seems a little intimidated by the unfamiliar grandeur of our surroundings.



Soon, I’m inside the station. A handful of people wait for the train beside me. It is scheduled to reach at 5:03 p.m. Highly unlikely it’ll be on time, I think to myself. Then, at exactly three minutes past five, the bright-blue coaches glide into the station.

The well-lit compartments make for great selfie spots: I notice a couple taking what seems like a million photos of themselves. Beside me, a father discusses the features of the train with his clearly-impressed young daughter. In front, there’s an elderly man, sitting quietly, in awe of the bird’s eye-view of the city. I watch familiar landmarks like Kasi Theatre and Olympia Tech Park go by as the train speeds through Arumbakkam, Vadapalani, Ashok Nagar, Ekkaduthangal and finally, Alandur. It’s 5:20 pm.

I now need to change platforms and trains to get on the new line to the airport. And here’s the catch: all this takes time.

As I jump out of my train, I nervously wonder how far my colleagues on the road have got. Thanks to the helpful boards all over the station, I don’t need to waste precious minutes asking the security guards where, and how, to board the next train.

At 5:26 p.m., I hop on to my new train, only to find a dozen people in it, most of whom are headed for the airport. After brief stops at Nanganallur and Meenambakkam, the metro pulls into the airport… and my heart leaps with joy, knowing that I’ve almost reached the finish line.

Almost. I realise there’s still a fairly long stretch separating me and the finish line (the domestic departure terminal). I now need to take one of those buggies that won’t move till it is filled with passengers. I’m losing precious time, but I can’t do much. Thankfully, it leaves soon enough, and within a couple of minutes, I reach the arrival gates of the domestic terminal. But I now need to take a lift; I wonder if I could’ve waded through all this if I actually had luggage and was catching a flight.

As I spot our finish line — which we had agreed upon at the beginning of the race — I see my colleague who rode a bike has already reached. Dismayed, I then realise I can still race my other colleague who’d taken a cab and is making her way there as well. Noticing each other simultaneously, we sprint to the finish line. I beat her with just a few seconds to spare. She disagrees. But that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

What works:

It costs only fifty rupees from Koyambedu to the Airport

There are no traffic hassles

Punctual trains and lots of space for luggage

What doesn’t:

Change of platforms in Alandur

Time taken from Metro station at airport to the terminal you need to reach

Srinivasa Ramanujam






Mode of transport: Bike

Time taken: 35 minutes

Cost: Rs. 65 for a litre of fuel (approx)

It’s about 5 p.m. on a Friday and the sun is still beating down mercilessly. But I don’t really mind. I’m race ready and all my concentration is on getting to the finish line. This particular finish line being Departure Gate Two at the Kamaraj Domestic Airport.

While the colleague taking the Metro makes his way to the ticket counter, I stand with the other across the road near JP Hotel waiting for her cab. With my helmet on and palms itching to turn the accelerator, I’m tempted to fire the engine and go vroom vroom impatiently, superbike style. But then, I’m on a modest Activa, which is not really badass enough to act so cool. Sigh. The minute the cab arrives, I say a quick goodbye and speed off.



We’re curious about which mode of transport will take you fastest to the airport via the normally-congested Koyambedu-Vadapalani-Ashok Nagar-Kathipara route. Well, the rest are curious. I’m already convinced I will win.

As I make my way towards the airport, there’s only moderate traffic, except for the few junctions that are almost always jammed. I even make a couple of pit-stops to click quick pictures of the traffic ahead of me. Around 5.20 p.m., I near Ekkaduthangal station and wonder where my colleagues might be. Would the person taking the Metro beat me to it, I wonder. I know the cab wouldn’t have, since I hadn’t seen it pass.

By 5.25 p.m. I’m near Alandur station, and the sun’s glowing orange, all set to dip into the horizon. Determined to make it to the finish line first, I speed up just a little bit. Fortunately, I don’t encounter any red signals and am at my destination by 5.30 p.m. Yes, traffic along that stretch was really that thin.

I quickly park my bike (parking for bikes is just below the Airport Metro Station) and make my way towards the Departure lounge which is one floor above. My walk up takes me approximately five minutes, and as I reach Gate Two panting, I realise that I’ve reached before the other two.

I take a quick look at my messages and realise that while the colleague taking the Metro is closing in, the one taking the cab had to deal with a car break down. Well, it all worked in my favour, so no complaints. Then, just to rub it in, I gloat gleefully as they race towards me, then take a picture.

What works

Being on a bike I can zip through little gaps in the traffic

Parking at the airport for bikes is a lot cheaper — Rs. 25 for up to two hours

What doesn’t

Very practically, how many of us would ride a bike to the airport if we were actually travelling?

Limited luggage can be carried on a bike

The walk from the bike parking to the Departure gates can be a tad long and there are no buggies here

Ranjani Rajendra

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Printable version | Apr 19, 2021 7:19:47 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/The-fast-and-the-curious/article16074877.ece

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