MTC on a sticky wicket

New challenges: MTC no longer is the preferred choice of commuters.   | Photo Credit: VELANKANNI RAJ B

The past one-and-a-half years have redefined many aspects of life, thanks to the pandemic. The changes have been more pronounced in the public transport sector. The restriction on commutes and lack of access to public transport has indeed changed the way people use public transport. Or, has it?

The people of Chennai have traditionally relied on the Metropolitan Transport Corporation Chennai (MTC) for its superb network and last mile connectivity. The MTC, along with the suburban train services in the city, had been serving residents with affordable public transport over the years.

While the people shunned taxis for their exorbitant fare, commuters stayed away from autorickshaws whose drivers had become notorious for demanding fancy fares. This changed with the advent of taxi aggregators and the MTC increasing bus fares.

Autorickshaw drivers were forced to mend their ways by reducing fares close to what was fixed by the State government. This was more so after the lockdown. People’s dependence on public transport — both MTC and suburban trains — gradually declined, thanks to travel restrictions and bus services becoming irregular.

Despite the State government under M.K. Stalin announcing several steps, including free travel on ordinary buses for women, transgenders and persons with disabilities, increasing the operation of white board buses and commissioning new routes, residents have shown preference for private transport during the pandemic.

Taxi aggregators Ola and Uber have been improving travel options to meet the market requirement, where convenience, affordability and safety have become the crucial factors.

Uber recently rolled out a unique rental option providing multi-hour and multi-stop choices to commuters, giving the experience of owning their own car. All these steps have resulted in the public transport system losing patronage.

In contrast, MTC has been accused of decreasing the number of bus services on several routes and operating only deluxe services.

But Transport Minister R.S. Rajakannappan, at a press meet at the Secretariat on Tuesday, refuted the charge that the MTC had indirectly increased the fares by operating only deluxe buses and had reduced the number of regular buses. He said 1,275 buses were being operated as ordinary services benefiting women commuters, each of whom saved a minimum of ₹1,000 to ₹2,000 a month.

Social activist V. Rama Rao said Nanganallur and Pallavanthangal, though they had suburban train facility, lacked adequate bus services to other places in the city. After several representations were made, the MTC introduced a few bus routes and increased the services a few years ago. However, the bus services had been curtailed after the lockdown.

The MTC has been losing patronage gradually to other operators, including Metro Rail. One of the important reasons for this is that its night services had become irregular. Data for the three years on the performance of the MTC reflects waning popularity of its services.

Dwindling fortunes

A senior official said at present MTC enjoys occupancy of slightly over 36% while in the first wave it performed better at 41%. The occupancy before the pandemic was more than 60% (in 2019-20), while it had an all-time high occupancy of nearly 75% in 2017-18. Similarly, the MTC enjoyed the status of being the prime mover of the public in the city by having a ridership of nearly 42 lakh commuters a day in 2017-18.

This figure crashed to 8 lakh commuters a day. During the first wave, it was 11.5 lakh passengers a day and before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019-20, the figure was 31 lakh passengers a day.

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Printable version | Sep 17, 2021 7:42:44 PM |

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