On board Chennai’s longest bus route

TN01N8299, which goes by bus number 588, slides out of the Adyar Bus Depot at 10.35 am to become a part of the slow move of vehicles on their daily commute.

There is nothing special about the bus — it’s a regular Ashok Leyland — but the route it takes at least four times each day, stands out. The Metropolitan Transport Corporation has a fleet of around 4,500 buses that cover over 750 bus routes in Chennai and this one — the 588 — is the longest route within the city.

The entire journey of 43.4 kilometres, passes 43 bus stops on its way from Adyar to Mamallapuram. Even the first departure at 4.50 am sees a few passengers hop on. It fills up as it plods along. If you miss one, just wait for 35-40 minutes for the next.

As I board the bus, T Saravanan in his khaki-coloured pants and shirt, walks towards me holding a billing machine. “Narpathanju (₹45),” the friendly conductor says in reply to my destination, Mamallapuram.

Before his first trip of the day, Saravanan says he buys a few bottles of water for himself and the driver. “I’ve been working on this route for the past six years and in all my shifts, no major accident has taken place, which I count as lucky,” he smiles.

The 44-year-old then darts to a new passenger to collects the ticket fare. “The job is tiring but only because of this summer heat,” he says, mopping his forehead with the back of his hand, “But I enjoy it otherwise. I meet new people and chat with the regular passengers.” The bus is never crowded and towards the end, it empties a little.

The passengers on board are of all age groups: mothers cradling sleeping children, young women on their way to work and middle-aged men napping between stops.

Ashwin Chella is on his last day of vacation before college re-opens. He is headed to to Tambaram to renew his bus-pass. “I don’t like taking the bus but Tambaram is far and auto drivers charge exorbitant amounts,” he says.

Kannan M on the other hand, says he loves taking the bus to Mamallapuram. “For every day of the past three years I have used this bus to get to Uthandi from Injambakkam,” he says, adding that he runs a shop there.

Gradually, the city gives way to open land. As the bus gains speed, hot air from outside, peppered with dust, blasts into my face. A peep out the window reminds me of Chennai’s water scarcity — parched land surrounds the route on both sides.

As we reach the ECR, the beach becomes visible through the dense layer of Casuarina trees. With fewer vehicles on the road, the driver settles into a steady pace of 40 kmph and the bus whizzes past hotels, amusement parks and resto-bars. There is always something to see, be it a purple and yellow Vespa puttering along, or mangoes arranged in mini mountains at Kovalam Bus Station.

At Mamallapuram, we board the bus back to Adyar. It is afternoon by now, and the bus is quiet, with sleep looming over every passenger’s head. The conductor’s whistle, signalling halts to the driver, is the only sound that punctuates the relaxing, steady hum of the engines. Driver Rajakumar and conductor Rameshkumar, say they have been working together for the past eight years. “Around 16 trips are made in a day. The collection is between ₹7000-₹8000 and there 27 stages over the 43 stops,” says Ramesh.

The journey to Mamallapuram and back takes me one and half hours each way on bus 588. A one way ticket is ₹45, and the cheapest one on this route is from Adyar O.T to the Depot at ₹11.

On my return journey, Mallika M, who makes daily trips to Mamallapuram from Injambakkam to take her son lunch, is in the mood to chat. She says “It is tiring travelling at this time of the day. But I can trust the conductor to call out the stop, so I allow myself a short nap.”

The article erroneously mentioned MTC as Madras Transport Corporation instead of Metropolitan Transport Corporation. The error is regretted.

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Printable version | Apr 16, 2021 3:12:33 PM |

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