Turning the spotlight on city transportation

A ROAD TO TROUBLE: Congestion is a round-the-clock phenomenon at Jeenis Road, Saidapet, where vehicles of all sizes and shapes compete for road space. — N.Sridharan  

Special Correspondent

CHENNAI: The mismatch between vehicle growth and personalised transport on the one side, and infrastructure development in Chennai on the other, will take centre stage when city planners, urban and road development experts meet at Anna University for a two-day seminar on transportation challenges of the city on Friday and Saturday.

A paper circulated by the organisers -- the Alumni Association of College of Engineering, Guindy -- explaining the context of the seminar clearly stated that a large metropolis spread across 1177 sq. km and comprising 7.5 million people might have turned an education and business hub, but the strides made by the city in scientific pursuits were not matched by the quality of the transport infrastructure.

The number of city buses has not increased in real terms, critically affecting the share of public transport, which has declined consistently over the years.

The seminar will seek to address through technical sessions six specific sub-themes: Transportation in Chennai -- status report; Transport Network and infrastructure development; mass transportation; vulnerable road users: safety audit; Parking - problems and prospects and finally traffic management and innovative techniques.

And these are the critical problems, to which urban activists have been seeking solutions for a long time.

A long time votary of mass transit systems, is urban expert Anantharajan, a retired academic from Anna University's Traffic and Urban systems division. He says, "a high capacity mass transit rail system is the most enduring measure and solutions for the traffic problems of a city like Chennai. Mass transit system rails do not consume precious fossil fuels, and are hence non-polluting. It can move hundreds of people across large distances very fast, with little hindrance to oncoming traffic and takes very little space in the congested sectors of Chennai."

A key element of transport planning for the city would have to include a policy for decongestion, which an MRTS alone could address in sustainable manner, he notes.

This would also reduce personal vehicle usage, he says pointing out that in Delhi, after the introduction of a comfortable and reliable metro rail, personal vehicle use was coming down.

Even Chennai has an elevated rail corridor, which he says cannot be ideally called a real mass rapid transit system, which places emphasis on speedy transport of huge masses of people.

In the city, the MRTS extension, especially between Tiruvanmiyur and Velachery, two stations remain cut off from the main road and are hence unapproachable for the commuters.

At another level, maxicabs and autorickshaws, which should serve ideally as intermediate transport, are overcrowded and have turned the main feeders for several suburbs and residential colonies in the city, with the utter failure of the public transport system to address commuting problems of the citizens. However, Dr. Anantharajan's concern is over the lack of safety audit for these vehicles and no one is sure about the compensation or insurance cover for maxi cabs operating without any regulation in the city and its peripheries. "It is here the people in the city planning have a lot of work. Even recently, the NASSCOM meet talked about creating one lakh jobs in Chennai. If not all of them, can there not be a clear land use policy for creating housing sites for these persons employed along the Information Technology corridor so that a large portion of them need not commute long for workplaces. Land use planning that combines institutional and residential zones will be key to decongestion measures and to answer transportation problems," he adds.