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The Chennai bus app does work fairly well on certain basic aspects but could be more user-friendly. Using the app, the next MTC bus on your route can now be spotted on a mobile phone, sparing the commuter the frustrating guessing game of whether there is any bus coming. Look for Chennai Bus by LAMB, which is the official app on the Google Play Store.
The Chennai bus app provides key services for passengers to efficiently use buses:
- Lists all bus routes and stops
- Detects nearby bus stops and info on buses arriving in real time
- Has a trip planner
- Has an orange button SOS setting to include a chosen emergency contact
- A complaints form
- Contact information of 31 MTC depots
This writer tried out the app in field conditions and found it to be 99% accurate. Using West Mambalam, Anna Salai at LIC and West Saidapet as test locations, the real time information on the next bus missed one or two buses that were arriving within the next five minutes but got the rest right. The Tamil Nadu government has said all MTC buses are already equipped with GPS to make the vehicle locator system work.
The individual buses are also identified by a fleet number in the app – each of the 3,233 MTC buses in service has a unique number – the passenger has an additional feature with which to identify it.
On the trip planner, not all possibilities were included. For a sample trip from Kodambakkam to West Saidapet’s Jayaraj Theatre, the app proposed two long walks separated by a short bus trip in between as the first option. It missed the option of travel to Anna Salai and taking the well-served 18K route (Broadway – West Saidapet) and S18K (MGR Central to Parsn Nagar). It did include an option to go via Ashok Nagar, using Small Bus route S35, but this involved a total wait time of 45 minutes!
In the map view, the nearest bus stops are plotted for the passenger to get her bearings, although it is not interactive for the stops. A moveable place marker changes the bus stops available nearby.
Screenshots showing the features of the app
A grid view of the bus stops below is interactive, with each stop indicated by distance, and pointing to buses arriving there in real time. Since the individual buses are also identified by a fleet number in the app – each of the 3,233 MTC buses in service has a unique number – the passenger has an additional feature with which to identify it. For instance, route 11G arriving at Vrindavan Street on Friday at 2 p.m. was tagged J0479, which is the fleet number.
The map should be a boon late in the evening, to see if any last buses are available on a given route.
What the Chennai bus app needs:
A map view of buses of where buses are at a glance, showing their movement in real time
A responsive performance – it is also slow on several occasions.
A brighter colour scheme. At present, it is dull and uses a familiar green, but the icons are unremarkable and small. Accessibility for the visually handicapped, with audible parameters of travel, and the bus stops as they arrive
A Google search revealed a second app for Chennai real time passenger information, called Chalo, which says it is operational in several cities including Mumbai. In seven cities including Mumbai and Kochi, it says it is even authorised to sell electronic travel passes. This app was also found to provide real time info for Chennai MTC buses, and includes a live map interface showing buses. Chalo did not respond to a message for comment.
The road to a user-friendly app for the Chennai commuter has been long. There was expectation during the entire decade of AIADMK rule from 2011 that this planned modernisation would take place, and IIT Madras developed an algorithm to provide real time passenger information in 2016. For a few years, MTC installed information boards in select bus stops with arriving bus information, but withdrew them. The present initiative has been implemented through Locate and Access My Bus (LAMB). LAMB could not be reached for comment on the email ID listed in the Play Store.
Chennai’s use of Information Technology to develop an Integrated Transport Management System was highlighted by Transport Minister S. Sivasankar during his recent Budgetary grants speech. The total ITS cost of Rs.136 crore which includes modernisation of MTC fleet and depots, is funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
Doing more with it
At the heart of real time passenger information is an automatic vehicle locator system, often sold by hardware manufacturers as a single package, and an algorithm that predicts when a bus would reach the commuter based on its location and road conditions. The World Bank says advances in technology and availability of more open source tools should be kept in mind, when contracting for such systems. The bus operator should be able to achieve interoperability, have standardisation of data, access to application programming interface (API) and authorisation to reuse the data for other products.
The road to a user-friendly app for the Chennai commuter has been long. The present initiative has been implemented through Locate and Access My Bus (LAMB). LAMB could not be reached for comment on the email ID listed in the Play Store.
World Bank literature also cites an increase in ridership – and revenues – in cities that have introduced such passenger information facilities. New York and Chicago are documented examples. In the case of Transport for London, the operator has enabled competitive development of apps by providing an open API. This has led to several consumer-friendly apps emerging, combining Metro (Underground) and bus data. Singapore also has an open real time bus arrival dataset, to create multiple access options.
In Chennai, the MTC system is a precursor to one for all State Transport Undertakings. It can easily be combined with Metro and suburban train schedules, in line with the State government’s goal of seamless travel, higher revenue, productivity and savings in time and expenditure for commuters. At present, a commuter must carry several different apps on her phone – UTS for suburban, Chennai Metro and MTC. Moreover, electronic ticketing facility is missing for buses, although the integrated transport management system could bring about a merger of these options.
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