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Just how far can a tight travel budget take you in Chennai when the only choice you have is public transport? That depends on what kind of information you get about the ways to move around, switching from buses to suburban trains to Metro trains to share autos to simply walking a short stretch. Of course, women ride free on many MTC buses now.
Finding transport information is not easy if you are unfamiliar with Chennai, as a study by the Citizen, consumer and civic Action Group (CAG) found, after polling 506 respondents on the way they accessed information on getting around the metropolis.
One of the big findings was that the majority of participants in the survey would continue to rely on public transport, although a small minority had considered shifting to private modes when they had to wait for a long time for a bus or train, or the available option was terribly crowded.
The findings of the study, published as a report titled “Navigating Uncharted Territories – Accessing Public Transport Information in Chennai” were shared by CAG with journalists at an interaction on making sense of public transport in Chennai recently.
Finding transport information is not easy if you are unfamiliar with Chennai, as a study by the Citizen, consumer and civic Action Group (CAG) found, after polling 506 respondents on the way they accessed information on getting around the metropolis
Strikingly, 317 respondents said they would not shift to private modes of travel, while 102 younger travellers of the age group below 30 said they were actively considering private vehicles, and 41 considered a shift when buses and trains were crowded.
What comes across from the study findings is that there is no integrated effort to present accessible transport information for Chennai. While Chennai Metro Rail has the most extensive transport information system starting with a website that has passenger-related answers and displays at its stations, MTC does a poor job on its website. Its relatively recent mobile phone app, Chennai Bus, makes some progress, aided by a private firm that runs another app, Chalo, offering real-time bus information.
The deficit that hits the Chennai commuter, whether she is a resident or a visitor, is in providing a system view. Google Maps comes in handy and does suggest a combination of travel options, based on fixed schedules of bus routes, train lines and Metro besides app-based cab services, but it leaves out other highly visible options such as share autos (currently there are a reported 70,000 unregulated share autos of 7-seater capacity operating in the city).
This is one of the tasks before CUMTA, the official and recently-actuated regulator of Chennai transport of all modes. Meanwhile the CMDA has commissioned a study on last-mile connectivity possibilities for Chennai Metro, suburban rail and bus termini. Although several weeks have passed since the announcement of such a study, there has not been a street-wise study of residential neighbourhoods on what their preferences for last mile connectivity are.
A shoestring approach
So how does one do a shoestring commute in Chennai? Either Google Maps or a paper map is your friend here, to understand where your points of travel lie with reference to suburban rail, Metro lines, the three arterial roads that run along the city — EVR Periyar Salai, Anna Salai-GST Road, and Kamarajar Salai-OMR-ECR corridors.
This understanding puts within your reach three corridors where it costs a really tiny sum of mostly 5 rupees to travel to several residential and office localities by suburban rail. Look carefully and you will spot three suburban stations to shift to Chennai Metro: Chennai Central, Egmore, and Guindy.
There is every chance that the suburban railway already covers the points of your interest on its routes. It is a cheaper option compared to the Metro to the same locations.
The share auto system, although unregulated, is real and can be tapped for anything between 10 and 40 rupees. So many intersecting points for share autos exist: Mylapore, Alwarpet, Teynampet, T Nagar, Ashok Nagar, Nesapakkam, Nelson Manickam Road, Chennai Central, Poonamallee-Porur, OMR, Avadi and more. Just look out for the somewhat rickety white 7-seaters. Usually, there are plenty of them running at the time that there is very little waiting time, and it makes them attractive to thousands of commuters who regularly use them.
MTC does a poor job on its website. Its relatively recent mobile phone app, Chennai Bus, makes some progress, aided by a private firm that runs another app, Chalo, offering real-time bus information
It is one of the worst kept secrets that these share autos take away a massive chunk of riders from MTC buses and high-priced auto rickshaws, but no one wants to make them work within the system as a last mile connectivity solution. MTC is not expanding its fleet; it always laments lack of money, so share autos fill the gap.
Download these apps!
To make the most of available information, use the official apps of MTC, CMRL, and UTS of the Indian Railways for suburban rail system, verified on Android. UTS enables you to book suburban rail tickets online using an in-built wallet, which can be recharged using a bank account.
The CMRL app allows you to book QR code tickets on the phone, provides train schedules, and route information. MTC’s Chennai Bus provides real time bus information (mostly accurate though not for all buses running), and lets you mark your favourite routes, but the app can be buggy at times. Keep the unofficial Chalo app too on the phone as a backup, as it works fine in Chennai and seems to have less downtime.
In recent years, Chennai has spread to the neighbouring districts of Kancheepuram, Thiruvallur and Chengalpattu, which are covered by city bus services and suburban rail. So Google Maps is a must-have to find your bearings.
Unfortunately, Chennai’s bus shelters are mostly ‘dumb’, since they have little to offer by way of usable passenger information. The shelters at bus stops are maintained by the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC), but they are coveted only for their ability to host advertisements. An early effort to have GPS-based real-time bus information by MTC faltered and failed, and the Corporation removed the information boards kept at a few bus shelters. Although there is now an online system for ‘next arriving bus’ information, there are no displays linked to it at bus stops. A lot of smart city funds have been spent, but not on this.
There are many affordable commuting options in Chennai. Remember to check the available choices and information before coughing up money for costly auto rickshaws.
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