Chennai commute at crossroads

A rapidly growing city, Chennai, with its complex process of transit, calls for exploring an integrated transport system based on changing requirements. It should be environmentally sustainable, economically competitive and socially inclusive as well. DT Next identifies barriers to and opportunities for effective coordination of the city’s transport infrastructure
Illustration: Saai
Illustration: Saai

CHENNAI: Journey on public transport may soon become seamless with the introduction of a common ticketing system, an app to check the real-time availability of different modes of services, panic buttons, an onboard bus stop announcement system and various other passenger amenities.

Travelling on different modes of public transport will be made seamless in the city with the revived Chennai Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority proposing to develop an integrated ticketing app for the passengers’ convenience.

The passengers would be able to choose between the different modes of transport like buses, suburban trains and Chennai Metro Rail (CMRL) for travelling from one point to another by purchasing tickets through the mobile application, said CUMTA special officer I Jeyakumar.

“We will be shortly appointing a transaction advisor to assist the CUMTA in drafting the tender for integrated ticketing app, studying various models followed in other cities and its loopholes and others. After which we will invite bids for the integrated ticketing system,” he said.

Even as the CUMTA was planning to integrate the ticketing system, Metropolitan Transport Corporation has invited tender for the national common mobility card (NCMC) enabled automated fare collection system. MTC has planned to procure NCMC-compliant electronic ticketing machines and development of a mobile ticketing platform and mobile QR ticketing interface for integration with its Chennai Bus App. The mobile application would have a payment gateway with all digital payment options.

“MTC has invited for a tender and we have told them that we would give some suggestions to include some provisions in the bids to ensure that machines to be procured will be compatible with our plan for integrated ticketing. We have held two rounds of meeting with MTC. A consultant is studying it and we will give our suggestions in a couple of days,” Jeyakumar said.

The CUMTA is also talking to the Southern Railway and CMRL on integrated ticketing. “We don’t want to add another transit card to be carried for tickets. We wanted to provide a seamless experience through the app. We have to decide whether to provide a single ticket or purchase separate tickets for different modes. In western cities, they have a single ticket for a trip in various modes and that will be the ideal vision,” he said.

Common Mobility Card in offing from CMRL

The CMRL is likely to launch the national common mobility card (NCMC) within a month as currently the security clearance work is in its final stage, confirmed a CMRL source. Speaking to DT Next, a CMRL official said, “We are currently working on security clearance from the bank-end on the NCMCs. Simultaneously, the quality check and other work regarding the launch are also underway.”

The official further said that in a meeting held with the bank a fortnight ago, the launch of NCMCs and its security clearance were discussed.

In 2019, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs introduced NCMCs with the idea of integrating all modes of travel. The facility will allow the commuters to use the card in any mode of transportation such as Metro Rail, Mass Rapid Transit System (MRTS) and Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC). The public can use this card for other purposes such as shopping and vehicle parking in the city.

Though the launch of NCMC was expected earlier this year, there seems to have been a delay due to technical and processing issues. Additionally, as a step for preparing for the launch, CMRL also began installing card readers at Metro stations in the city, earlier this year.

NCMC to be a boon to public transport: Experts

Sivasubramaniam Jayaraman, National Lead - Electric Mobility and Transport Systems, Senior Programme Manager, Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) said the introduction of the NCMC in the CMRL and the MTC buses would be a big boon for public transportation. “For the transit, we are having multiple wallets. We need a common card and should be able to access all the transit services using it. It will also help the passengers keep track of their commuting expenses,” he said.

“If you want to enhance public transportation, a futuristic approach is going for multimodal connectivity for people with different needs and choices. A passenger should be able to travel across various modes with a single card,” he said, adding for every transit service, a passenger should not be charged a base fare as it will increase the travel cost.

“In Singapore, there will be a single base fare if the passenger travels within 45 minutes in various services. If s/he switches from a bus to a Metro, the metro’s base fare will not be applicable if the travel is within 45 minutes time limit. Only if it exceeds the time limit, the base fare needs to be paid,” he added.

MTC has launched the ‘Chennai Bus’ app which provides the passengers with real-time location of the bus services. The app helps the passengers avoid waiting at the stop, unsure when the next bus will arrive. Now the passengers can leave their home, office or institution just before the arrival of the bus at the stop.

Prof KP Subramanian, visiting faculty, Division of Transportation Engineering, Anna University, said MTC could make use of the app to rationalise the bus routes which was not done for several decades. “The bus services operated by the MTC are grossly inadequate. Even Bengaluru has 6,000 buses. MTC has about 3,000-odd buses but effectively operates 2,000-odd buses. Bunching of the buses becomes miserable for the passengers. It will be good if the app can check the bunching issue. It will go a long way in effective operation, whatever be the fleet strength,” he said.

MTC has installed CCTV cameras and panic buttons to ensure the safety of the women passengers. It also plans to set up an onboard bus stop announcement system on its buses.

Bus Rapid Transit System remains on paper

After holding public consultations in 2019 for the preparation of the detailed project report, the proposed Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) in Chennai did not take off. The BRTS has been proposed along seven corridors — Koyambedu-Poonamallee, Koyambedu-Madhavaram, Koyambedu-Ambattur, Saidapet-Siruseri, Koyambedu-Saidapet, Saidapet-Mahindra City and Chrompet-Thoraipakkam.

“If not BRTS, the government should at least introduce bus priority lanes. Passengers travelling on buses can save a lot of time wasted on the commute. If a private car is in front of a bus at a signal, there is no reason why a bus with around 60 people should get caught behind it,” said Prof KP Subramanian, visiting faculty, Division of Transportation Engineering, Anna University.

“There is no rationale or logic behind it. We cannot equate the individual time with the cumulative time of 60 passengers on the bus. It’s the bus that should get priority at a signal, and wherever lane option is available, the priority lane should be reserved for the bus,” he added.

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