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Vol. XXVII No. 11, September 16-30, 2017

Riding the Metro, finding it costly

by A Special Correspondent

In Chennai, the Metro project is in progress. The city’s landscape is changing. The first of the proposed four corridors of 16 km from Alandur to Central Station having been completed and made operational, there is expectation of tangible and visible beneficial effects from the First Phase itself, as it is a forerunner of the full project.

The stations are beautifully laid out with clear directions. The service was available every 20 minutes at 11.15 am on a Monday. The frequency is 10 minutes during the rush hour from 8.30 a.m. to 10.30 a.m. and between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. and it was 20 minutes during non-peak hours, although the latter is advertised as 15 minutes. Frequency of 15 or 20 minutes during non-peak periods is not material so long as they are predictable and punctual so that people can plan their movement to be able to arrive just in time to catch the train.

Before the check-in barricade is the automatic touch-screen ticketing machine to buy tickets for casual travel from any point to any other point on the line. Soon, we are told, it would be possible to buy the charge card from the machine and periodically re-charge it also by the machine. Till then, it can be bought in the booth situated at the entrance barricade. The booth staff are helpful and proactive. Smart card for travel to and from work-point, as nominated by the customer, is sold with six-month validity and at 20 per cent discount for 60 trips. This covers a month’s need to go to work and get back. Parking areas are available for cars and motor cycles. The charges are Rs. 10 and Rs. 5 per three hours respectively. For a working day, it amounts to Rs. 30 and Rs. 15 respectively – working out to Rs. 780 and Rs. 390 per 26-working day month. No pamphlets containing details of fare charts and time schedule were available, as advertised. It was reported that Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL) had brought out maps to help passengers identify routes faster. They were not available at the Alandur station.

The ride itself was smooth and comfortable, but noise level of the wheels was rather high making even light, short conversation difficult; but this is not a major flaw and as such does not diminish the value of the service otherwise provided. The route signs were in Tamil and English, but types were not large enough to be read from the seats without having to strain the eyes. The stations were marked on the route map by tiny bulbs each switching off when that station was reached. That is quite imaginative. This electrified sign was not functioning on some of the boards but, again, it did not matter as there were announcements in Tamil and English just before reaching each station.

From Alandur to Koyambedu it took only 13 minutes, including intermediate stops. The same journey could take nearly an hour by bus, according to regular bus-users, and that does not include the waiting time. This is an important feature that should make for Metro’s eventual future popularity. There was a separate compartment for higher class and one exclusively for ladies. Both were practically empty at about 11.15 a.m. on a week day and quite a few ladies were found travelling in the general compartment. Special compartment for a higher class seems unnecessary as it is running practically empty and the chances of attracting car-using commuters to the Metro does not appear to be high for quite some time.

Chennai’s much-delayed project has set its fares much beyond the reach of the segment of commuters who constitute the most potential of Metro users. With a fare of Rs. 30 for 8 km between Alandur and Koyambedu, Chennai Metro Rail is costly. On the suburban route in Chennai, a ticket between Chennai Beach and Guindy costs just Rs. 5. On the MRTS, between Velachery and Chennai Beach for 19 km the fare is Rs. 10. Of course, the comfort and speed of the older services are not as good as those of the Metro but the lower income groups having to cope with a tight monthly budget and high housing rentals do not care for the frills.

There are, broadly, three types of transport that account for the bulk of the movement of people outside their localities – motor cycle, bus and motor car, without counting suburban trains and autos. Autos cater to movements over short localised distances. Motor cycles constitute the bulk of the transport modes on Chennai roads. The number of vehicles is growing rapidly in Chennai and of this the fastest growing is the two-wheeler segment. It is symptomatic of the motor cycle commuters declaring their independence from inadequate public services. The Metro should focus on the large motor cycle segment as its potential market if any impact is to be made on congestion and pollution levels. If Metro fares, parking charge and last mile connectivity cost, together, are significantly more than the present monthly cost for going to work by motor cycle, the Metro may remain a week-end novelty for pleasure rides. A substantial fare reduction seems necessary to reach 60-70% capacity utilisation and its feasibility is an issue for further study. (A cost study will appear next fortnight).

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