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Vol. XXX No. 18, January 16-31, 2021

Last mile connectivity – a challenge for CMRL

by Our Special Correspondent

Phase 1 of the Chennai Metro Rail project was fully launched in February 2019 with a network range of 2 lines comprising 32 stations across the city. It currently covers 45 kilometers, with the Blue Line providing connectivity between Washermanpet and the Airport and the Green Line between Central Metro and St. Thomas Mount. The project is claimed to be the first Metro Rail system in India to connect the city’s railway terminal, bus terminals and airport in the first phase itself. One of the problems that Chennai Metro has been grappling with is last-mile connectivity, the lack of which, most agree, have contributed to lukewarm commuter patronage.

Chennai Metro Rail now prepares for the inauguration of the Washermanpet-Wimco Nagar stretch and has announced its plans for Phase II. Will last-mile connectivity problems be addressed in the new phase?

CMRL’s immediate plans for Phase 1 extension from Washermanpet to Wimco Nagar took a hit from the covid-19 crisis that gripped the city last year – the project was to have been completed by June 2020, a deadline by which initial work on Phase 2 was expected to begin as well. Following an inspection by the Industries Minister M.C. Sampath last week, the inauguration of the phase 1 extension project was announced to be in late February this year. Costing an estimated Rs. 3,770 crores, the phase 1 extension is expected to cover a little over 9 kilometres, with 8 metro stations (two underground and six elevated metro stations) that will provide connectivity to the northern part of the city.

Phase 2 is touted to be the largest metro rail project in India to be implemented in one stretch. It aims to cover 118.9 kilometers via three corridors (3, 4 and 5) at an estimated cost of Rs. 61,843 crores. Corridor 3 plans to connect 45.8 kilometers from Madhavaram to SIPCOT via 50 metro stations of which 20 are planned to be elevated metro stations and the rest, underground metro stations. A North-South line, it is expected to provide easy connectivity to areas such as the IT corridor, Adyar, Mylapore and Purasawalkam.

Corridor 4 plans to cover 26.1 kilometers from the Lighthouse to Poonamallee Bypass via 30 metro stations, of which 18 are planned to be elevated metro stations and 12, underground metro stations. An East-West corridor, it aims to connect commuters to the Nandanam, T-Nagar, Vadapalni, Valasaravakkam, Porur and Poonamallee areas.

Finally, corridor 5 plans to cover 47 kilometres from Madhavaram to Sholinganallur via 48 metro stations (42 elevated metro stations and 6 underground metro stations). It will connect locations such as Villivakkam, Anna Nagar, Koyambedu, Virugambakkam, Ramapuram, Madipakkam and Medavakkam. CMRL plans to complete all the three corridors under Phase 2 by 2026.

As the plans for the Phase 1 extension and Phase 2 projects are announced, it is worth recalling that, according to pre-pandemic data reported in November 2019, daily ridership numbers on the Chennai Metro ranged between 118,000 and 121,000 – well below the Metro’s daily target of 776,000. This has understandably dropped even further in pandemic times – Chennai Metro resumed it’s services in a graded manner from September 2020 and reports that a total of 31,52,446 passengers have travelled in the metro trains since then until the end of December 2020.

To overcome the problem of last mile connectivity, CMRL has been experimenting with feeder services such as mini buses, share autos, share taxis and even a low-cost, app-based cab service at select stations. However, the efforts don’t seem to cover much ground in meeting passenger needs. For instance, pre-pandemic commuter surveys revealed a lack of cabs available to meet demand, especially during peak hours. There is also scope to integrate bus connectivity and other facilities such as proper footpaths and overbridges to improve access to and from metro stations. The Phase 2 network is being built with the aim of further alleviating these issues by integrating metro services with other modes of public transport, such as the Suburban Rail, MRTS and the city bus service.

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