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Vol. XXXIII No. 1, April 16-30, 2023
Almost the same week that the Prime Minister inaugurated the new terminal at the Chennai airport – reportedly a grand facility with an equally grand price tag of Rs. 1,260 crores – another piece of good news surfaced, this time for the city’s bus commuters. News broke of CUMTA (Chennai Unified Metropolitan Authority) placing on record its recommendation for CMRL to extend its services to the Kuthumbakkam bus terminal, the city’s fourth integrated bus terminus and a state-of-the-art facility at Thirumazhisai. Announced in 2019, the project is now 70 per cent complete and expected to come into operation this July or August.
The Kuthumbakkam bus terminus is built over a sprawling 25-acre piece of land and is reported to have 70 government bus bays and 30 private service bays. The range of facilities it will offer the public includes a comprehensive CCTV network, food courts, internet connectivity, multi-level parking facilities for more than 1,680 two wheelers and 235 four wheelers, drinking water facilities as well as passenger lifts and escalators in addition to rooms for the crew, toilets and dormitories. CUMTA’s recommendation to the CMRL is said to likely materialize a metro station at Poonamallee, which spells good news for long-distance commuters. With services extending as far as Krishnagiri and Bengaluru, the new bus terminus is expected to ease traffic congestion in Koyambedu and provide much needed transport connectivity to the thousands working at nearby industrial complexes such as SIPCOT. In a quote to the media, R Elango, social activist and former president of the Kuthambakkam village panchayat said that being a part of a satellite township comprising Kuthambakkam, Thirumazhisai, Chembarambakkam and nearby villages, the terminus could well boost commerce in addition to easing public transport. And of course, there’s the improved ease of inter-city connectivity to Bengaluru itself. The Chennai-Bengaluru highway is an industrial corridor, which makes the Kuthambakkam bus terminus a key move not just because it will free up the traffic load at Koyambedu but also because it can greatly improve the flow of people between the cities.
The Kuthambakkam bus terminus perhaps deserves as much – if not more – attention than the new airport terminal because the future of green inter-city travel, according to many studies, lies in bus networks. In fact, the inter-city bus market in India is estimated to have a value of roughly 15bn USD and is only poised to grow. There are many reasons why buses are fast becoming direct competition to flights – they are reliable and easy on the pocket of the average commuter; they help move more people than flights to multiple destinations; and they also help people leverage better job opportunities and essential services in their network radius. Further, new-age technology has made it possible to develop app ecosystems for public travel that help services run smoothly though real-time data, enabling easier management of daily operations. While there don’t seem to be many reports on the accessibility index of the near-complete terminus, it is fair to presume that a high-tech facility such as Kuthambakkam will ensure its accessibility to citizens regardless of socio-economic status and physical abilities.
Local bus links, however, will be crucial to the success of the project. Past media reports have often pointed out that many locations along the Chennai-Bengaluru highway are not well-serviced with public connectivity. S Thyagarajan – a factory owner at the SIPCOT complex at Irungattukottai – pointed out to The Hindu a couple of years back, that the government must consider thinking beyond Thirumazhisai while planning public transport, for there are workers who commute to factories at Irungattukottai, Thirumudivakkam and Sriperumbudur. This concern seems to also have been addressed – just last December, it was announced that the CMDA is planning to develop a “15-minute city” focussing on innovations around the Kuthumbakkam bus terminus. It is not too far off the mark to expect that last mile connectivity to areas further ahead will soon be established and strengthened.
In any case, the city should cheer the launch of the terminus when it takes place in the coming months. Better, safer, more comfortable public transport is the future and TN seems to be taking all the right steps.