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Vol. XXXIII No. 1, April 16-30, 2023

Finally, a Chennai Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority

-- by The Dy. Editor

One of the advantages of writing on Chennai is that things move so slowly that articles remain relevant for years on end. Take for instance the story on the Chennai Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority (CUMTA) – Madras Musings carried the news about its creation in its issue of November 16, 2010!!! Only thirteen years have passed since that announcement and now we are happy to inform you that CUMTA has finally become reality. It is just that in the intervening years we have had the small matters of the city growing manifold, of the Metro Rail being conceptualised, planned and partially executed, and other random, unconnected transport initiatives. Imagine what the benefits would have been like had CUMTA been in existence since 2010. It is one of those what-ifs that Chennai’s history is liberally dotted with.

The reasons for the delay are not hard to seek. The idea was mooted in 2010 and then there was a change in regime. All plans of the previous dispensation were therefore pigeonholed, to be retrieved at an appropriate time, as and when the power equations changed. The electoral mood did not shift for over ten long years and so CUMTA hibernated. Now that the party of 2010 is back in power, CUMTA too has been dusted off and happily for us, finally given shape also. This is the tragedy of Tamil Nadu politics – that public utilities and plans for civic improvement must be handmaidens of political whim. If the winds are favourable all is well. If not, there is nothing to be done but to wait for better times. Nobody seems to realise that city life does not remain at a standstill in the interim.

In 2010 we had given details about CUMTA’s mandate – “Its responsibilities will be the preparing of a comprehensive and integrated public transport plan for the city, which will include all modes – train, bus, MRTS and the Metro. It will also look into the advantage of a common ticket and fare structure to facilitate seamless commuting, something that is in existence in most world-class cities. Like the CMDA, the CUMTA will mainly have a planning function and will oversee the work of several agencies involved in the running of the transport systems. It will also periodically revise and upgrade its plans. To be headed by the transport minister, it will have the Chief Urban Planner (Transport) of the CMDA as its Member-Secretary. Others on board will be the Chief Secretary and the Vice-Chairman, CMDA (both ranking as Vice-Chairpersons), the Secretaries of the Departments of Finance, Transport, Home, Housing & Urban Development, and the General Manager of the Southern Railway.”

We assume that this has not changed. At least one objective may have become redundant. In 2009, the Comprehensive Traffic and Transport Study commissioned by the CMDA, had looked at what the traffic situation would be in 2026 (in 2010 how far away all that seemed!). CUMTA was supposed to evaluate the recommendations but with just three years to go for 2026, this may not be so relevant. We only wonder as to what expenses were involved in that study, all of which must have gone to waste.

But we must rejoice in that CUMTA has at least been formed and is said to be functional. The same cannot be said of the Heritage Conservation Committee or the River Water Authority, all of which remain on paper. And while on CUMTA we do hope that its ambit will include the Chennai Metropolitan Area and not just the city. This is because the feeder localities and their routes will play an important role in any solution for Chennai. We trust CUMTA will take cognisance of this.

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