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Vol. XXXIII No. 20, February 1-15, 2024

Passenger woes heap criticism upon KCBT; Remedial measures promised

-- by Varsha V.

It’s been barely a month since the Rs. 394-crore Kalaignar Centenary Bus Terminus (KCBT) at Kilambakkam became operational, but its story is already one filled with woes. KCBT is a mammoth facility with a total built-up area of 640,000 sqft and the capacity to operate more than 2,350 long distance buses, but it is still a bit rough around the edges – as on date, the terminus offers only a limited number of bus bays and lacks the comfort of shops and restaurants. And so, chaos ensued when a recent and rather abrupt administrative order announced that south-bound buses plying on GST road will now operate from KCBT instead of the familiar Puratchi Thalaivar Dr MGR Bus Terminus in Koyambedu. This means that around 710 buses – connecting to destinations such as Tiruchi, Salem, Villupuram and Kumbakonam, to name a few – will now ply from KCBT.

Though the move was aimed at easing traffic congestions and enhancing passenger convenience, it seems to have been ill-planned and poorly communicated, leading to complaints about a plethora of issues ranging from the lack of last-mile connectivity and commuter amenities to insufficient bus bays and poor accessibility planning. Many passengers were put through trouble as they were not informed of the change, and the rush during the recent long weekend from Thai Poosam and Republic Day was not handled well to say the least. Thousands reportedly arrived at Koyambedu to board their buses, leading to widespread confusion. Though there were MTC buses on standby to ferry such passengers to KCBT, many were reportedly seen searching high and low for their buses, lugging around heavy baggage. According to The New Indian Express, adding to the chaos was the refusal of some omnibus operators to shift service to KCBT, which they felt was not equipped with proper amenities. Tamil Nadu Omni Bus Operators Association President A Afzal told TNIE in a quote, “There is no way around 1,000 buses can be parked suddenly at Kilambakkam. The bay allocated at Kilambakkam can accommodate only 100 buses. It will take time till everything falls into place.” He also remarked that poor connectivity would only force passengers to pay heavily for transfer rides before adding that bus operators would henceforth abide by the order and operate from Kilambakkam. Mr. Afzal’s views are supported by the glut of passenger complaints around much the same issues. Those who had booked tickets up until the old Koyambedu terminus were dropped off at KCBT; though they were assured of a refund of the balance amount, many discovered that they had to shell out much more to avail bus and auto services to their intended destinations. Taxi and auto fares connecting KCBT and the city are said to range from Rs. 500 to 2,000, an unfair burden on the common public. The busy GST road outside the terminus is also reportedly difficult to cross, for there is no foot overbridge facility yet. Many passengers are also noticing the lack of bays for cabs and autos on either side of the GST, which not only adds to their own inconvenience but also weighs on peak hour traffic. Things are not easy for the residents of Kilambakkam either. Earlier this month, they staged a protest against buses plying on the service road used by school students; they also complained that school buses were sent back by the traffic police.

The KCBT is also under criticism for the lack of universal accessibility in its planned infrastructure. The Hindu reports that a public interest litigation filed by activist Vaishnavi Jayakumar has prompted the High Court to ask the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) for a compliance report by March 25. The judges wondered why this was not taken note of during the construction itself, noting in the order, “We would appreciate if the access auditors make periodical inspections during the construction process and make necessary suggestions as and when required.” In response, the CMDA counsel gave its assurance that remedial work was underway.

It is clear that not enough planning and consideration has gone into the new KCBT hub. The questions are many. What prompted such haste in switching passenger services from Koyambedu to Kilambakkam? Why did the project not have checks to supervise compliance to universal accessibility norms? Why were passenger needs such as last-mile connectivity, meals and restroom facilities not given due consideration? It is to be assumed in good faith that the new plan brings benefits that outweigh the current (hopefully temporary) pain points. Meanwhile, the administration – to give it its due – seems to be moving quickly to rectify matters. The CMDA convened a meeting chaired by Transport Minister SS Sivasankar to discuss the problems faced by KCBT. The Transport Department has accepted the requests of some bus operators to ply from Madhavaram bus terminus instead; the planning authority has allotted Rs. 20 crores towards a new suburban railway station across KCBT and the CMDA has floated a tender to construct a skywalk connecting both transport hubs; an assurance has been given that encroachments on the Kilambakkam service road will be removed to facilitate free movement of buses; and a traffic constable will soon serve the area to help commuters cross the road safely.

So, glass half-full. A great amount of the exchequer’s funds have been invested in KCBT, so one must cheer for its success. But it cannot be denied that the sting of poor civic planning is felt the most by a public ill-able to bear additional financial burdens. It is hoped that the lessons from KCBT will help guide better plans in the future.

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