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Vol. XXXIII No. 23, March 16-31, 2024

‘Chennai needs more buses’: OMI Foundation’s ‘Ease of Moving Index’

-- by Varsha V.

With Mobility a key item on the administration’s docket, the city’s local bodies are conducting a large-scale study to understand how the people of Chennai move. The Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) together with other local bodies such as the Chennai Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority (CUMTA) is conducting a survey of 50,000 households in the Chennai Metropolitan Area to map travel patterns. The latest media reports on the initiative state that 26,000 households have been covered so far, and that 70 workers have been roped in to expedite the process.

The project stands to be enormously helpful for Chennai as it can enable efficient utilization of resources in building a public transportation network. Survey results will feed into improving the accuracy of big data analytics in transportation and will also guide the preparation of a comprehensive mobility plan to integrate land use and transport planning for the next 25 years. In a quote to The Hindu earlier in January, CUMTA Special Officer I Jeyakumar said, “CUMTA will also start public consultation for mobility in each area in the CMA after the survey is completed. The CMP for Chennai will be prepared in June.” In short, the administration’s mobility survey is the starting point of a mega civic plan that will help Chennai make commutes that are quicker, cheaper, safer, and more reliable. But the results are late in the coming – the survey report was initially given a deadline in January, but it was not met due to the December floods; it was later announced that it would be available in February, and this deadline does not appear to have been met, either. In the meantime, the OMI Foundation in collaboration with IIT Madras recently released the results of its year-long mobility survey covering 3,100 respondents, dubbed ‘The Ease of Moving Index – Chennai City Profile.’ The findings are interesting, to say the least.

Around 90 per cent of regular public transport users in the city own a motor vehicle but choose alternate modes such as public transport or cabs and autos due to greater reliability and cheaper costs. A significant portion of the city also patronizes active transport modes such as walking or cycling as well as shared transport modes such as public transport and share autos. The main conclusion from the survey results corroborates the views of past reports published in newspapers, including that of Madras Musings – while Chennai has done a good job in ­providing affordable transport to its people, the scale of mobility is restrained by limited infrastructure. For one, the city does not have enough buses to serve its populace. Not only does the fleet need expansion, but – as pointed out by Aishwarya Raman, Executive Director of the OMI Foundation – it needs to add more vehicles that will meet the accessibility needs of persons with disabilities. The commuting experience also has room to improve – with digital solutions finding ready adopters today, facilities such as cashless ticketing and real-time information can revitalise bus patronage.

Second, first and last mile connectivity – known constraints to the adoption of public transport – must be addressed with better feeder services. A sustainable inclusion of shared transport modes such as shared autos or cabs can also be explored; for instance, 42 per cent of the survey respondents say that public sharing schemes would encourage them to cycle short distances. The city can also do much more to increase road safety for vulnerable commuters – the current state and length of pavements don’t do justice to its pedestrians; and cyclists sharing the road with motorized vehicles continue to be at risk without dedicated bike lanes.

To wit, Chennai’s mobility challenges lie in its inadequate infrastructure and network. That these need to be scaled is well known. Mobility studies, however, stand to provide crucial insights that can guide an integrated design of transport infrastructure. The city has already made multiple investments in this sector – an expansion of the metro rail is in the works; the bus fleet is set to grow; there are propositions to build more flyovers, too. It would have been ideal if the administration had conducted the survey beforehand, for these plans could have been better informed. One hopes that the results will be incorporated into current projects when they’re available, at least.

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