With traffic and congestion in the city increasing day by day, Koyambedu, which is home to the Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminus (CMBT), the Omni bus terminus and the wholesale fruit and vegetable market has been facing bottlenecks on a daily basis. In an attempt to decongest the traffic, the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) has proposed to shift the operation of Omni buses and Mofussil buses that ply to the southern parts of Tamil Nadu to Kilambakkam where a Rs 393-crore bus terminus is being built.
The construction of the Kilambakkam bus terminus near Vandalur in Chennai is nearing completion. It is expected to be opened for public use in a month. Though there is no opposition from the public to the project, many in Chennai have concerns about how the transition will take place and the connectivity available in the upcoming bus terminus.
Operation of buses in Chennai
As we note in Srikanth Ramakrishnan’s blog on BESTpedia, Chennai did not have a dedicated bus terminus facility for buses that ply to long-distance areas like other districts/states until 2002. While a few buses of State Express Transport Corporation (SETC) operated from Broadway bus terminus, a few other SETC and other state buses operated from vacant land opposite Chennai Fort railway station. Meanwhile, private buses were operated from the Gandhi-Irwin Bridge Road near the Egmore railway station.
In 2002, CMBT was opened to serve as Chennai’s primary terminus for mofussil and long-distance buses operated by various government agencies. Until 2018, CMBT was the hub for all the buses operated by Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation (TNSTC), SETC and other state buses.
Later in 2018, TNSTC buses bound for Telangana and Andhra Pradesh were shifted out to Madhavaram Mofussil Bus Terminus (MMBT).
With the construction of the Kilambakkam bus terminus, the operations at CMBT will be phased out. The new bus terminus at Kilambakkam will have facilities for 215 bus bays including 130 for government buses and 85 for private buses, parking space for nearly 300 buses, 275 cars and 3,500 two-wheelers, resting rooms for conductors and drivers, waiting halls for the passengers, ramp and other facilities for persons with disabilities and commercial zones.
It will also house a terminal for MTC buses, which will serve as a primary mode of transport. Metro rail facilities are also set to be established. Further, as the site of the Kilambakkam bus terminus comes under the protected and prohibited zone of the Archeological Survey of India (ASI), the ASI has mandated CMDA to ensure open green space is in place. As part of the mandate, a Climate and Archaeological Interpretation Centre is to be opened on a 21-acre land next to the bus terminus. A sum of Rs 15 crore is also being invested for the same.
What are the concerns about the new bus terminus in Chennai?
One of the major concerns of the public is that the project details including the plan for transition have not been clearly communicated. “We are not sure if the whole operation of the buses will be shifted from Koyambedu to Kilambakkam or only of the buses to the Southern districts. If they are planning to shift it completely, we are not aware of the transition plan and how that can impact Koyambedu,” says Kamesh S, a resident of Koyambedu.
Koyambedu has become the hub for the transport systems in Chennai. “If someone comes to Chennai by bus, they can easily take a local bus or metro to travel to other parts of the city. The accessibility of metro trains from Koyambedu also facilitates easy commutes to the Central Railway Station, Airport and the local train stations. When all such facilities have been established here, the shifting of the bus operations to Kilambakkam, which is not only on the outskirts of the city but also lacks connectivity, will only make it harder for the public to commute” says Ramani L, a resident of Saidapet.
While residents who live in the core areas of the city find the bus terminus in Koyambedu convenient, residents on the outskirts have welcomed the Kilambakkam bus terminus. However, they have some concerns about how the operations will be handled.
“The nearest suburban railway stations to Kilambakkam bus terminus are in Vandalur and Urapakkam. Both of these are more than 10 minutes away and are not within walking distance. The nearest metro station is Chennai International Airport, which is located 16km away. Though steps have been taken to bring in a metro line to Kilambakkam, it is going to take years. From the experience, we can see that the areas in which metro rail constructions are underway are usually prone to traffic congestion. The challenge is going to be in shifting the bus terminus with minimum public inconvenience,” notes Balakumar R, a resident of Vandalur.
He adds that ever since the Omni buses and other heavy vehicles started using National Highways-45 instead of Bengaluru Highways to avoid toll plazas in Sriperumbudur, the NH-45 has been congested. Unless the road expansion works are completed by the National Highways department, the primary intention of shifting the bus terminus from Koyambedu to decongest traffic will not be met.
Sadhanand KM, President of the Association of Town Planners, says that any infrastructural project, particularly a project with a huge cost like the Kilambakkam bus terminus, should have been planned well in advance with predictions for challenges and possible expansions in future and included in the master plan.
“Unlike CMBT, this project was not a part of the Second Master Plan. Despite being under the scope of traffic and transportation planners, the project is implemented more like an architectural project. However, we can only look forward to the comprehensive networking plan from now as the construction is almost over,” he says. “The details of the project and the transition plan must be published on the CMDA website for the public to understand.”
Planning for decongestion through Kilambakkam bus terminus
A senior official from CMDA, seeking anonymity, shares that as the city grows outward, it has to be regulated to ensure there is no haphazard growth. One of the important elements of urban planning is transport planning. “If you notice clearly, the major movement inside the city is of the people who move for work from their homes. Thus the peak hour traffic aligns with office hours,” he says.
As the land rate in Koyambedu, like other peripheral areas, is cheaper than the ones in Egmore or Anna Salai where the Floor Space Index (FSI) is restricted, housing in Koyambedu became more feasible.
“Before the CMBT was established in Koyambedu, it was a place like Kilambakkam. Later it became a hub for commercial activities and houses also started coming up in large numbers. As this was not foreseen by the then planners before two decades, shifting the bus terminus in Chennai to the outskirts of the city was also not visualised,” he explains.
In a bid to ensure regulated growth, transit-oriented development (TOD) corridors and policies for TOD are being proposed now. “Since the FSI will be higher at these corridors, there is feasibility for more housing, meaning that the people could have houses near their workplaces. This will give them options to walk or cycle to work, reducing congestion during peak hours.”
“On the other hand, when the buses coming from other districts/states are halted in the outskirts of the city like Kilambakkam, the roads in the core areas of the city will be free of those buses. This will leave more space for other vehicles to move freely,” he adds.
Challenges that lie ahead
The idea behind the construction of the Kilambakkam bus terminus in Chennai was to decongest the traffic in Koyambedu. Kilambakkam and Kuthambakkam were selected to relocate the bus terminus. While the construction is underway in both these places, work in Kilambakkam is almost over and the facility will be opened for public use in another month. The bus terminus in Kuthambakkam is likely to be opened in July this year. Buses heading towards the southern parts of the state will be operated from Kilambakkam, while those heading to the western parts will be operated from Kuthambakkam.
“Even with the construction nearing completion, the transition cannot happen in a day as it requires coordination of multiple government departments and agencies. Managing the traffic in Kilambakkam will be a challenge in the initial phase for which the CMDA is coordinating with MTC, SETC, traffic and police departments and the CUMTA is supporting with technical solutions,” says the CMDA official.
Since the operation of buses cannot be shifted from Koyambedu to Kilambakkam overnight, it is to be done in phases. As part of the first phase, a few buses plying to southern districts will be operated from Kilambakkam. “Once we figure out the challenges in that and fix them, other buses will slowly be moved,” adds the official.
The role of MTC is pivotal as they have to provide connectivity between Kilambakkam and core city areas. In the meantime, a proposal for constructing a skywalk to connect Kilambakkam to the nearby suburban railway stations is also under consideration.
Further, there are other technical issues like declaring special class bus stand status for Kilambakkam, for which a proposal has been sent to the transport department.
The operation and maintenance of CMBT required a dedicated team, including the engineers, for which the CMDA has not enough manpower. Further leasing/renting out the shops individually and collecting the revenue was another major challenge.
In a bid to mitigate such issues in Kilambakkam, the operation and maintenance of commercial spaces and public spaces, will be auctioned and given to one private agency. “The revenue generated will be shared between the agency and the government,” the official adds.
The shifting of the bus terminus from Koyambedu to Kilambakkam poses a major challenge for the government in ensuring Kilambakkam does not become another Koyambedu, with traffic bottlenecks and all the ills that come with it. Further, the ease of transition with minimal inconvenience to the public and the speed at which last-mile connectivity is established are going to be another huge challenge on which hinges the public’s opinion of the project.