According to a Brookings analysis of data from Oxford, Chennai was amongst the cities that had the slowest employment growth rate: 2.5% in employment in the two years 2014-16. The GDP per capita, according to the same report was 5.1%. A city’s economy encompasses a wide array of factors that contribute towards it, but a key aspect is working citizens and businesses operating in various areas in and around a city.
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For any bustling metropolis, a good public transport system is therefore vital to its economic growth. How does public transit impact and contribute towards the economy?
As Eric Jaffe, a writer and urban expert, puts it, “As more people collect in a city center, more jobs cluster there too, boosting both wages and economic productivity over time.”
“Efficient mobility in cities creates economic opportunities, enables trade, facilitates access to markets and services and makes efficient use of resources.” – UITP (Union Internationale des Transports Publics)
The Chennai Metro completed its first phase covering 45 kilometres across the city. This phase costing more than Rs.14,000 crore witnessed hurdles such as delays in land acquisition, changes in contractors which ensured that the project didn’t finish on time.
As various lines of the metro opened across the city starting in 2015, ridership numbers have gone up and down. The Metro Rail had projections of over 7 lakh riders for the totality of the first phase but it fell well short of that. The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, which holds a 50% stake in the Chennai metro, noted the following – “The projected ridership for 45 km lane of phase one was 7.76 lakh, whereas the actual ridership for the 28 km line currently operational of the 45 km is 30,000…”
The reason for the poor ridership has been mainly been two fold – high fares and lack of last mile connectivity. The minimum and maximum fares are fixed at Rs.10 and Rs. 60 respectively. The current phase connects the main transportation hubs – the Central metro station, the largest mofussil bus terminus and the airport. Last mile connectivity is another important aspect. The location of stations isn’t necessarily convenient for everyone.
For example, the outer limits of the city such as OMR and other areas have large IT parks such as Mahindra World City, DLF etc which have hundreds of employees; but the locations of stations aren’t close by. These are key concentrated economic centres for the city. This was taken into consideration by the Metro authorities and over the course of a few months, mini-vans and cab services were provided exclusively to employees. This included a tie-up with Ford’s Corporate Shuttle feeder Services.
|Chennai Metro’s initiatives for last mile connectivity
Share auto and Share Taxi Feeder services are plying at selected Metro Rail Stations on a trial basis since Aug 2018.
A total of seven Metro Stations were identified for Share Auto Feeder service. The Share Auto Feeder services are running on the designated feeder routes with a flat tariff of Rs.5. Similarly, the Share Taxi Feeder services are planned for six select Metro Rail Stations. The Share Taxi Feeder services are covering an area up to 3 Km radius with a flat tariff of Rs.10.
89,229 passengers have utilized the Share Auto and Share Taxi services in the month of March and April 2019. Around 3,03,795 passengers have availed the Share Auto and Share Taxi feeder services from 11th of August 2018 to 30th of April 2019.
Source: CMRL (Facebook)
Metro and / or MRTS?
For a multi modal network to work, various systems of transportation should be interconnected to allow seamless transitions for passengers. A proposed merger between the MRTS and the Metro was proposed by the Southern Railway. First proposed in 2013, the aim was to provide easy and better connectivity. The plan hasn’t progressed due to disagreements over land acquisition and payments for the same; if completed, the state government could spend Rs. 3000 crore for converting tracks and reviving stations.
The economics at work here could mean many passengers are priced out of this mode of transit; especially if citizens are fundamentally price sensitive. The MRTS is a low cost, high volume mode of transit with the highest fare fixed at Rs.10, even for a 15km plus journey. That isn’t the case for the Metro, where one would spend Rs.50 or Rs.60 for the same distance, excluding the cost of any last mile connections. There is an online petition challenging this proposed merger.
Mobility as a Service
Any good public transit system needs to have a people-centric approach. This includes using existing transport networks to form an integrated transport system. Here is where Mobility as a Service (MaaS) comes in – “The integration of different transport services into one single mobility offer in which public transport is at the epicenter.”
The main form of public transport in the city is the MTC buses. With more than 3000 buses plying across the city, carrying more than 45 lakh people on an average daily, buses, due to their connectivity and low cost remains a popular form of public transport, thanks to good connectivity and low cost.
The CMRL, according to its latest annual report mentions Multi Modal Integration as a highlight of its project – “Being an urban Mass Rapid Transport, CMRL is an emerging service and has taken up the task of Multi Modal Integration (MMI) right from the construction stage.”
Chennai is expected to grow at an annual average rate of 8.1% between now and 2035. This will make it among the 10 fastest growing cities in the world according to an Oxford Economics report. This means a growing population, rapid urbanisation and an increase in jobs. Mobility will play a vital role in how the city will shape up and public transit will be central to that.
As G Ananthakrishan points out, the top priority for today should be the bare-bones, old-style linking of buses and trains in Chennai. The completion of the Chennai Metro and the recent operationalisation of the Chennai Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority (CUMTA) must provide the impetus to achieve that.