Chennai Metro has failed to boost the city’s economy; here’s why


An eerily empty underground Chennai Metro section between Tirumangalam and Egmore. Photo taken January 2019. Pic: G. Ananthakrishnan

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.

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)

Disappointing Metro

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…”

As more routes opened up, ridership has increased, but only marginally (average of 45,000 daily in June 2018, and 95,000 as of March 2019)

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.

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About Varun Sukumar 11 Articles
Varun Sukumar is a freelance writer in Chennai.


  1. You will find that the bulk of people who are ready to spend money for a good and clean transportation is in omr road and areas with IT parks like tambaram ,chengalpet and porur.But there is not even a single metro station nearby depriving the IT populous of the service provided.the current stations don’t serve this pocket of chennaities .this can be seen as one of the reasons metro failed in Chennai

    • Absolutely… More over we need fast track.. 30 Kms in less than 30 minutes with just few stops in between.. should be the goal. Because every minute counts.

    • It has been 11 -12 years since the work for metro started and it was already late. DMK kick started the project. By now cmrl must have finished more than 100 kms at least. Even if it takes a slow 10 km per year. All we have completed is an abysmally low of 45km in 12 years. If it was 120 kms by now many important areas of Chennai would have been completed (including OMR and the light house to Poonamalee corridor). I hope the tortoise wins the race. So much potential so little time. Chennai has everything but our present govt is doing nothing. Unless we have highly qualified ministers in the administration other cities of India will over take us. Don’t blame the cmrl for slow project s. They are good But I fully blame uneducated ministers and this state govt for this mess.

  2. metro is not necessary for our country as of now. why borrow 10,000 and 20,000/- crores when the income generated are only few crores. only politicians few industrial houses are gaining something.

    • What are you thinking. Tell me one or two cities which has grown without the metro. Each and every great city has a metro. It is not the income that metro generates that counts it is what a metro does for a city and it’s transportation that matters.

      • for laying just two routes of about 45 kms you have spent about 14ooo crores it is like building like ambanis rs.5000 crore house to every indian family. simply because somebody is providing loan we cannot invest huge money in an uneconomical project.

  3. The lack of extension of Metro stations in the IT area and South Chennai is a proving hindrance for the lack for patronage growth in Chennai Metro. Along with it extra – Mile connectivity should be planned out.

  4. Connecting between villivakkam and Thirumangalam Metro may connect chennai suburban railway with cmrl. This may improve the commuters number

    • This is a good suggestion. But this is not going to be done even in phase 2 i think.

  5. It is difficult to understand this conundrum of low employment growth and lack of availability of local population for work. No one can deny the fact that one gets to see large number of people from outside the State at work. Employers have a solid problem of getting locals for work. In fact, this is the situation across the State including mofussil areas in deep interiors, be it in agriculture or industry. Time for a review of the government employment programs which have turned out to be only disbursement of doles without asset creation.

  6. Main failing of Metro is because of not connecting to IT parks. They should blame themselves.

  7. Poor planning on selection of Routes, OMR supposed to be the First priority. But the officials and politicians ignored the necessity making infra in IT corridor.

  8. Chennai Metro is built from the direct and indirect tax collected from the citizens, indirect taxes are levied even from people languishing under poverty, fares should be reduced drastically so that all sections of the people can use it.

    • Last mile connectivity is very crucial. In my case when I have to catch a flight, while I leave for the airport directly from my office at DLF IT park, Manapakkam, There is no way I can reach the alandur metro station, where I get a direct train to airport. The only way is to get down under the Guindy clover leaf, cross the roads & then it’s another 10 minutes walk to Alandur metro station. And if someone is not interested in walking, then he has to go up to the Guindy metro station drop point, cross the subway, first take a train from Guindy to Alandur, go to the lower level at Alandur, and then again board the train for airport. Man, in both the ways it’s total waste of time & energy.

  9. I have travelled extensively on Hyd Metro. First thing, the local govt there is dead committed for metro. They ensured that the big money spenders i.e. IT employees and middle class people are serviced first. They focused on routes which will ensure money and they achieved it by covering IT routes.
    Here, neither Suburban rail nor MRTS nor CMRL does it (only in parts). Lay a MRTS track atleadt from Perungudi to Kelambakkam along OMR and you will see the increase in Patronage.

    Also for Gods sake,please link the MRTS and CMRL at St Thomas at at earliest. Its over a decade .

  10. Cut down the charges of the metro train like delhi, people will automatically start commute in the train for sure. For example in Delhi if you see.
    Divided into six fare slabs, Monday through Saturday, is: up to 2 kms — Rs 10, 2 to 5 kms — Rs 15, 5 to 12 kms — Rs 20, 12 to 21 kms — Rs 30, 21 to 32 kms — Rs 40, and for journeys of over 32 kms, Rs 50

  11. It is the wrong planning of the metro stations the purpose of the metro station is the reduce the communiting time between but as a passanger I have to walk twice the distance of the wrong planning.
    if the time taken in reaching in and reach out is more who will it opt for it.
    When asked the answer was “Shortage of Man Power”

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