How can Chennai’s third master plan encourage sustainable transport?

Chennai Master Plan: The lens on transport

chennai traffic
The Third Master Plan must promote NMT through inclusive planning. Pic: Vivian Richard/Wikimedia Commons

Chennai, the capital city of Tamil Nadu, is one of the fastest-growing metropolitans in the country. The growing population and city expansion has stressed the existing infrastructure of Chennai, especially the transport systems. The transport sector needs to be planned to cater to the existing needs and meet the future demands of the growing population by taking into account changing travel patterns.

Multiple studies have been conducted to devise a cohesive transportation plan for Chennai such as the Integrated Transport Plan 1977, Madras Area Transport Study 1986, Madras Route Rationalisation Study 1986, Traffic and Transportation Study for MMA 1986, Comprehensive Traffic and Transportation Study 1992-95 and the Comprehensive Mobility Plan 2019. These studies have recommended key projects that have shaped the mobility of Chennai.

Transport systems in Chennai

Chennai is primarily dependent on its road network for traffic movement with a total of 2,780 km length of road (Introduction and Highways, n.d.). The city has a strong road network radiating from the seaside with 6 main arterial roads and multiple ring roads – Inner , Intermediate,Outer, and Peripheral Ring Roads (yet to be completed). The Chennai Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC) offers an efficient service by operating  along 640 routes (JICA, 2017).

Owing to its frequency of service, extensive coverage of the Chennai Metropolitan Area (CMA) and affordable pricing (compared to other modes of transport) it is the preferred public transport system in the city. Apart from the road transport systems, Chennai has a commuter rail system, which consists of three main lines – the East-West line (from Chennai Central to Tiruvallur), South-West line (from Beach to Tambaram), and the North-South line (from Chennai Central to Gummidipoondi). Besides this, there is also a Mass Rapid Transport System (MRTS) running from Beach Station to Velachery for a stretch of 17 km.

The system runs at an elevated level throughout the city, hence consuming minimum land and not constricting road traffic. The Chennai transport matrix (2008) shows that the travel mode of the city is dominated by 28 per cent pedestrians, 26 per cent bus users and 25 per cent to-wheelers. The formation of the Unified Transport Authority of Chennai is a key step in attaining the integrated management of MTC, MRTS and M.

The considerably recent addition to the city’s transport system is the Metro Rail. Currently, there are 2 corridors (under Phase 1 of the project) that are operational. The first corridor is from Washermanpet to Chennai Airport and the second corridor is from Chennai Central to St. Thomas Mount. The system covers an overall distance of 45kms (Ramachandran.M, 2012).


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Travel behaviour

Chennai has seen a drastic change in mobility trends across the years. The mode split in the 1970s consisted of 54 per cent public transport followed by 41 per cent non-motorised transport and a miniscule three per cent of private vehicles. The trends have changed over time, in 2008 the public mode and private mode share was on par at 31 per cent (Wilbursmith Associates, August 2010).

Though the bus system was considered a monopoly in Chennai’s public transport sector, the ridership has reduced from 42 per cent in 1970 to 26 per cent in 2008 (Wilbursmith Associates, August 2010). The train ridership decreased from 12 per cent in 1970 to five per cent in 2008. This decline in public transit ridership can be due to the decline in quality of service or the overuse of facilities which has combinedly led to the increase of private vehicle ownership. Non-motorised transport users declined drastically from 42 per cent in 1970 to 28 per cent in 2014.

The mobility trends in Chennai have largely depended on social changes, activity patterns, land use impacts and mobility patterns. The study of sociodemographic characteristics showed that the average number of workers per household has increased from 1.17 to 1.43 during 2000 – 05 (K. K. Srinivasan et al., 2007). During the same period the increase in employment has generated an additional four lakh trips.

The rise of income and availability of easy financing options have increased the number of private vehicles (two-wheelers and cars). The majority of the trips (almost 65 per cent of total trips) are regular (work and education). As the socio-demographic studies suggest, the rising working population has resulted in the domination of work-related trips across the city. These trips are also regular thereby creating a constant number of on-road vehicles. The average trip length is 8.5 km. Chennai Metropolitan Area is envisaged to have 207.6 lakh trips (almost 120 per cent increase in the number of trips since 2001). The per-person trip is also expected to increase from 1.35 in 2001 to 1.65 in 2026.

Review of Chennai’s Second Master Plan proposals for transport sector

The Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) published Chennai’s Second Master Plan (SMP) in 2008 aimed at creating an inclusive, economically vibrant, and sustainable city by 2026. It is expected that by the year 2026, the population within the CMA will be approximately 126 lakhs (Wilbursmith Associates, August 2010). When we look at the transport sector, the SMP tries to achieve sustainable mobility by aiming at broad core values such as Transport Management, Capacity Management and Environmental Management.

Transport management in Chennai

The SMP focusses on strengthening the existing road network by increasing the carrying capacity of the major arterial roads (Anna Salai, Periyar EVR Salai, and Jawaharlal Nehru Salai). The inclusion of Area Traffic Control measures, design measures like elevated roadways to keep the current RoW unaffected and strategies to improve the capacity of sub-arterial roads have been some of the goals.

As part of the 2003-Action Plan for the IT corridor, it was also proposed to construct a 6-lane road from Chennai to Mamallapuram for a stretch of 22 km. As a micro-level strategy, it was also noticed that the removal of multiple bottlenecks in road and rail corridors will help ease traffic flow. Apart from core city improvements, the SMP also looks into providing basic infrastructure like road networks in the city periphery.

The decentralisation of the Central Business District (CBD) has resulted in allocation of an increased FSI of 1.5 in peri-urban areas of the city. Along with the provision of a road network throughout the city, the SMP also ensures the provision of truck parking wherever required due to the increased number of goods vehicles from 6,671 in 1980 to 32,629 in 2005.

Capacity management

Secondly, the SMP’s Capacity Management proposes the improvement of public transport ridership and provision of NMT infrastructure. Completion of missing links in national highways, ring roads and the Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminal (CMBT) is expected to give an additional 10 per cent ridership to rail and 16 per cent ridership to bus.

As the bus system is a widely used commute system, it has been planned to increase fleet size to 4,500-7,000 buses to meet growing demands. As a long term goal, the SMP also looks at the feasibility of LRT, Skybus, etc.

As part of the railway improvements, the SMP looks at expanding the MRTS, extending the Metro coverage, completing the Inner Circular Corridor and developing a centralised goods terminal. As a policy level intervention in Sustainable Urban Management, the SMP looks at how the provision of NMT infrastructure can be mandated in city development.

Environmental management

Lastly, the Environmental Management details the introduction of 500 LPG autos, installing 14 Automatic LPG Dispensing Systems, encouraging the manufacture of electric cars (REVA), and phasing out lead and sulphur dioxide in petrol and diesel respectively. The Source Apportionment Studies by IIT Madras show that the non-exhaust source, that is, paved and unpaved road surfaces contribute to 73 percent of particulate matter in the city.

Replacing tar roads with cement concrete reduces suspension of dust in the atmosphere and requires low maintenance when compared to how deteriorated tar roads become in the Chennai monsoons. The plan also includes proposals to improve air quality data capture by partnering with TNPCB.

chennai emissions
Emissions from vehicles are among the greatest contributors to air pollution in Chennai. Pic: Ruben de Rijcke/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Impact of SMP

The SMP envisioned the growth of the city along the radial corridors of Chennai and anticipated hotspot developments along national highways and industrial towns. But despite attempting to dovetail transport planning into the existing land use, the SMP has not been able to meet the needs of land use development, especially along IT corridors. The SMP has also been unsuccessful in managing resources and regulating parking in the city. The need for smart parking policies and management systems is crucial to control traffic and improve the commute in the city. Finally, considering the extensive public transport network in Chennai, the SMP has not looked at integrated transport management or intermodal transit systems.

A single window system or seamless transition planning might have helped shift commuters to use public transport. The failure in delivering comfortable and reliable public transport services has in turn increased the population of personalised vehicles at an average annual growth rate of 6.5 per cent (UMTC Ltd, 2019). The increase in private vehicle ownership and reduced ridership in public transport demand is an important reason for adopting sustainable transport systems in Chennai. Chennai has the highest vehicle density of 2,900 vehicles per kilometre (Eswaran & Bosco, 2018).The congestion index along with more than 33.8 percent of the roads in more than one.

These reasons have led to the deteriorating air quality of the city. Though the coastal setting of Chennai has deceived the air quality of the city positively, Chennai still ranks second in particulate matter emission per day (more than 1000 kilograms) due to urban commute amongst the 14 surveyed cities (CSE India, 2018). The city also ranks 4th in NO2 emission load from urban commuting (10,000-12,000 kilograms per day) after Delhi, Bengaluru, and Hyderabad (CSE India, 2018).

Sustainable transport involves developing a better system consistent to secure future socio-economic development within a sustainable environment that ensures community well-being. It is also important for developing countries from the perspective of climate change, i.e. to improve carbon footprint/ ecological footprint of transportation. It can be approached through mobility management (reduce travel demand, reduce the use of private vehicles and improve traffic flow), capacity management (increase supply of public transport and NMT users) and environmental management (reduce dependence on fossil fuels).


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Recommendations for Third Master Plan for transport sector

Integrated public transit network 

Chennai is working on its Third Master Plan covering an extended metropolitan area of 8,878 sq.km. The review of SMP shows that the plan focuses on supply level strategies and adding new investments and infrastructure to the city canvas but does not emphasise the improvement of existing systems. A few limitations or gaps which can be identified In the SMP to achieve sustainable transport is the absence of integrating planning strategies, minimal use of smart technologies and discount of the paratransit systems.

Though Chennai’s SMP looks at Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) along the arterial roads incidentally, it’s more appropriate to consider mixed land-use and related strategies to reduce travel demand. The Third Master Plan (TMP) can explore ideas to minimise travel demand and travel distance to help promote NMT and reduce the pressure on existing infrastructure. Similarly, though the SMP looks at Area Traffic Control measures, the use of smart technologies, synchronised signals and automated systems aid for seamless travel experience can be included in the TMP.

It is key to note that the smart intelligence tools have been proposed and budgeted in the Smart City Proposal. Apart from the above-listed strategies, the TMP-Transport Management can also look at land preservation policies for the future development of public transport and building-level management of parking systems.

Chennai’s paratransit system of autos, share-autos and cabs have occupied a significant position in providing commuter service to a majority of travellers who don’t use private vehicles. They have acted as a feeder system to public transport systems and provided the much needed last-mile connectivity. But in recent times, the paratransit system has often been criticised for affecting the ridership of public transport systems. The SMP does not acknowledge their usage and hence a large ridership has been discounted in the proposal.

Along with the paratransit system management, the TMP can formulate supporting parking management which can include park and ride facilities, pay and park infrastructure and provision of incentives for optimal use of private cars. As Chennai has an array of transport systems such a public, private and para-transit systems, it might prove effective for integrating a multi-modal design where synchronisation of different systems, scheduling and routes can be mapped for maximum utilisation of facilities.

Safety and inclusive planning for transport in Chennai

The TMP can include a chapter on safety that looks at road safety and the current pandemic situation and how the master plan needs to take adoptive measures. A critical issue faced in Chennai is road safety and the number of road accidents that take place daily in the city. Assessing systems like graduated licensing, ITS based traffic enforcement will help decrease road risks. COVID is becoming the new normal. Restrictions and lockdowns have highly affected local commute systems and the use of public transport. The TMP can take this opportunity to promote NMT systems in the city.

The TMP can also ensure a more inclusive and participatory planning where the needs of women, children, disabled, elderly, transgender and other vulnerable groups can be considered and included in design conceptualisation. Context-specific designing will also ensure increased footfall.  This can further help gender mainstreaming in the project.

Broader environmental management plan

Environmental Management looks at air pollution but does not account for noise pollution in the studies. The SMP emphasises data collection about air quality, but the TMP can also include information about the influence of green cover and other carbon sinks. This is crucial because the coastal location of Chennai has not supported the capture of exact pollution data.

Similarly, though the SMP suggests cement concrete roads as an alternative it has not been taken up as a full-fledged strategy because it is not a cost-friendly solution. Other alternate materials such as recycled plastic or other innovative ideas can be explored in the next master plan.

Institutional strengthening

Finally, the Institutional Management needs to develop indicators and credible ways to document the impact of pedestrianization, the inclusion of street vendors and promotion of NMT to understand how the social value, environmental improvement and gender roles have changed.

The SMP was supposed to be revised and evaluated once in 5 years as per norms. A committee was also formed as dictated but there are no available documents on how far this evaluation has taken place. The TMP can focus on publishing the monitoring and evaluation reports periodically.

(This story was first published on the blogs of Citizen Consumer and Civic Action Group and has been republished with permission. The original post can be found here.)

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About Akila Shanmugaraj 1 Article
Akila works as a Researcher with the Sustainable Transport team at CAG, which looks at promoting inclusive and accessible mobility to all with minimal impact on the environment.

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