Many commuters in Chennai, especially senior citizens, take the buses as they are the cheapest mode of transport available.
The launch of the senior citizens travel scheme where we are provided ten coupons per month has certainly come as a relief to those who rely on the city’s buses. While this is a welcome move, there is certainly scope for improvements to the scheme that can make it more widely accessible.
Read more: Resources to help senior citizens through the COVID lockdown
Travails of taking MTC buses in Chennai
Poor fleet strength, irregular frequency in timings and rickety conditions of the buses mar the joy of travelling in Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC) buses.
While the MTC allocates a few seats for the elders and differently-abled persons, seldom do the commuters who occupy such seats vacate them for senior citizens. The crew have no say on this and it all depends upon the mood of those occupying the seats.
Though the MTC has deployed quite a few deluxe services, here again, the prohibitive fare deter cost-sensitive people from travelling in such bases. Thus, they are forced to wait for ordinary fare buses, which again come packed with passengers.
With the State government permitting ladies to travel free of cost in ordinary buses, most of the time, such buses get packed to the brim at the starting point itself. While the scheme is welcome, commensurate increase must be made to the fleet strength in order to accommodate the increase in number of riders along certain routes.
Travel scheme for senior citizens in Chennai
The Senior Citizens Free Travel Scheme for those over 60 of age years was introduced in 2016. This permits the senior citizens to travel by all buses except the air-conditioned buses for free up to ten times a month using coupons issues to them. This move cames a big sigh of relief upon its launch.
To avail of the benefits, one has to fill up a form downloaded from the MTC website and add the necessary details and affix a photograph. Along with the form, a copy of the ration card and a copy of the Aadhaar card are to be submitted at the respective depots where the commuters reside.
Another copy of the same photo will be affixed on the identity card which the MTC will provide after the verification process is completed. The MTC issues travel coupons for every six months. The coupon numbers will be indicated on the reverse of the identity card to ensure travel using the coupons issued. The ID card should be produced when it is demanded by the conductors.
Renewal of coupons is to be done once every six months While copies of ration cards a d Aadhaar were sought for renewal at one point of time, the MTC stopped the practice after complaints were lodged with officials.
Read more: The silver lining in Chennai skies
How the scheme can be improved for senior citizens in Chennai
One way to make the scheme better is to increase the number of coupons issues to senior citizens. At present, 10 coupons are issued for a month under the scheme. This has remained so since the launch of the scheme six years ago. With many facing economic hardships due to the effect of the pandemic and increased cost of living, an increase in the number of coupons would ease the burden on seniors. At present the scheme only allows for five round trips a month. Increasing the number of coupons will help senior citizens reduce dependence of costly private transport.
The process, while largely straightforward, also has some minor issues. Some seniors still face problems in that they are unable to produce the old ration card. The old ration card is sought as an identity and to affix the depot’s stamp with year. MTC was told to dispense with seeking old ration cards as the Civil Supplies Department has replaced this with smart cards. Though the MTC authorities had stated that it has given instructions to all depots to provide coupons based on the submission of either old ration card or smart card, the problem still lingers on.
Improved awareness about the scheme would also be helpful in increasing the number of senior citizens availing the benefits. Having more announcements made in this regard at bus stops and depots and also on board buses can help spread the information.
Chennai’s buses have been a lifeline for many senior citizens to remain active and mobile. Improvements to the free travel scheme will only enhance the experience of senior citizens in the city.