Accessing the Metro: For Chennai, last mile connectivity remains a dream for now

As reliance on rickshaws and cabs continues, one wonders why a project that connects Chennai’s arterial routes fails to bridge the gap to and from stations.
Accessing the Metro: For Chennai, last mile connectivity remains a dream for now
Accessing the Metro: For Chennai, last mile connectivity remains a dream for now
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This story is the second in TNM's four-part series on last mile connectivity for Metro services in south India. Read the first here.

It has been over three years since the Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL) began operations, but last mile connectivity continues to be a problem in the city’s dual-line service.

While the 34 km-long network connects the heart of the city with areas far to the south and the west, getting from Point A to Point B still remains a problem for many of those who travel by metro. A handful of stations yet to become functional and plans of expansion are already in the pipeline, but the metro continues to see low footfall.

According to CMRL authorities, plans to provide last mile connectivity preceded the construction of the metro in the city. But, as reliance on autorickshaws, share autos and private cab aggregators continues, one wonders why a project that seemingly connects the arterial routes of the city in a giant loop fails to bridge the gap to and from stations.

TNM travelled the length of the metro across the city starting from Chennai Central to the Airport, and onward from there to AG DMS via Alandur.

Steep prices

Shivashankari and Ishath, two college students, get into the metro at Pachaiyappa’s College station. Shivashankari, who regularly uses the service says, “I have to go to Alandur. While my college is only five minutes away from Pachaiyappa’s, my house is far from the Alandur station. There are no buses so I'm forced to take an auto. The monthly pass for the metro is around Rs 400 and it is only for 60 trips. So, I have to spend more to use the pass. On a student budget, this is difficult.”

However, both Shivashankari and Ishath (who has a much shorter commute to Shenoy Nagar) also worry that if the metro fare is lowered, it may affect the quality of service. “The service is great. We wish they had more buses outside the stations so we can use our student pass."

Infrequent bus services

Since the metro is located in several strategically-placed locations throughout the city, one of the principal advantages of the service is the intersections it has with the Southern Railways’ Suburban line, and the Southern Railways’ MRTS line.

For example, the Chennai Central Metro Station not only serves as the hub for the Southern Railways’ Central Station, but also to the Southern Railways’ Suburban Park Station (the two share an entrance). Similarly, when one walks out of the Guindy Metro, one can make their way quickly over to the Southern Railways' Suburban Guindy station. Same is the case with the DMS metro station and the DMS MTC bus stop.

Jayalakshmi, a government employee who travels from the Alandur metro station to her office in Thirumangalam points out that improving connectivity outside the stations would help many plan their travel around the metro.

“I have to take an auto from my house in Pallikaranai to the Alandur metro station. Since the metro is now connected to Central, I can get to my office in Thirumangalam by changing at Park station and alighting at the Velachery MRTS. The metro is very clean and comfortable for me. But I wish they had some bus or share auto service to Pallikaranai or Velachery. The regular autos are expensive. If they tell us what time these autos or buses will come, we will be ready.”

While these expansive routes comprise of the MTC, MRTS, suburban railways and metro connect the city, the small bus service planned along the metro lines is infrequent.

Suhasini, who runs a tea shop along with her husband, boards the metro at Shenoy Nagar station. She is traveling to Alandur with food for her unwell sister.

“I live in Villivakkam. We never know when the small bus is coming and at what time. I have used it only once or twice. My husband has to drop me on his bike, which means we have to close the shop for the time we are gone. It becomes an even bigger problem when there is traffic. The metro drops me in Alandur in 20 minutes and it is perfect for me, but a one-way trip costs Rs 60. We cannot afford to spend Rs 120 for a round trip every time. It is an emergency today so I am taking it. Otherwise, I have to take a bus to Guindy and then take another bus from there.”

Bicycle sharing

In an effort to encourage cycling and increase connectivity, the CMRL launched a bicycle-sharing initiative across metros last year. While a sensible 24-hour return policy is in place for the cycles, the deposit is not commuter-friendly.

Two metro staffers at the Thirumangalam metro tell TNM, “You need to check in once in 24 hours and then you can use again. There are five cycles per station. You need your Aadhaar card.”

When I question the need for an Aadhaar card, one staffer consults with another and they finally agree that any government-issued identity proof would do. The cycles too see less-than-desirable patronage.

Shiva, a techie and aspiring filmmaker who regularly takes the metro between Thirumangalam and Vadapalani asks: “Most of us have a bike these days. We take a metro for the comfort factor. Why would I spend Rs 3000 on a monthly deposit when I can park my bike here for Rs 25? On some days, I will work from home which means I may have to go to the metro station in the morning just to return the rental bike. They promised share autos in our area. If at least that was there, I would have used it.”

In perhaps a stark reminder of the long way ahead for public transport in the city, many senior citizens who use the metro approach kiosks of private cab aggregators at the stations with a staffer ready to assist them.

Urban transportation planning

Speaking to TNM, Madhav Pai, India Director of the World Resources Institute and an expert in urban transportation, says that planning a facility like the metro is generally not cheap.

He says, “Overall, the concept of a metro in a city is not a cheap thing. The fares can't be kept low. And when it comes to last mile connectivity, affordability is a huge issue for a majority of people.”

Madhav says that one needs to figure out where connectivity is required, and how various spaces could be connected. “Sometimes, it is the last 10 km. One could explore connecting workplaces. Shared rickshaws work very well in residential areas. One needs to get the data, check where the connectivity is needed and create informed policy.”

“A metro is built very arbitrarily, where land is available, not where the demand is. You have to subsidise feeder buses, you have to subsidize operations. You must encourage development around the metro stations and make sure that the value capture money comes back to the metro company and subside the operations. Else, the metro shouldn't be built,” Madhav adds.

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