The recent inauguration of the Kalaignar Centenary Bus Terminal (KCBT) in Kilambakkam by the Tamil Nadu government, has drawn criticism from various quarters, including omnibus operators and passengers. Although this was a political decision, it is a clear example of a policy with a lack of vision and understanding of ground realities. The decision to relocate southbound buses from the Koyambedu bus stand to Kilambakkam, situated almost 35 km from Chennai city, has raised concerns about the practicality and efficiency of the newly established bus terminal.
The directive, which came into effect on January 24, 2024, requires State Transport Corporation and State Express Transport Corporation buses, including omnibuses, to operate out of the Kilambakkam Centenary Bus Terminal. The primary objective behind the move is to decongest Koyambedu, which in turn would help decongest Chennai city traffic. However, the new KCBT bus stand is inconvenient for both passengers and bus operators. The new terminal, which has only 77 bus bays for omnibuses, cannot handle the approximately 800 omnibuses that depart Chennai for the south every day between 7 pm and 10 pm. The remaining buses are left waiting on the GST road. To make matters worse, there is a lack of facilities for people with disabilities and appropriate ticket-booking systems.
The connectivity options for commuters boarding and de-boarding at Kilambakkam are limited and inaccessible. The closest railway stations connecting Kilambakkam and Chennai are Vandalur and Urapakkam, which are situated at distances of 2 and 3 kilometres, respectively. However, to get to these stations, commuters must take an autorickshaw, with drivers charging between Rs 200 and Rs 300. As a consequence, commuters disembark at the SRM University stop, which is within walking distance from Potheri. This has resulted in a huge crowd at Potheri railway station, which is a small station and does not have the required capacity to cater to this additional commuter demand.
Despite the government permitting MTC buses to ply from Kilambakkam to the city, the MTC's fleet size is not adequate to meet the increased demand. The frequency of these buses remains a point of contention. Given that most passengers are travelling long distances to and from Chennai from the southern districts, they carry luggage with them. However, the local MTC buses do not have exclusive space for such luggage, making it inconvenient for commuters to use these buses effectively. Because of this, passengers are compelled to use autorickshaws and taxis, which not only causes them inconvenience but also forces them to spend a lot of money on commuting. The exorbitant taxi fares, with Ola and Uber charging above Rs 1,000 during peak hours, have exacerbated the plight of commuters.
Commuters from north Chennai face extended travel times and the inconvenience of multiple transfers or modes of transportation to reach Kilambakkam bus stand. Additionally, the KCBT bus terminus has also added to traffic woes in Kilambakkam. For buses to reach Kilambakkam, they must cross Perungalathur, a junction already experiencing congestion. This directly contradicts the intention behind the shift.
This move clearly depicts how authorities within the transport sector lack visionary planning to ensure seamless connectivity for commuters. For infrastructure investments to yield favourable returns, a long-term, ambitious plan is necessary. Decades ago, when the Koyambedu bus terminal was conceived, multimodal connectivity options were implemented in stages to facilitate the commute. Now that the public has seamless connectivity, we are again putting them in a tougher place by shifting the terminal to the outskirts of the city.
While metro plans are under discussion, recent feasibility studies conducted by the CMRL indicate that the estimated ridership to KCBT from Siruseri is insufficient for a metro system to be deemed viable. The metro project would incur a substantial financial cost, requiring the acquisition of land and subsequent construction. This process is expected to extend for several years. Such ineffective resource utilisation is the consequence of insufficient planning.
Addressing these challenges as early as possible is critical, especially since the terminal is still in its early stages. Failing to do so would force people to shift out of public transport. To guarantee the effective operation of KCBT, cooperation between the government and stakeholders is crucial. At least in the beginning, it is appropriate to permit simultaneous operation of the Koyambedu and KCBT bus stands. A smooth transition will prove beneficial to all parties involved.
Lizbeth Godwin is an Associate Researcher in Urban Mobility at the Centre for Public Policy and Research (CPPR). An ardent researcher on bus systems in India, she works on projects pertaining to PPP models in regulatory and governance aspects of urban mobility. Aiswarya is a Project Assistant with the Urban Mobility team at CPPR. She holds a Master's in General Economics from the Madras School of Economics, Chennai. Views expressed here are the authors’ own.