Chennai battles for sustainable transport

Posted: 21 February 2006

Chennai, formerly Madras, on the Coromandel Coast of southern India, has grown into a metropolitan city of 7 million people. It is also the scene of a major campaign to oppose the decision by the State Government of Tamil Nadu to solve the city's transport problem by building a 300 km monorail. The campaign's plea for a transport system that meets the needs of all the people will be echoed in cities around the world.

A pressure group, Pasumai Thaayagam (Green Motherland), has launched the Campaign for Sustainable Transport in Chennai. It argues that Monorail is used only as feeder service in all the countries where it is in operation, and that only a city-wide rapid bus system will meet the needs of Chennai's growing population. It has distributed leaflets throughout the city and is organising school meetings. It is also holding a seminar on sustainable transport in the city this week.

Only Japan has a monorail over 100 km. the campaign organisers say. In Malaysia, Australia and United States monorails runs for less then 100 km. It is yet to be tested as a mainline metro system anywhere in the world. But the Government of Tamil Nadu has announced 300 km monorail project as a mainline metro system. "We are strongly opposing the Chennai monorail project. Instead of monorail, we are demanding a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system for Chennai. Our organisation's founder Dr. S. Ramadoss raised this demand at a demonstration against the monorail project. And he has the backing of the Indian Railway Minister for State, Mr. Velu, who has also opposed the project," the campaign organisers told Planet 21.

Bicycle lanes A BRT system, would ensures the use of high quality and high capacity buses for public transport, Mr Ramadoss told the demonstrators. It would be cheaper than the monorail system and more suited to Chennai. Countries such as Brazil, Indonesia and South Korea had gone for it. The proposed monorail project could not meet the transport demands of the Chennai Metropolitan Area and should be scrapped. He said the fleet strength of the Metropolitan Transport Corporation should be increased to 5,000. There should be a separate track for bicycles on all roads and no reduction in the space meant for footpaths. The Chennai Metropolitan Area (CMA) now covers an area of 1177 sq. kilometres. The number of motor vehicles in the city has grown from 144,282 in 1984 to 1,674,185 in 2005. Between year 1992 and 2005 the number of motorised two wheelers increased from 433,046 to 1,266,114 and the number of cars has increased from 122,531 to 301,128. About 450 vehicles are registered every day in Chennai. That means 13,000 vehicles in a month and 160,000 a year. This trend has created many problems including pollution, noise, traffic fatalities and injuries and wasteful congestion. Most people use public transport, bicycles and pedestrian paths - but these modes are totally neglected in Chennai.

Static fleet While personal means of motorised transport has increased greatly over the years, growth in the bus fleet has been abysmally poor. The bus fleet grew by some 9 per cent during 1970-80, a rate that was reduced to 6 per cent during 1980-90 and to about 4 per cent for the period 1990-2000 until it was now static. The total number of buses in Chennai is 2773, out of which 1294 are more then 8 years old. That means Chennai has only about 1500 workable buses. As a result, passenger growth has decreased from 4,300,000 in 1998 to 3,300,000 in 2005. Moreover, there are no segregated lanes for non-motorist transport and or safe pedestrian facilities. Chennai's campaign demands:

  • improved public transport - i.e. at least 5000 buses (with 3500 new buses), with traffic priority for buses, and possibly Bus Rapid Transit
  • provision of improved rights of way for pedestrians and bicyclists
  • better air quality.

    For more information see www.envindia.com