CHENNAI: Itake the Metro from Thirumangalam to my office at Kilpauk every day. It costs me `60 per day. With no frequent bus or suburban train facilities between the stretch, I spend ten per cent of my income on transport to office alone,” rued K Prashanth, a resident of Thirumangalam. Chennai Metro is one of the costliest metro lines in the country with an average ticket fare of `4 per km. Prashanth is one of the many commuters for whom the Metro is a need and not a luxury ride.
On February 12, the Chennai Metro Rail (CMRL) inaugurated the 9.9-km stretch from AG-DMS to Washermanpet, which was a reason for North Chennai residents to cheer. On the day of the opening and the following day, CMRL offered free rides along this stretch. On both days, it witnessed a ridership of 2,01,556 and 2,10,792 respectively. Similarly, on May 25, 2018, it saw a ridership of 1,20,500 when the Chennai Central-Airport stretch was opened. But, nine months later, the average footfall of Chennai Metro still stands at 50,000-55,000. “I am not comfortable travelling in MTC, cab operators often refuse rides, and auto drivers fleece us. Many like me are left with no option but to use the Metro,” said Amudha, an IT professional who travels from Koyambedu to Shollinganalur.
With the minimum fare fixed at `10 and the maximum at `60, lowering the fares and increasing the last-mile connectivity are immediate steps to be considered. “For instance, if a man from Koyambedu is travelling to Alandur daily (a distance of 10 km), with a fare of `40, he will spend an average of `400 per week if he works for five days a week and 1,600 per month (22 working days). If he is paying parking charges of `10 per day for his bike, he would spend `1,820 per month. If the same person is travelling with another member or two, cab charges will be cheaper and this defeats the whole purpose of government transport,” said V Subramani, co-director, Traffic, and Transportation Forum (TTF), Chennai.
For R Vidya from Saidapet, the Metro might offer a safe and comfortable option to travel in the night, but the fare is still not a feasible option. “We expected the fares to go down after the introduction of phase 1, but nothing has happened yet,” she said.
In 2017, the Central Ministry of Housing and Urban affairs picked holes in the planning of the CMRL after it sent a Detailed Project Report (DPR). “The DPR should contain a chapter on enhancing non-fare box revenue through conventional and innovative means. The proposal for additional metro line in a city would be appraised keeping in view the State Government’s efforts to ensuring the financial viability of the existing lines. The projected ridership of 28-km phase one was 4.5 lakh, but the actual ridership is only 30,000 (not even 10 per cent of the projected DPR),” the reply to the CMRL from Urban Affairs Ministry read.
In August 2018, TTF conducted a signature campaign demanding the reduction of ticket fares and sent it to CMRL MD, Pankaj Kumar Bansal, Urban Secretary — State and Central and representatives of different political parties. “The Urban secretary replied asking the MD of CMRL to consider but in vain. In the last nine years, more than `19,000 crore have been spent by the CMRL for construction and it looks like they don’t have finance models in place to meet the costs,” said V Rama Rao, co-director, TTF.
What’s in store?
Commercial establishments inside the Metro stations too are facing the brunt of the poor ridership. “We paid a rent of `300 per sq m and with less patronage, it was not viable for us,” said the owner of a coffee shop at Thirumangalam, which shut down recently. Suggesting measures apart from finance models like advertising, S Balakumar, a transport expert, recommends introduction of daily, monthly and weekly passes like the MTC and suburban trains.
An official from CMRL said, “If we increase the fare after introducing new lanes, patronage might decrease and now we will increase the connectivity and price will still be the same. With the inauguration of the new line, the patronage will definitely go up in the coming days.”