CHENNAI: The image of a 19-year-old college student who was run over by a crowded bus he was attempting to board from Koyambedu will continue to haunt the Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC) for long. The sole PSU authorised to operate buses in the Chennai metropolitan area is reeling under a severe shortage of manpower as well as tardy acquisition of new buses.
The last time MTC received new buses was way back in September 2019. Experts have told TNIE that Chennai requires an additional 2,000 buses to meet its growing demand. As of now, MTC manages to operate only 2,700 buses a day, despite having a fleet of 3,200 buses, serving nearly 28 lakh passengers. The remaining buses remain unused due to a severe shortage of drivers and conductors, and their absenteeism.
While other modes of transport such as Metro and suburban trains are gaining popularity, the poor services have brought the transport corporation into disrepute. It may have to enhance its fleet size and improve services to remain the number one public transport mode in Chennai. The numbers speak for themselves.
In 2015-16, an average MTC bus carried about 1,270 passengers per day, which was the highest in the country at the time. With the current operation of 2,700 buses per day, the average number of travellers per bus has dropped to 1,076 per day. As of now, MTC operates buses on 629 routes, covering an average distance of 272 km per bus a day. The transport department officials who admitted the delay in procuring buses assured that all necessary measures have been taken to ramp up the services in a few weeks. “The number of non-operative buses per day has been brought down to less than 500 a day. About 550 temporary staff have been inducted into service at depots and 220 more also outsourced for operating the buses,” said a senior official.
Overcrowding on buses often leads to accidents. Before the Koyambedu tragedy, a series of similar incidents — college and polytechnic students losing their lives after falling from overcrowded buses — were reported last year in Pallavaram, Kelambakkam and Tambaram. The delay in services and the maddening crowd exasperate regulars like C Kannan, a resident of Madipakkam.
“There has been a significant cut in the number of services in the south suburban areas. In the evening hours, there are only a few services available for East Tambaram and Kundrathur routes.” R Surya, a bus enthusiast from Velachery, is another desperate soul, who is at the mercy of MTC buses. “The services for students have not been enhanced to match the growing numbers. Especially during afternoon hours, 40% of services were cut in Velachery, Madipakkam, Koyambedu, and Adambakkam routes,” he rues.
According to the transport official, renovated buses will hit the road by August. At present, there is a plan to acquire nearly 500 new buses which will be deployed on routes where services were withdrawn, as well as on new routes.
Blues on board