Shank’s pony and Stalin’s buses

A journalist covering a beat like transport is usually in danger of being relegated to second class citizenship. Transport, as opposed to motoring, is far removed from the world of shiny cars and bikes with metallic-painted bodies and shiny chrome trims. It is all about basic mobility for the less affluent, the car deprived, children and old fogies, the latter having outlived any useful purpose in a society geared to consumption. In Chennai, it is also about surly bus crews, lawless autorickshaws and sleazy RTOs – they just continue with their time-tested ways over generations.

The world of the Delhi Metro (and the ageing Kolkata Metro) and the upcoming Bus Rapid Transit cities in West, North and Central India offers some relief from monotony to those covering transport. 

Others can always go the extra mile and analyse whether higher fuel prices influence public choices on how they remain mobile, the evidence on how good bus and train services encourage people to walk more and remain healthy, the proof of higher automotive pollution increasing pulmonary diseases such as COPD, the cure for our car and carbon addiction as a necessary intervention in the fight against climate change, and of course, the death and disability that comes with greater car and bike use. These are choices that require a lot of additional reading and research, and hence appear unappetising to many journalists.

With M.K.Stalin at the wheel, Chennai’s big event of inducting airconditioned buses with (hopefully pleasant) ‘coach captains’ in place of conductors into the MTC fleet on Monday by the DMK Government should have excited some of those monitoring Chennai’s deteriorating transport systems in the media. It is too little too late, but we must take heart that at least, there is that much happening.

Surprisingly, the MTC website has nothing to indicate that it is now running many new services. Despite the flagging off of costly and technologically advanced buses with a lot of fanfare on Monday, the website of this opaque transport body has no news of the event! And some think, so wrongly, that such insensitivity normally costs some ‘babus’ their jobs in Government.

Tailpiece 1 : The full MRTS Phase II from Beach to Velachery, which is a much more ambitious sytem, waits patiently for the DMK and the PMK to come to an understanding and share the platform at an inaugural function. Until they decide to do that, thousands of commuters must simply reconcile to spending more money on autorickshaws and MTC’s ‘deluxe’ buses.

Tailpiece 2: MTC is spending crores of rupees of taxpayer money on new buses, but the Chennai Corporation is unconcerned about the impact that its battered roads are having on these acquisitions. That’s another theme for a transport correspondent to write on…and for the Comptroller and Auditor General to consider.

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