It is almost three years since the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly approved the setting up of the Chennai Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority (CUMTA). But the State Government is yet to notify it. The CMDA, which is handling the activities of the CUMTA in the interim, has commissioned a study on integrating the multiple modes of transport in the city. Four international consultants are at work on this, which will include all modes – train, bus and the metro. It will also look into the setting up of a common ticket and fare structure to facilitate seamless commuting, something that is in existence in most world-class cities today. The State Government wants Chennai to follow the London model, which is easier said than done.

Like the CMDA, the CUMTA was to chiefly have a planning function and oversee the work of several agencies involved in the running of the transport systems. It was also to periodically revise and upgrade its plans. Headed by the Transport Minister, it was to have the Chief Urban Planner (Transport) of the CMDA as its ­Member-Secretary. Others on board were the Chief Secretary and the Vice-Chairman, CMDA (both ranking as Vice-Chairpersons), the Secretaries of the Departments of Finance, Transport, Home, Housing & Urban Development, and the General Manager of the Southern Railway. As to why this commendable idea is not being given form is open to question. A change of regime can probably be a reason.

On the face of it, CUMTA or, in its absence, the CMDA, has an unenviable task on its hands, given the current state of transport infrastructure. Let us begin with pavements. These have shrunk over the years and where they exist they are only 1.5 metres at their widest, in gross violation of the Indian Road Congress recommendations of 1.8 metres. There is only one cycle track in the entire city – and that too only for a short stretch on Old Mahabalipuram Road (Rajiv Gandhi Expressway). The three rail corridors – Chennai Beach to Tambaram, Chennai Central to Tiruninravur, and Chennai Central to Minjur – are completely independent and in no way connected to road transport, a throwback to the 1930s when roadways were considered a competition to the state-controlled railways. If that is a tragedy of history, what is sad is that the Mass Rapid Transport System, developed in the 1980s, was planned the same way with no interconnectivity of any kind with bus transport systems. The poor patronage for the MRTS, about 80,000 passengers a day, is chiefly due to this.

In the midst of all this is the Metropolitan Transport Corporation whose fleets of about 3700 buses run along something close to 800 routes. With an ageing fleet that is notorious for poor maintenance and a bad road safety record, this service operates on a stand-alone basis, subject to severe overcrowding. It is no surprise to see tightly packed passengers in a bus going along a busy thoroughfare, with an MRTS train running in parallel, largely empty!

These are the issues that the present study hopes to look into. From here to action is but the next step but, given our track record that can be a lifetime, much depends on how serious the State Government is about tackling one of the biggest challenges the city faces. But given that the concept of a unified transport authority is still on paper despite being passed by the Legislature, the study too may remain on paper with no immediate solution in sight.