The inauguration was long delayed as was the very process of commissioning. Some heritage buildings have been sacrificed and so have, very unfortunately, some human lives. A couple of contractors turned tail and abandoned the project midway. What is in operation is merely ten kilometres of the promised complete track, and the fare is high. Yet, the very fact that our city has a running metro rail service is undeniably a matter of pride for all of us.

The question is, will be prove worthy of it? Or will it go the way of all public utilities – the bus transport, the suburban service and the MRTS – all of them operating in a humdrum fashion with poor maintenance, rickety rolling stock or vehicles and a public that cares two hoots about their upkeep and often contributes wilfully to their damage? Please, can at least the Metro be treated differently?

Here’s how things can be different with the Metro

For starters, we wholeheartedly support the authorities in their decision to disallow any eating of food in the carriages. At least one of the city newspapers has taken umbrage over this and has reported on it as though it infringes the rights of the commuters. What has been conveniently overlooked is that this is the rule in most metro services across the world. The shut in nature of the facility is not conducive to food wastes remaining on board and this has to be prevented.

The provision of public conveniences at railway stations has always been low in the priority of the railways and their maintenance is avoided as a subject. Suffice it to say that the railways fare poorly on both counts. Given this scenario,it is a matter of concern that the Metro appears to have not made sufficient provision for toilets. The authorities have taken comfort in the claim that most international Metro services and that includes Delhi, do not have such facilities in the trains or at stations. We agree with that. But what has been forgotten is that most Metro services abroad have toilets placed, and maintained by, the local civic body, just outside the stations. This has not been planned in Chennai.

We assume that like all similar public transport services in India, the Metro will also soon have unionised staff. These must be prevented from pasting posters and painting graffiti on the walls of the stations. This has sadly never been put down in any of the other transport services and it is quite ironic that the staff could deface their own property with such nonchalance. If the Metro prevents this, it could be quite a feather in its cap. The same goes for preventing political posters and graffiti as well.

We know that it is fashionable to claim that ours is an inclusive society and so vendors and hawkers need to be provided space. That may be truer of traditional areas and services such as those attached to temples but let us not forget that the Metro is a modern creation that does not provide for vagrants, vendors and hawkers anywhere across the world. These elements need to be kept out of the service except as passengers

Lastly, how do we get our beloved public to toe the line on discipline? The Metro needs to get tough on vandals. It has to utilise the security and surveillance cameras that it places in the trains to detect acts of wilful damage. If the authorities are prepared to be indifferent and let such acts pass, then we are soon going to have a massive problem on our hands.