THIS TRAFFIC NIGHTMARE CALLED CHENNAI


I feel like a liberated soul these days..!
Guess why?
I work out of home…!
One of the best things about working out of home in a city like Chennai is that I do  not have to deal with “monsters” – aka auto rickshaw drivers!  It has been over 2 weeks since I got into one. And believe me folks it has made me into a different woman! For starters, evenings are more pleasant for everyone at home as they do not have to soothe someone ( me)  who has just emerged  “wounded” after an ‘encounter’ with a monster on three wheels! And most importantly, I do not have sneezing bouts!

During the course of the last few years I have travelled a number of times to Delhi and then once to my childhood town of Kolkata and now more recently to Mumbai.

One of the most striking things about Chennai  is the awful public transportation system.! Sure, there are buses but think of those who do not want to take these buses?  Auto rickshaws in most cases serve the purpose in all other Indian cities. In some like Kolkata and Mumbai taxis are a good option too.  I remember on a recent trip to Mumbai paying Rs 75 by taxi for a distance for which in Chennai I would have paid twice by auto rickshaw! I could not believe it – I remember peering into the meter of the taxi a couple of times before I paid the fare.  The same goes for Delhi- I paid less than Rs 100 by auto for a distance that in Chennai would have been hugely expensive by the same mode of transport!  Kolkata is ofcourse another world- the taxi fares there have to be paid to be believed –they are so affordable!

So what makes Chennai like this? People tell me it is the nexus between the law enforcement agencies, the political parties and the auto rickshaw system. There is NEVER a question of using the meter – it is like the dinosaur – just for history books! The drivers start by quoting a minimum fare of Rs 100 no matter what may be the distance…! And the worst thing being intimidation particularly if you are a woman. These chaps do not want to go to  any place which is in an inner road and in case you do not know the address properly –god help you!  I think I used to spend about one third of what I earned in my last job just on auto fares!

And the love that auto drivers in Chennai have for the inner roads is something about which ballads can be written – I can never convince an auto guy in this town to drive on a main road. Excuses like ‘ long route”  are completely beyond me.

The roads in Chennai  present a challenges that are very unique to themselves . Each road is a glorified by lane- narrow with dividers making them narrower. They have not evolved since the 1970s. There are fly overs at places that are least convenient for traffic management. And the variety of vehicles ( if I may say so…) is mind boggling! Starting from two wheelers (including cycles, scooters, motor bikes and all the others in their family) to huge cars, buses, tricycles ( aka as fish carts) and tempos. The buses are not just used for general public transport- they include those that carry large numbers of students to the various engineering colleges around town and employees of the various IT companies! So can you imagine the plight of someone like me in that yellow color three wheeled vehicle trapped between two such buses inhaling huge amounts of smoke every day? There have been times when I have felt suffocated – just unable to breathe.

The Times of India tried to have a campaign for introducing meters back into the autos. But I think being an” immigrant “into the city they probably never understood the lack of public spirit in this town. People in Chennai are very weird –we behave like we live in a small class 2 or class 3 town where it comes to spending – this includes public transport. The AC buses which have been introduced are apparently not doing too well in sectors which do not have any IT companies. People prefer to get into the regular buses, or take  “ share autos” or try to get on a “two wheeler”. There are some who continue battling with autos like me- but we are very few in number and dwindling by the day. 

Traffic in every Indian city is bad but the awful way in which it is managed in Chennai requires special mention.  Mumbai has clearly delineated zones within which auto rickshaws are not allowed to ply ( they ply only in suburbs and not in the main town). Delhi autos are restricted to neighborhoods but they can be engaged if required between neighborhoods.

I remember landing mid morning at Chennai airport once to be faced with a strange problem-the black and yellow taxi (aka as pre paid airport taxi) had put up a board saying “ No taxi due to traffic congestion and heavy rains” ! People from other towns were amazed. Meanwhile the “ Fast track” taxi guys were making a killing charging people whatever they felt like . “ Aren’t there any Meru or Radio taxis here?” asked a fellow passenger from Mumbai. Come to think of it… there aren’t any such taxis-we only have “ Fast track”, “Bharathi” “ Friends” taxis etc . They are fairly okay but then their efficiency during such stress periods is terrible. They sometimes just cancel a booking without any warning.

Now, I find that Chennai is getting ready to have a metro. I have my own personal reservations about how much it would be used. Remember your average Chennaite and his/ her aversion to spending money on transport? We would like to spend lots of money covering ourselves with kilograms of gold but not take a stand to make our traffic situation better or travelling in little more comfort. We prefer to travel triples on motorbikes carrying suitcases and trunks along with our two kids. My husband once asked a person travelling like this at a traffic junction” Ammi kal mattum than neenga kondu varale illa?” ( I think you only did not bring your grinding stone). Yes, I am all for value for money- but I am not for it if it involves complicating a traffic nightmare or making travelling a horrendous experience!

What I think is the need of the hour is a strong stand to be taken by the government on traffic management notwithstanding the political consequences of such decisions. It is only then that we will be able to wake up from this nightmare!

Comments

  1. I can write volumes about Chennai auto drivers. Visiting Chennai every year, I never bargained with the auto drivers. I agree to pay whatever they ask. But the strange thing is they are not happy. They start to think if he (me) agrees to pay what I asked, then may be I should have asked a higher amount. So, at the end of the ride they ask “pottu kudunga sir” (give me some extra). Therefore, nowadays I go through the ritual of bargaining with them.

    I am not afraid to drive in German autobahns. But I will never drive in Chennai. I am afraid.

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  2. Chennai has about 65000 autos.This small number is holding a population of five million to ransom.This is much talked about issue and analysed threadbare in TOI recently.Yet there is no indication of action by authorities to regulate these unfriendly autos.Why is this not raised in assembly or taken to courts through PILs by consumer association remains an enigma? What is good foor other metros should be okay for Chennai too.

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  3. You lament and then demand in the end something that is quite a big ask from the authorities.

    Imagine the money these fellows Taxi cars/autos three wheeler may have to shell out for a license to ply in the city.

    I do not see chances for a redress.Such civic issues seldom are primary or even secondary issues in elections .
    So the masses-donkeys are bound to be donkeys and carry the laundry.

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  4. Meera,

    I thought Delhi was bad but you have told otherwise. I have good memories of my visits to Chennai a couple of times but that was almost 45 years ago.

    Take care

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  5. SG the greed of auto drivers knows no end. Even Rs 1000 would not make them happy.

    @ KP point is noone cares.

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  6. @ Anil, the issue of licences is not peculiar ot Chennai. So why this Kolaveri here in this town alone?

    @ Jack Uncle, Delhi is no comparison to Chennai. 45 years is a long time :)

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  7. Just chanced upon this post. Coincidentally, I too have written on a similar subject!

    Traffic in most cities is a mess. One, because of the number of vehicles, two, more importantly, the lack civic sense and sensitivity to others.

    I am an occasional visitor to Chennai. I live in Bangalore. I have experienced the auto-rick drivers' whims and fancies in Chennai. Compared to that Bangalore is a lot better. At least here we have meter, even if many of them are tampered with.

    But I have found the bus system in Chennai far far better than in Bangalore. One it's very cheap in Chennai, and two, most places are well connected.

    By the way, you got a good blog design.

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  8. "Ammi kal mattum tha neenga kondu varale, ille?" ROFL!! My childhood days were amazing, we were called " anju thalai naagam"- five heads jutting from the bike:P I wonder why you don't drive a car or a two wheeler- saves you from fumes ad pockets some money...

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  9. @ Cloud Nine with traffic the way it is -even experienced drivers/ riders cannot make it safely so why should people like me who feel suffocated inside an auto attempt somehing like this? I would probably add to the problem of poor traffic :)

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  10. @ Pradeep thanks for the kind words on the blog design- not my own template- I down loaded it off the net. There are some lovely designs out there. The trouble with Chennai is the bus fare- people want it to be 'cheap" - they would rather travel in discomfort paying Rs 5 than pay Rs 25 and travel in comfort in a AC bus!

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  11. Rickshawala's as we popularly call them in Mumbai. I know how difficult it is. I had been to Coimbatore in 2010, my dad stays there. The bus tickets cost Rs 3 and a Rickshaw or Call-taxi as they call it, will charge you 250-300 Rs for a distance of 12 kms from station.

    I was totally pissed off. We had around 8 shopping bags. One of my friends was getting married and I had got 40 sarees for her from Coimbatore. I couldn't even think of getting into the crowded bus.
    Wish we could change many things:)

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