According to Chennai’s Comprehensive Mobility Plan 2019, the modal share of private automobiles increased from 2008 to 2018 while that of walk/cycle/public transport decreased.
Divya Aravind, Researcher
The role of the media in society is rather broad and all-encompassing. The various forms of media (print, and visual, and now social media) are all primary channels of communication with citizens, helping bridge the gap between people and policy makers. It keeps people informed of current affairs and can significantly shape public opinion. An example of this is how the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) in New Delhi never got a fair chance with the media baying for its blood. Around 2007, the Delhi government planned a BRTS system for the city.
The unprecedented growth of our cities over the past decade has increased the number of vehicles, especially private motor vehicles, on our roads. This has had serious, adverse consequences on our roads and society. Tamil Nadu has long been foremost in road crashes and casualties.
How big is your city? Growing up in Chennai, my knowledge and therefore idea of the city extended possibly between school, home, and a few other places I frequented. While this has expanded, I don’t think I realised how big it actually was. In October 2022, the media reported that the Tamil Nadu government had cleared a 5-fold expansion of the city - from 1189 km2 to 5904 km2. I was a bit shocked that my city was already 1189 km2 big and now had gotten even larger.
What is in a name?
Let’s take a moment to revisit our past, understand our present and look into our future. During my school days, until about 5th standard, my parents used to walk me to school. Gradually, my parents gained confidence in my traffic navigation abilities and let me cycle to school with a few friends from my neighbourhood. My normal routine after school involved playing in the local streets with my friends till dusk and getting back home when the street lights went on. After a certain age, I was independently mobile with the help of my cycle.
India has seen sundry changes in its 75 years of independence. The country and her many states have experienced economic growth at an unprecedented rate, as small towns turned into large, vibrant, and bustling cities. Tamil Nadu is no exception to this pattern, being the country's most industrialized and urbanized large state, boasting many accolades to its name. But most Indian states, Tamil Nadu included, have not been proactive with the handling of their road infrastructure.
Our roads have been planned and built to cater to motorists, particularly private vehicles. Space and consideration for low carbon modes of commute (walking, cycling, and public transport) is not a priority. This is in spite of the fact that these are sustainable modes of transport - causing minimal pollution, taking little space, being affordable and accessible by all.
In May 2021, the Tamil Nadu government launched a scheme that made public city and town buses (with certain caveats) free for women. While the rides are completely free (with no restrictions on the number of trips per day or month), the scheme is applicable only on ‘white board’ buses. The white board buses are what are known as Ordinary Bus Routes and represent the most inexpensive category of service that halts at all bus stops on a given route.
Urbanization in India was at a high of 31.16% between 2001 and 2011 (Census of India, 2011). This rapid urbanization is reflected at the local level - Tamil Nadu is one of the most urbanized states with 44% of people living in cities like Chennai (Census of India, 2011). Unfortunately, this has also meant that cities have become very crowded, polluted spaces where everything is at a premium - education, housing, transport, food, water - the list goes on.