How does MTC decide bus routes in the city?

Low frequency, suspension of favourite routes, crowded buses: common grouse among bus commuters in Chennai. What's behind these and can more effective route rationalisation help?

When it comes to bus services in the city, there seems to be a wide and clear gap between what residents want and what they get.

A recent newspaper report highlighted the intensifying public call for resumption of small buses on route S3 along the Chrompet-Madambakkam route, that were stopped three years ago. When members of a residents’ association in Chitlapakkam filed a petition with the CM Cell, they received a reply saying services had been stopped due to poor patronage. Yet, there are many commuters who say that they were benefitted by these buses that used to run at 20-minute intervals.

Another example comes from Ambattur, one of the zones to be brought under Chennai Corporation as recently as in 2011 and a prominent industrial area within city limits today. Ask citizens here, and you find a lot of discontent brewing over the lack of public transport options and the rescheduling of bus services in particular.

“There were a lot of bus routes starting from and terminating at Ambattur bus terminus. Over the past seven years, the number of such buses has gone down steadily, both because of space constraints within the terminus facility and shifting political focus,” says R Ramalingam, a civic activist from Ambattur. Some of the bus routes that originated from the Ambattur bus terminal are 20B, 71B, 47D, 40 and 27. These buses, with slightly altered route numbers, now pass through the Ambattur bus terminus but that has brought its own difficulties.  “The frequency of some of the routes has been reduced and the buses are always crowded by the time they reach our terminus,” says R Senthil, who is a regular commuter on Route 47D.

Another bus regular, R Sankaran from Nanganallur, has a similar complaint as he relates his difficulties in reaching Alandur Metro from his residence in Moovarasampet. “Since early last year, even before the lockdown was imposed, the number of S12 buses starting from Alandur Metro to Moovarasampet via Pazhavanthagal Railway station has been reduced. Now we are back to normalcy, and yet one has to wait for long intervals to spot the bus,” he adds.

Clearly, this is a problem faced by citizens residing in several pockets of the city. But why? According to an official from MTC, the dip in frequency is due to the lack of adequate numbers of buses. “Therefore, the number of buses will be reduced along routes that do not generate adequate revenue. Those buses will be reassigned in the routes that have high demand, while rationalising the route,” the official adds.

The latter approach, however, has a fundamental loophole according to experts. “When we look at public transport facilities like buses, it has to benefit people, for which the transport agency cannot expect revenue. The number of buses should be increased to ensure the rationalisation exercise benefits people across different localities of the city,” says Sumana Narayanan, senior researcher, Citizen consumer and civic Action Group (CAG).

Read more: How can MTC plan for short and long term challenges post-COVID?

What is route rationalization?

Route rationalization is an exercise that involves reorganizing the city bus routes to serve the maximum number of people possible. “Cities expand very quickly over time; with that the densities, land use and travel patterns change. Route rationalization helps transit authorities plan their routes so that they are able to meet the changing demands of the people,” says Sivasubramaniam Jayaraman, Manager, Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) India.

Even in a city like Chennai, that is well-connected through several modes of public transportation, bus route rationalisation has a critical role to play. “Public transportation modes like suburban trains, MRTS and metro serve the needs of the people well, at least on paper. However, , among all available public transport modes, buses continue to carry the largest number of people, but often get stuck in traffic leading to low efficiency. Having bus prioritization, along with route rationalization, can help the city serve the maximum number of commuters,” adds Sivasubramaniam.

An MTC small bus that was operated as a special during Pongal festivities in the city, seen on Anna Salai. MTC has no planned routing of these services. Pic: G. Ananthakrishnan

How is route rationalisation done in Chennai?

On paper, MTC has been regularly rationalising routes every month and reviewing the performance after every six months. The second phase of Chennai Outer Ring road that connects Nemilicheri and Minjur was inaugurated recently. In view of the needs of people who travel from that part of the city, the MTC introduced two new buses via Vandalur – Minjur Outer Ring Road: 206 cut (Poonamallee-Tambaram) and 203 (Poonamallee-Walajabad). “Before launching any new route, we identify the stops and launch buses on a trial and error method. If there is demand, we formally launch the route. There was a trial exercise done along the ORR stretch,” an MTC employee added.

A press release from the transport agency stated that route number 206 cut starts from Poonamalle, and reaches Tambaram after passing through the Outer Ring Road, Mannivakkam joint road and Perungalathur. Four buses have been introduced and services will be available every 35 minutes. Similarly, route bus 203 which starts at Poonamallee will reach Walajabad via Outer Ring Road, Padappadi and Oragadam joint road. Four buses have been put into service and the buses will be operated for every 50 minutes.

Read more: Can commute in Chennai reinvent itself in the post-COVID era?

MTC conducts the route rationalisation exercise based on the earnings per kilometre (EPK), the earnings per day, occupancy ratio and demand for the bus route. The transport corporation has fixed expectations which are taken into account while carrying out the route rationalisation exercise.

Type of servicesExpected turnover per dayAverage trip length
OrdinaryRs 8,00025 km
ExpressRs 10,000 and above47 km
DeluxeRs 12,000 and aboveAbove 47 km

Recently, the transport agency rationalised Route no 70 which plied from Avadi to Tambaram. The long route was converted into two short routes: 70 (Avadi to Koyambedu) and 70V (Anna Nagar West to Vandalur Zoo that passes via Koyambedu). “Since the trip length has been halved, the number of trips have been increased to 420 totally and the occupancy ratio has gone up by 45%,” said an official from the transport agency.

Read more: Why is MTC paying reduced salaries, even to staff ferrying frontline COVID workers?

Challenges faced by MTC

While the rationalisation activity happens every month, the MTC shares its own challenges around the exercise. “The entire system is done manually which is time-consuming and may not have accurate data as the procedure is not computerised,” a senior officer from the MTC says.

The second biggest hurdle is ensuring that the needs are met, given the existing physical number of buses they have. MTC serves the Chennai Metropolitan Area (CMA) that spans an area of 1189 sq km, but has only 3651 buses in total. While rationalizing routes, the MTC official says, it is difficult to manage the operations without withdrawing buses from other routes. As the transport agency has incurred heavy losses, adding more buses to the fleet every now and then is not possible, they say.

Many are critical. “The fleet strength, in fact, has dipped marginally in the past five years. But commuters complain about crowded buses, especially during peak hours, and the low frequency of buses during the grievance redressal meetings. A transport agency should not be operated to generate only revenue,” adds Sumana.

The ideal way to go about the rationalisation exercise is by developing digital infrastructure. According to a transportation expert, the MTC does not have a system that gives data like the travel destination of commuters, how many switch multiple buses to reach their destinations and how the optimisation exercise will impact commuters. “An electronic ticketing system is needed to get the precise data as manual analysis of data is difficult. The MTC should also analyse how it can mobilise maximum commuters during peak hours for which real-time data is crucial,” says a mobility expert.

The good news is that this could soon become a reality, as there is a proposal to develop the IT infrastructure, as part of which GPS devices will be installed to find the real-time location of buses as well as the software to manage and operate the entire system.

The view of MTC workers

While rationalisation exercises must benefit commuters, one also needs to take into account the impact on the conductors and drivers who implement such strategy. “We agree to the revisions in routes the management makes, but it often takes away our breaks and lunchtime. The working conditions become toxic and hectic,” said an MTC driver on condition of anonymity.

“When a route is extended, the time taken to complete a trip also increases and a time chart should be prepared accordingly. Often, the new time chart does not include the break that these workers are entitled to. The authorities do not consider external factors like traffic that causes buses to run behind the schedule on paper. Ideally, the management should consider these realities as well as workers’ welfare while implementing such changes,” says M Chandran, vice-president of the Government Transport Workers Association.

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  1. Krish says:

    It is time the Govt opens the city roads to Private buses. The fleet is woefully short. The classification of the services is a farce! The express buses neither move any faster nor is there anything qualifying to be called ‘deluxe’ in the so-called deluxe services.

    Doors that do not operate properly are actually a hazard, for which citizens are made to pay more.

    The drivers are an indifferent lot and the buses terrorize other road users with their reckless driving. The ‘stop-line’ at signals is observed more in the breach, and the buses almost always halt in the middle of the road at bus-stops, creating traffic-jams.

    Bus-bays are routinely ignored and the tax-paying Citizen is left running behind the buses.

    A GPS system has been in the works for more than a decade now, with nothing to show for it except for a clock here or there. In the same period, citizens have equipped themselves with GPS on their smart phones.

    Thankfully, the change in the political landscape has hastened the Metro, which, in days to come will be patronized more by the Citizens.

    With more Metro lines on the drawing board, this could well be the end of the road for the beleagured MTC.
    And deservedly so!

  2. Varadhan Radhakrishnan says:

    In Hyderabad more than one bus of the same route no will not be allowed for parking for ex:route no 70 parked in terminus if another bus of same route no comes immediately this bus has to go out there will not be more than one or two buses allowed it must be on the road so that not much crowd in bus stops no timing that 8 hours working you have to move on and moreover no proper shelters for time keepers they’ll monitor buses and also guiding public about the places to go. Most importantly not much crowds are hanging in any of the busses. more no of women conductors working morning and evening shifts and respectable too. I am here more than a year I feel more comfort in busses than TN. First public transportation is service oriented not on profitable basis. Then reduce the indirect staff every year and make computerized.

  3. ROHIT H CHANDAN says:


  4. Krishna Mohan Rao A N says:

    Since TN Govt former Chief Minister Dr. M. G. Ramachandran was very best good transportation MTC buses (formerly PTC) in Chennai city and surban neighborhood since Dec 1987 MGR govt collapsed. I strongly recommend you to restore old buses routes like 7C, 27,27A, 27 E, 34,41,41 A, 24, 15A, 15,27 H, 15 E, 47H, CT 27 L, 71,71 A, 15D ,G47,47 G and good benefits to public commuters, students, old aged persons and physically handicapped persons for enjoying MTC buses trips in Thiravuinar, Avadi, Thirumullaivoyal, Annanur, Ambattur OT n I E, Anna Nagar West areas

  5. Emmanuel says:

    Traffic or no traffic…same route bus of 5 to 7 services one after another all together at the same time or their would not be any bus services more than an hour which is fuel wastage and also anger the commuters as there is no proper bus stops for shades and payments filled with street vendors, specially is a big concern for senior citizens as they depend on economic mode of transportation and as well as mostly burdened with low financial support.

  6. Visalakshi says:

    Please extended Bus no.76 Koyembedu to Medavakkam Koot Road. Extended upto Tambaram East.All East Tambaram, Seliyur people’s are Enjoying.

  7. chellapandi subbiah says:

    There is no bus service to Chennai central from Radhakrisnan salai/cathedral road… however enormous service throgh royapettah.
    new route B1 bus service besant nagar to cenral via stella marys college is required.

  8. balasubramanian dhanasekaran says:

    rats are eating recklessly. govt machinery is out of control. every political parties are very very eager to rule the state but no one is interested to run buses. now they have sweeted the lurcative contracts in introducing metro train. if buses are run properly no one will take metro.if you see the manifest of these political parties no one stated that they will provide proper bus facilities to public.

  9. K.Muthukumaran says:

    Please increase Route No 104 Madhuravoyal By pass (Tambaram west to Red hills) in PEAK hours at morning 7.30 to 9.30 & Evening 5.00 to 8.00.The particular time you can operate addional buses or Cut services from Ambattur Estate to Tambaram also.

  10. Naresh says:

    Request you to get an new mini bus route from MAngadu to thiruverkadu..

    Route; MAngadu annan koil, MAngadu Raghunathapuram, malyambakkam,arvindo school, pooanamallee vida thieuverkadu

  11. பாலா says:

    MTC can run 5C from Broadway to Tara mani via central and Remote and joining at LIC.This will help passengers to take train at egmore also. MTC has to add another two buses to meet the freequency

  12. Rajasekar S says:

    Please restart the services of 5B, 12C & M15 from MYLAPORE tank to T.Nagar, Saligramam & Medavakkam respectively which will have good revenue to MTC. If more frequencies given to these routes the public will definitely use these routes. Nowadays all bus routes from MYLAPORE tank stopped and only bus shelters are only there to have some memories of such wonderful bus routes.

  13. krishnamurthy says:

    Resume small bus services in choolaimedu with GPS. Running wihout GPS is useless here.

  14. Jijo says:

    Please Restart K18 West Saidapet – Broadway -West Saidapet. No Direct buses to Broadway from EKKATTUTHANGAL, Kalaimagal nagar and Kasitheatre Bus stops.

  15. Ak ramesh says:

    S4 small bus from medavakkam to chrompet service not operating with full time table…very very few services are running….in this area so many people waiting for small bus..but no option they are going auto with high price..

  16. BalaRaj says:

    Privatisation is the only solution.

  17. Lalitha Venkat says:

    In Nanganallur very few routes are operated.That too at irregular intervals. No bus service here between 2 and 4 pm.They have stopped N21G and reduced the buses on N45B. Mini buses introduced in 2018;have either been reduced or stopped. We are at the mercy of auto which charges heavily even for short distance

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