The cries of adulation with which the Corporation of Chennai’s budget were received have hardly died down when conflict of authority among various departments and ministries in the State have begun to put paid to several plans. Among the casualties is the proposal to create cycle tracks and pedestrian pathways, both of which were the more creative elements of the budget.
It will be recalled that the Mayor in his budget proposal had envisaged a cycle track all along the beach, beginning from Beach Station and terminating at Foreshore Estate. This was to be extended later to the southern limits of the city, based on the success of the prototype. It is now learned that the Police has objected to this idea, stating that it is not feasible given the current traffic situation.
It is reliably learnt that the pedestrian zones too are also likely to be vetoed. If such conflicts are left to go unresolved there may be no improvement in our traffic situation in the near future.
In such a scenario, what is urgently needed is an overall authority that can be an umbrella body over all stakeholders. It can take into account diverse points of view and then come to a decision which, when announced, will be binding on all parties, irrespective of what their original views were. And Chennai already has such a body in the form of the Chennai Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority, CUMTA. Why not assign pedestrian and non-motorised transport issues also to it?
The Tamil Nadu Assembly had in November 2011 approved the setting up of a Chennai Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority (CUMTA). It was a development that was rather late in the day and which ought to have perhaps been set up in the 1980s when the MRTS was planned. Still, it was better late than never and it was hoped that, unlike its rather unwieldy name, it would live up to what was expected of it. Since then, however, not much has been heard of CUMTA or its activities.
Chief among CUMTA’s responsibilities was the preparing of a comprehensive and integrated public transport plan for the city, which included all modes – train, bus and the Metro. It was to 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. 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 would also periodically revise and upgrade its plans. To be headed by the Transport Minister, it had 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.
Given such a heavyweight composition, CUMTA could ideally take on the sorting out of the present conflict between the Corporation and the police. It also ought to realise that motorised or rail transport need not be the sole solutions to Chennai’s transport problems. It would be best if one of CUMTA’s objectives were the improvement of pedestrian safety and comfort. Studies have shown that a large chunk of road traffic could be eliminated if short journeys could be accomplished on foot. If so, why not look into this aspect seriously and see if some solution to accommodate pedestrian and cyclists’ interests can be arrived at?