Chennai (formerly ‘Madras’) is the capital of Tamilnadu State in southern India. With an urban agglomeration spread across more than 400 square kilometers and a population of about 9 million, Chennai is the 4thmost populous metropolitan area of India and is the biggest industrial and commercial center and one of the major ports of South India. The city is India’s 2ndlargest Information Technology Services hub, also famous as the ‘Detroit of India’ due to major automobile sector establishments around and is the cultural capital of south India and 2ndfinancial hub next to Mumbai.


In past, private operators ran buses within and outside the city. In 1947, 30 city buses were introduced by State Transport Department- Government of Madras. In 1972, the departmental setup was converted into ‘Pallavan Transport Corporation Ltd. (PTCL)’ having fleet of 1029 buses which increased to 2332 buses by 1994. In the same year, PTCL took charge of bus operations in south madras and its sister concern wing ‘Dr. Ambedkar Transport Corporation Ltd’ took charge of bus operations in north madras. Later in 2001, both these separate establishments were merged again into a single entity ‘Metropolitan Transport Corporation Ltd.’ (MTC). 



MTC is now India’s highest passenger carrying bus based public transport system with daily average ridership of more than 5 million passengers. The corporation has 25 depots, fleet of more than 3,600 buses operated on about 780 routes and staff of 24,000 people, with more than 9,000 drivers and 0.1 million conductors. The fleet has 100 high capacity vestibule buses, a unique feature found in public transit operators across India and 100 air conditioned buses on selected routes. There are very few cities which operate articulated buses, Chennai is one of them. 45% fleet is standard type whereas 48% fleet is semi-low floor buses. The fare of express services is 1.5 times higher than ordinary services, while that of deluxe and night service is twice the ordinary fares. Fare for air conditioned services is 2.5 times ordinary bus fares. Variety of concession is offered to users. There is a provision for daily, weekly and monthly travel tickets with attractive rates.

Chennai also has rail based mass transport system operating conventional rail engine-coach and modern rail system ‘metro train’ is under construction. Different services offered by MTC range from ordinary to express, deluxe, night and lift services. Each bus travels at least 300 kms. a day. Night services are operated on 48 routes.

Average Annual Statistics

Fleet Held


Fleet Operated


Fleet Utilization


Fleet Age (years)




Fuel Efficiency

3.98 kms./litre of HSD

Passenger Trips

4.3 million per day



Fatal  Accidents

125 (9% of total accidents)


2320 million rupees



From 2004 to 2008, fatalities recorded increase with highest observed in the year 2007-08 of the decade after which it started decreasing.  Whereas the incidents of accident occurrence are observed to be continuously rising from 2002 to 2011 (where it recorded the peak) and reducing thereafter.Image

















The graph of daily actual fleet operations was decreasing until 2007 after which it is seen to be maintaining somewhat uniformity in the gap against actual held fleet numbers. The reason for non-operations of fleet can be due to buses under maintenance for long time. The wider the gap in supply, more the reduction in public transport trips resulting into increased use of personal vehicles and creation of traffic congestion as well as air pollution.  Image
The decadal graph of average fleet operated v/s passengers carried shows that even though fleet operations were going down from 2002 to 2007, ridership wasn’t much affected; instead it was in increasing order. Which means buses might have experienced saturation load during the period. The daily average ridership is observed going down slightly after 2011 yet fleet operations remains constant.  The staff to bus ratio has a decline after 2010 yet the average fleet held is in increasing order after 2007 i.e. more buses compared to staff strength.  Sometimes this imbalance can has adverse impacts resulting in decreased operational efficiencies and more time taken towards bus maintenances.

This imbalance can be explained even by another graph of average fleet held v/s staff strength. The resulting decrease in fuel efficiency from the graph below can be correlated with decreased staff to bus ratio after 2010. It is noteworthy that the overall average fuel efficiency achieved from 2002 to 2010 is very much appreciable.  Yet, the slight reduction in the recent years is definitely a matter of concern as the city’s population grows.


The average fleet operations were in reducing order from 2002 to 2007, total revenue as well as costs were still in increasing order. The widened gap between total cost and total revenue can be clearly seen in the graph lines. This is explained well by the graph of average annual deficits. While the year 2002-03 was a ‘profit making year’, it hasn’t even reached breakeven point after that. The sudden increase in the deficit after 2010 is a serious matter of concern.


Taking a close look at the important costs, the expenses towards staff and fuel and lubricants are the two big areas. While the fleet strength didn’t see a notable increase from 2002 to 2006, yet the expenses towards staff and fuels were high. It can also be noted that line of staff costs in the graph is having a ‘sharp rise’ compared to the other.  The breakup of various cost heads gives us somewhat idea about average annual expenditures behind each head; staff costs cover almost 50% of the total expenses, whereas fuels and lubricants are 30%. The taxes paid by MTC to state government are only 1% of the total expenses, hence a proposal for reduction in taxes to promote ‘public transit patronage’ may not have considerable impact on annual deficits. The conclusion is that MTC requires a deep focus on ‘staff costs ‘, fuels and operations management in order to reduce deficits. 


Chennai is the only city of India with highest public transport ridership patronage in city buses, yet some of the statistics observed here is matter of concern for future of MTC. If improvements not done soon, the ridership may see further decline and increased vehicular ownerships adding to more traffic congestion on city streets and worsening the air pollution. There is no doubt in the 'bus based public transport culture' of the city, people travel a lot, but avoiding 'up-gradation of performance' of MTC may result into serious decline in public transport ridership. MTC has taken many initiatives to improve the performance as well as operations management. From the above analysis, it can therefore concluded that future of Chennai has strong potential, if right steps taken now. The city can emerge as a 'model city' for all other areas of India from 'public transport use' viewpoint.