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Public Transport in Chennai

Will you be moving to Chennai soon? As an expat, you’ll need to know the practical issues involved in this endeavor. Read on in the following guide for detailed explanations of visa requirements and residency permits, as well as how to get around in the city.
Are you ready to experience a typical Indian tuk-tuk?

India is notorious for its traffic and Chennai is no different from any other city in the country. It is known as the "Gateway to the South" and therefore ferries a lot of domestic and international traffic. Getting around within the city, though, is much harder than making use of Chennai’s international connections.

Chennai: Where Even a Bus Ride Is Quite an Experience

Buses are the main form of public transportation in the city. They transport about five and a half million passengers on a daily basis, on the hundreds of routes around Chennai. This is how most locals get around. The Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminus (CMBT) is located on the inner ring road in the Koyambedu area and is one of the largest bus stations in all of Asia.

Buses are extremely cheap – usually fares start at four INR per trip. Air-conditioned buses or deluxe express buses are more expensive, though, but the tickets are still cheap as compared to prices in Europe or the US, for example. However, a bus ride can be a bit of a chaotic experience, with men hanging off the sides, and people entering and exiting the vehicle before it comes anywhere close to stopping. If you are brave enough to try a bus, make use of the Raft or Ridlr smartphone applications — these will make planning your journey a lot easier.

Expats might make use of a different type of bus: many companies will send shuttle buses to pick up their employees and transport them to work on time in the morning. This is especially true for many companies based in the Tidel Park.

Taxis, Auto-Rickshaws, and Price Bartering  

When foreigners think of India, they often picture the auto-rickshaws, or tuk-tuks, which congest the country’s streets. These three-wheeled vehicles can be extremely fun to travel in, but are hardly practical for everyday use in Chennai.

Some drivers will try to charge overly high prices, especially to foreigners who might not realize they are being fleeced. If you would like to use a tuk-tuk, make sure you agree on a price at the start of your trip. Ten to fifteen INR per kilometer is the usual rate. Do not let the driver negotiate this value, no matter what he might say!

The same problem can be encountered with taxis. Make sure you distinguish between on call taxis and tourist cabs. This list of taxi numbers in Chennai will get you a better deal than with the tourist cabs, but you should still insist firmly on setting the price of your journey before entering the taxi. An air-conditioned pre-arranged cab will cost around 150 INR as the basic fare (circa five kilometers) and up to around 15 INR for every additional kilometer. Make sure that the taxi meter is running, so that you can get a good idea of the appropriate price for your trip.

Trains and Planes In and Out of Chennai

As the headquarters of the Southern Railway, the city has two main rail terminals. The largest is Chennai Central Station. This has links to national hubs across India, as well as to smaller towns in the south of the country. The second main station, Chennai Egmore, serves Tamil Nadu, and has few inter-state links.

Chennai has a suburban rail system with four major routes (run by Southern Railway), which is the closest thing to a metro network in the city. However, this is one of the oldest in the country, and is not too popular among tourists as it is clearly a commuter network. Although not a comfy tourist experience, it is very cheap. Expats should easily be able to afford a first-class ticket for less crowded coaches. The first-class prices start at around 42 INR, but, like many other fares in public transportation in Chennai, has been increasing over the years.

There is construction currently underway for a metro rail system in Chennai, so public transportation is improving! The first phase of the Metro Rail Project is expected to finish by the end of 2016.

Chennai International Airport has both an international and a domestic terminal. It is the fourth busiest airport in India and allows easy international travel to dozens of destinations, e.g. to Bahrain, Bangladesh, Germany, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mauritius, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, the UAE, and the UK.

The city is also served by Chennai Port. This is the largest in the Bay of Bengal, and the second largest port in India. While some cruise ships depart from the port in high season, it mainly functions as an important center of commerce for the city, rather than as a travel option. Chennai’s other port, Egmore, is for cargo vessels only.


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