Getting around the heart of Chennai city often takes time, due to traffic and heavy congestion. So it is advisable to plan your journey accordingly. Travelling within Chennai is not so cheap by Indian metropolitan standards, and are quite cheap by European and USA standards.
Chennai has a suburban train network. There are four routes:
The suburban trains are generally reliable and fast. The frequency of suburban trains is generally good and it is advisable to take a first class ticket during peak hours. Trains offer a reliable alternative to quickly reach your destination when compared to buses which might get trapped in traffic jams. The fare in Chennai suburban trains is the lowest in the country and you don't have to compromise comfort for the meagre amount that you pay as in other Indian metros. There is a separate ladies compartment in the suburban trains that are relatively less crowded even in peak hours. The lowest second class train fare is Rs.4/-. However, you might need to wait even for almost half an hour in a queue for ticket during peak hours. So it would be best if you buy a card that is available at every station that can be used to buy tickets from a ticket vending machine that almost nobody uses. Always keep your baggage safe when you are traveling in the suburban railway system.
New Metro Rail is under construction; it will soon be operational and will provide effective transportation. It will connect the airport, the railway station, the CMBT bus station and most of the city.
Metropolitan Transport Corporation buses ply throughout the city. These are government-run and extremely cheap.
Normally Bus Fare in MTC range from 4 - 30. State corporation also has Deluxe and A/C Buses for Chennai Passengers. Fare for deluxe bus is almost two times as compared to normal bus. For same route, deluxe and normal bus have same number but deluxe buses are being run targeting long distance journey since it will stop at major bus stops only. So if you find normal buses too crowded, take a deluxe one. Non AC deluxe also have power gates and better suspension which you wont find in normal bus. If you have luggage with you, you might have to pay the cost of an extra person depending upon its size.
MTC Chennai operates AC bus service between important routes like Parrys - Tambaram, Parrys - CMBT, Chennai Central - CMBT, Chennai central - Tambaram, etc. Most frequent AC bus runs between CMBT towards Pondicherry and are known as East coast road (ECR) buses and is very popular for intracity travel too.
Daily and weekly bus passes are available for tourists costing 50 or 300. They can be used on normal and deluxe bus services (but not AC) on all routes within the city. It is worthwhile to purchase the daily pass if you plan to visit more than a couple of places in a day and it will save you from the trouble to maintain loose change. The daily pass can be purchased on the first bus you board from the conductor, while the weekly and monthly passes are sold at kiosks located in major terminus. Recently a hop-on hop-off tour bus has also been organized by the Government. The service covers many of the famous sights along the scenic East Coast Road up to Mahabalipuram.
Bus Route information for MTC Chennai is available online at official site, jaanlo, desiroutes and rab . While official site only provides stage wise info, others have more interactive interface which can ease your life specially if you are new to the city like desiroutes is google maps based while rab is based on open street maps.
State Express Transport Corporation buses go to different parts of the state. Private carriers also run to other towns/cities in state. You can buy these bus tickets online at redBus or readIndia or RathiMeena.
Auto-rickshaw drivers in Chennai do not use meters; some try to overcharge and often drive rashly, but that's part of the fun of being in Chennai. They are happy to exploit foreigners and locals alike. The advantage of being a local is that you know when you're being fleeced, and so you'll know when to walk away and find another auto. The upside is that autos are ubiquitous and possibly the easiest form of transportation to locate. Use Auto-rickshaws only for short distances because they are uncomfortable. Before talking to an auto driver you might like to try and ask any local person what the actual fare should be, because the drivers will often ask for up to 3 times more. Even so, by Western standards they are dirt cheap. You'll have no problem once the fare has been agreed and for short trips the Auto is a must. The local government of Chennai has failed to regulate the price mechanism of the auto-rickshaws, possibly because they tried to set the price unreasonably low.
If you want to travel by the auto, stick to these rules:
As a general rule, expect to pay about 10 to 15 for every kilometer (0.6 mi) you travel.
Be careful about the following when you plan to undertake an auto-rickshaw trip:
The call taxis are better regulated and can be ordered air-conditioned, although unlike auto-rickshaws, advance reservations are needed and they cannot usually be flagged on the street.
Share autos have emerged in the recent years as an alternative mode of transport in Chennai. They are over-sized three wheelers running on diesel and charge slightly more than the bus. There are four wheelers known as meter taxis, which don't have a meter and are not taxis. Recently, yet another four wheeler, Magic(manufactured by Tata), has started running in and around the city, which operate similar to share autos and meter taxis. They are all over crowded and the drivers indulge in rash driving, owing to the competition. The only advantage is that it is cost effective.
On a side note - if you are fascinated by the idea of going around in an auto, think about all those foreigners, who are riding an auto from Chennai to Mumbai.
A Chennai based event management company, Chennai Event Management Services, has been having these auto-rickshaw rallies from Chennai to Mumbai, or Kanyakumari, etc.,
and has developed a great fan following for the same. More info:
Taxis (locally called "call-taxis" since they must be pre-arranged) are available by phone. They are mostly reliable, can be ordered air-conditioned, and have digital fare meters, although time-based hire is also possible with some companies. Most companies charge a minimum fare of 150/-, which is for 5 km (3 mi) and for every subsequent kilometre they charge 18/-. Alternatively, you can hire a car for a half/full day for around 800/1300. These figures are for basic non-AC Ambassadors, add about 50% if you want a comfier aircon Tata Indica. Waiting charges are included in the meter cost but you are required to pay parking and toll fees additional to the fare displayed in the meter. If your trip is time-sensitive, it's best to book your taxi a few hours in advance and call shortly before your trip to confirm.
Most prepaid taxi operators have choice of vehicles. Indica is the ubiquitous hatch back that can seat 3 passengers, but it is almost impossible to find one of these well maintained. Opt for a Figo or Liva instead of the Indica when you book the taxi, these are newer models and likely to be in better state of maintenance. If you prefer a sedan, choices are Etios, Maruti Dzire and Ford Fiesta. SUV models Innova or Xylo have more space and are suitable for small groups (up to 7). Innova has a well deserved reputation with travelers for airport transfers due to the reliability, spacious seats and capacity to carry more luggage.
Tourist Cabs - Are the best choice in case you want to tour the city all day or visit nearby places like Mahabalipuram, Tirupati, etc. Costs about 10/- per kilometre and 100 per hour as hire charges. Also generally there is special price if you need to go Chennai Central or Chennai Airport.
It is generally not advisable for foreign travelers to drive on their own as they might be unaware of the traffic rules and congestion in the city. The roads in Chennai are better maintained than the average Indian road. The main highway is Anna Salai also known as Mount Road.
The complex road routes may confuse novice driver and it is sheer waste of time. If you choose to rent a car, it's highly advisable to hire a driver as well. Typical driver fee comes to around ₹250 for 4-hour shift and an additional ₹50 every hour thereafter. Outstation trips cost a driver fee of ₹750 for a 12 hour journey.
Foreign travelers should keep in mind that both diesel and petrol are used as fuel in India and it varies with the model of the car. Some cars have identical models with only a D badge to indicate diesel. Make sure you find out what type of fuel the car uses from the rental company.
ECR or East coast road is one of the very few places around Chennai that is best enjoyed by car. There are a lot of scenic views with many sightseeing options along the route. For most of the sights within the city limits, travelers would be better served by public transport or a taxi.
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