Going back in time to trace the origin of Broadway Bus Terminus

Updated - June 12, 2024 07:09 am IST

Published - June 11, 2024 10:40 pm IST

There is a plan to develop a multi-modal transport hub at Broadway Bus Terminus.

There is a plan to develop a multi-modal transport hub at Broadway Bus Terminus. | Photo Credit: Athullyea Padmanabhan

The other day I was called up by someone in the government asking about the history of the Broadway Bus Terminus. Surely, the authorities would have some file or the other on such matters, I pondered. But mine not to reason why and so I got down to it. I cannot say I have reconstructed a comprehensive account but there is now a skeleton that should help anyone who wishes to take it further.

From trams to buses

Rather ironically, it was the trams that gave birth to the bus service in the city. A strike of its workers in 1925 saw the Madras Tramway Corporation employing 50 buses in the city. Following the resumption of the tram service, the bus service was given up in 1928.

However, private bus operators had seen potential in it and soon began plying routes. By 1946, there were around 200 privately run buses plying in the city. In March 1947, the government introduced 30 buses of its own, marking the beginning of state-owned public transport in the city.

By July 1948, bus transport in the city was fully nationalised. These were run by what was known as the Transport Department housed in the handsome Art Deco-styled Transport House on what was Band Practice Road.

State company formed

It was only in 1972, following the recommendations of the Justice Somasundaram Committee, that bus service was transferred to a specially formed, state-owned company — the Pallavan Transport Corporation — which, after many twists and turns, is now known as the Chennai Metropolitan Transport Corporation Limited. At inception, it had around a thousand buses running 294 routes, with eleven lakh passengers per day. I wonder what the figures are now. Transport House became Pallavan House and Band Practice Road became Pallavan Salai.

Shelters for waiting passengers were debated upon almost from 1947 onwards, this being considered the responsibility of the Madras Corporation. It was only in 1957 that the first of these was constructed. Broadway seems to have grown meanwhile in an organic fashion as such facilities do in India, with no planning.

Certainly, by 1964, there was talk of the mofussil bus stand, off Esplanade Road and behind the Burmah Shell Building and also the ‘Broadway bus stand’, the latter catering to city buses. Both were bywords for urban chaos. The Corporation repeatedly came up with budgets for improvements but very little seems to have been spent.

In 1969, Mayor Velur D. Narayanan remarked that there were more tea shops and coffee hotels in the area than buses and the stench was “unwholesome”. Incidentally, it was Narayanan who first used the term City Beautiful in connection with Madras and it can be considered the ancestor of Singara Chennai, the present Holy Grail.

Handed over to MMDA

Finally, in 1972, the Corporation sanctioned ?13 lakh for building a proper bus terminus at Broadway and work began. In 1977, the facility was handed over to the Madras Metropolitan Development Authority (now CMDA). By this time, the mofussil bus terminal, which has a parallel history of sorts, had completely taken over the Travancore Maharajah Park opposite the Annamalai Manram on the Esplanade. It was the MMDA that first mooted the shift of the mofussil facility to Koyambedu, a move that took almost three decades to materialise. The Broadway Bus Terminus, catering to the city, in the meanwhile, swallowed the grounds of the Madras United Club in its expansion.

Plans for its modernisation are legion, and the latest is the move to create a multi-modal transport hub there. In the interim, the terminus is to operate from the Island Grounds.

(V. Sriram is a writer and historian.)

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