The Woman’s Guide to Using the MTC Bus In Chennai

A Crowded MTC Bus - Via Peter Haden / Flickr
A Crowded MTC Bus – Via Peter Haden / Flickr

The MTC bus is the lifeblood of Chennai, but…

The MTC (Metropolitan Transport Corporation) Bus is to Chennai what the Indian railways are to India! The ubiquitous MTC bus that hogs every major street and lanes in Chennai serve over 5 Million people every day! With over 4000 buses in its fleet, the MTC bus provides cheap transportation to all corners of this huge metropolis.

If you are a woman and new to the city, you will find it intimidating to board the MTC for various reasons.

Most buses are crowded and are packed like sardines in a tin can. The oppressively humid weather exasperates the challenge of boarding a bus and making it out of it alive!

There are way too many services and the associated acronyms that can drive you crazy. LSS, Cut Services, M Services, PP Service to name a few.

You will be lucky to find information about bus timings or routes at the bus stop. Bus route and timing posters are probably hidden under some politicians face or washed away in the rains.

If you seek help from others, you will get a mix of conflicting responses that range from people sharing wrong information with supreme confidence or unwanted questions about where you are going!

Of course, women will have to deal with unwanted stares, catcalls, or groping in crowded buses.

MTC bus seating etiquette for women

Assuming you have done your homework about MTC buses and have decided to take the plunge, you will have the option to either squeeze yourself in with no chance of ever parking yourself in a seat or (if you are lucky) you may have to choose the right place to sit down.

While we don’t believe there can be any specific strategy for squeezing yourself into a crowded bus that’s miraculously riding on half the total number of wheels available at the driver’s command, you have the option to strategise the choice of a seat in case you find one.

Before we dive into our specific strategies for choosing a seat when riding the MTC bus, it is important you understand the typical layout of the MTC bus.

MTC Bus Layout

As you can see from the above image, ladies have fewer seats to occupy compared to that of men. That’s hardly surprising.

However, seats meant for ladies or men are subject to “occupation” by the either sex. It is not uncommon to see some thick-skinned men taking over a seat on the women’s side of the bus!

However, the segregation of seats based on gender works in most MTC buses.

What to do when you have a vacant seat (yes, miracles do happen)?

If you have a vacant seat on the left side of the bus (meant for women passengers), take it even if you have empty seats on the other side. This is the easiest scenario and you will probably never encounter it in your lifetime unless you get into the bus before it starts the trip or take a late night trip.

If you find that all seats are taken by other women on the left side of the bus and you have vacant seats on the right side of the bus (aka driver side), here is what you need to do:

1. Approach the empty seat.

2. If there is no one at the seat (usually they seat two people), you are in luck. Just take the seat and make yourself comfortable.

If there is a guy already occupying a seat, you need to keep in mind the following:

Some guys will try to sit in the middle of the seat and spread their legs as wide as they can to discourage anyone from sitting next to them.

If you find a guy doing this, walk up to the seat and say “Anna” and at the same time gesture with your hand to signal your intention to take a seat next to him.

Most men will be happy to give you the space to sit and you don’t even have to say anything in Tamil other than “Anna” (Anna is “brother” in Tamil).

Here is how it works.

MTC Bus Seating

Some tips before you rush in to take the seat:

1. Purchase your tickets with the conductor who is has a cosy little seat for himself at the back of the bus. A typical conductor in an MTC bus is no different from a potted plant. He won’t move an inch.

2. Avoid the last row of seats in the bus at all costs even if you find a seat there. It’s meant exclusively for people who enjoy abrupt and sharp vertical motion. Not a great place to seat yourself after a meal.

3. Some women are accommodating and will make space for a third person to sit in a two seater! If you are on the leaner end of the body size spectrum, your chances of getting a partial seat are high. Remember to make eye contact and smile if you hope to squeeze in as the third person.

Pros and cons of sitting in the aisle seat or the window seat

If you know the bus will get crowded further along in the journey and you know where exactly you want to get down, take the window seat. This way when the bus gets crowded nobody can fall on you or misbehave under the pretext of lack of space!


Your Anna will become a natural protective barrier for you against unwanted advances by MTC Bus Romeos, you are safe from the antics of perverts and molesters, and you can get lost in your own world as the bus makes it way to your destination.

But the window seat is not always the best option!

If you know that the bus will be relatively less crowded for the rest of your journey, always pick the aisle seat. Believe me, you don’t want to ruin your hair and bathe your face in carbon monoxide, sulphur, and other pollutants!

We have identified the dangers you are exposed to when you sit in the window seat and the below chart has all the gory details.


That’s the price you pay for the relative safety of your window seat.

Let’s say you take the aisle seat, you are relatively better insulated from the pollution outside but not completely insulated. We have excluded air-conditioned MTC buses as the chances of finding one is pretty slim.

There are dangers lurking inside the bus as well and the below image has the details.



Let’s say you take the only empty seat on the right side of the bus, and then during the course of your trip, you find empty places opening up on the left side of the bus – move over to the other side. If you don’t move, you are taking away a seat from a man!

If you don’t move, you are taking away a seat from a man!

Tips for women electing to sit next to a man

1. If you smell booze, stay away. Hell, even sober men don’t go near drunk men on MTC buses.

2. Sometimes the pain of standing is worth the trouble especially when the bus is not all that crowded on a hot, sticky, summer day in Chennai. Remember, not all men use deodorant and the weather in Chennai is not forgiving.

3. Men do misbehave with women and groping is not all that uncommon. Keep a close watch and pay attention.

4. Men will stare at you. But, as long as they keep the distance, you don’t have to worry.

Go ahead, put all our techniques to practice when you take the MTC bus. After a couple of trips, your apprehension about boarding the MTC bus will soon fade away (just like the signs posted in the bus shelters) and you will soon appreciate the way the fearless drivers of MTC buses navigate their vehicles through crowded intersections without caring for the bright red light ahead.

Featured image via Eric Parker / Flickr.

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