Mumbai needs better service from BEST buses, not fancy paints on its exterior

Mumbai: Mumbai bus users are now being given two options by the municipalised bus transporters, BEST: Would they want an all-new livery of white with a dash of yellow on its exteriors or retain the red which is iconic of the city. Chances are they couldn’t care less.

BEST in the red.

BEST in the red.

They would rather like a more dependable service across the city, its suburbs and extended suburbs. Like, for instance, buses on time, non-curtailment of routes. They would be happy with the plans, when delivered, of "free WiFi inside buses and at bus stops, entertainment options on commuters’ mobile phones, real-time location and expected time of arrival (ETA)."

The proposed changes that require the nod from the city residents apparently are limited to the colour scheme worked out by the JJ School of Art, another iconic institution in the city. Who wouldn’t like WiFi, entertainment options and an App which tells the commuters when the bus would arrive? The facelift of white and yellow is only incidental.

There is no explanation as to what the compulsions are for the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (also known as BMC)-run Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) to shed the current red. A BEST bus stands out from a distance and would not get mixed up with the several private buses which sport any and all colours.
Then there is the question of the bills to be paid for the repaint job. It would be a safe bet that the entire fleet of close to 4,000 buses including some 120 double-deckers would require a hefty sum to change its appearance. If you have had your car repainted well, the extent of the outgo on this would be staggering. My conservative back of the envelope calculation indicates Rs 40 crore.

While the other facilities like WiFi and ETA are welcome and would require expenses to put in place and operate, and also induce the depleting number of commuters to return. Should an undertaking which has been borrowing to pay the salaries afford even that, especially when in 2015 itself its losses were Rs 2.26 crore per day? Fare increases have not neutralised the losses.

Mumbai commuters know that the railway locals are cheapest and quickest from point to point trips but they also do need the buses for trips to and from the railway stations from homes and offices. When fare hike was the only way the BEST worked out its economics, they shifted to share autorickshaws: no wait, quick without any en route halts. Passengers dropped to some 26 lakh per day.

No doubt there was the rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul bid of charging BEST’s electricity consumers a bit more as surcharge to soften the blow on its balance sheet but the regulator and the apex court disallowed the cross-subsidy.

Between 2004 and '05 the sum involved was a hefty Rs 1,187 crore. This loss was however covered by a nice title – ‘transport division loss revenue’ (TDLR). This, of course, aggravated the finances of the BEST.

BEST is a power retailer in the island city — from Colaba to Sion and Mahim — but other players are the power providers elsewhere in the suburban district where such a levy was not imposed. Therefore the question: what should the BEST focus on – service which attracts more consumers or lift its appearance.

Needless to say, in Mumbai, speed is always of the essence, and the BEST buses now crawl at 12 km per hour, which on an average is losing some half a kilometre per hour speed every year. More cars emerged as a consequence despite their cost, rising fuel prices and the huge parking problem. On the other hand, they do better at 20 kmph. The cars ply because of the city’s public transport system which is in grossly inadequate.

The buses are unable to meet the target of 200 km per bus per day and reports say they run only, on average, 183 km per bus per day, as did the speed. Which means there are missed trips and delays affecting the commuters. Time is of essence and the changed appearance of a bus — even if it turns out to be elegant — would hardly be the priority.

Updated Date: Apr 21, 2017 17:38 PM

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