Article by: Bhushan Mhapralkar

Story by : Bhushan Mhapralkar

BEST is aiming at procuring fuel efficient buses to tackle the many challenges it is facing.

Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport Undertaking (BEST) is working towards replacing its current fleet of city buses with fuel efficient ones. The task is not as easy as it seems. For a city transport undertaking that traces its roots to the Bombay Electric Supply and Tramways Company of 1905, there are plenty of challenges to tackle. Challenges that are infrastructural and organisational in nature. Challenges that are technological and human in nature.

Mumbai may not figure in the list of 98 cities that were announced as candidates for smart cities by the central government, there are enough indications that the city will be compelled to change in the times to come. It will be compelled to drastically transform itself, and with it the public transport system. The advent of Metro and Monorail is just the beginning. A drastic change at the level of last mile connectivity is yet to be seen. BEST is a part of this connectivity equation. For a city whose population is 22 million and growing, the work cut out for BEST is no less Herculean by any means. It has many challenges to tackle indeed.

 

Metro and Monorail pose a new alternative

Metro and Monorail may not cover the entire city, but they have begun moving an amount of people. So, apart from the prospect of losing people to the Metro and Monorail, what is bound to make it challenging for BEST is its ability to operate buses with a smaller carbon foot print. Fuel efficiency takes precedence in this context; also the need for environment friendly buses. In an environment where roads are not in the best of their health, nor free of encroachments, BEST may need one of the most fuel efficient and modern buses available. This is made all the more necessary by the increasing traffic congestion.

 

Traffic congestion and dropping frequency

Traffic congestion is already affecting the smooth operation of BEST buses in Mumbai. The recent fare hikes, termed as steep by many BEST commuters, seem to have added to the challenge of retaining passengers. Many commuters CV spoke to, complained about the interval between two buses on the same route ranging as high as 30-40 minutes. In a fast paced city like Mumbai, the same may not be acceptable. Not even due to traffic congestion. Dropping frequency in the wake of steep fare hikes is said to have compelled a large chunk of BEST commuters to look at other options. While the ‘share rickshaws’ and ‘share cabs’ have proved to be a good alternative for those travelling over short distances, the decreasing frequency and a series of steep fare hikes led to the distancing of those travellers who relied most on BEST. When the issue of frequency was first noticed, the reason given was the introduction of a Canadian schedule. According to the BEST spokesperson no such schedule exists. He stated, the schedule is made by Trapeze, a global firm through their offices at Australia, and in Bangalore. If the spokesperson is to be believed, the savings in terms of Trapeze is to the tune of Rs.80 crore for the last three years. Yet, BEST continues to bleed; its buses are not in the best of their health either.

 

Condition of buses, need for new ones

The BEST spokesperson may have blamed it on traffic congestion for rising intervals, industry experts question the delay in modernisation and implementation of measures like telematics, which would enable cellphone users to know the exact time of the arrival of bus at the stop nearest to them. Of the 4,143 buses that BEST has, 3246 buses are of the single deck variety, 290 are air-conditioned, 487 are mid-sized and 120 are double deckers; 1183 buses run on diesel. With majority of BEST buses runing on CNG, travelling can be uncomfortable. Commuters point out that mild climbs can exasperate a CNG bus. They also question the general condition of buses. Some point at the way these buses rattle and shake; seats that are broken and torn, and window panes that are malfunctioning. If this would explain why BEST, which is claimed to have bought no new bus in the last five years, is working towards buying new efficient buses, the fact is, dilapedated seats can lead to a rocking ride in a BEST bus! During a visit to his office, the BEST spokesperson assured me that the issue of seats was being looked into on a war footing. For a city transport undertaking that is claimed to be reeling under a deficit of Rs.777 crore, it has taken some time before the challenge of broken seats was taken up.

 

Mounting losses?

For a city transport undertaking that was known for its clockwork precision and top quality of service, the fight to curb losses and get out of red seems to be the most demanding. Industry experts claim that BEST was allocated a budget of Rs.2,800 crore in FY16. In FY15, the income of the transport wing was Rs.1,523 crore. Beginning operations with a modest fleet of 24 motor-buses in 1926, BEST’s fare hike in April elevated the minimum fare of the ordinary bus to Rs.8, and that of the air-conditioned bus to Rs.30. Mentioned the BEST spokesperson, that there is no profit from the bus fare hike. The fare revision, he added, has helped to reduce the gap between income and expenditure to some extent.

Operating under the aegis of Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), BEST buses ply out of 25 depots, and ferry an estimated 38 lakh passengers every day, down from 40 lakhs after the two fare hikes. It is clear, apart from fuel efficient buses, BEST may also have to look at modern and traveller-friendly buses to help with a smart recovery. It may be safe to assume that the new buses will be diesel powered, and comply with BS IV emission norms. They are also expected to offer a class topping service at reasonable fares. While a CNG bus averages 2.68 km per kg according to the BEST spokesperson, it was the undertaking’s reliance of CNG that kept it from enjoying the benefits of the considerable reduction in diesel prices beginning late last year. BEST CNG buses, it is clear, are not on the same page as the diesel buses.

 

Dearth of space and the art of living

One of the many challenges that BEST is facing today is the dearth of space for depots. As per the BEST spokesperson, the undertaking is pursuing the issue of land for bus stations and depots with BMC. To ensure efficient operation, the city transport undertaking, according to the spokesperson, conducts refresher courses for bus drivers and bus conductors. Drivers are given training in fuel conservation and good driving. Meditation courses are conducted at the training center with the help of Prajapita Brahmakumari Ishwariya Vishwavidyalaya, Art of Living Foundation and Salaam Bombay Foundation. Apart from the need to keep its 34,906 workforce motivated, BEST may also need to ensure that its conductors are sensitive to the needs of the travellers. Ask the spokesperson, and he is quick to reply that BEST has introduced Public Information system (PIS). He claims that around 3200 buses have been fitted with this system, the details of which are available on the site, www.bestpis.in. Boasting about the introduction of e-ticketing system, computerised duty schedules, CCTVs in buses, BEST spokesperson stated that an effort to increase the efficiency was on. He pointed at an exercise to map the running of vehicles as per the actual time taken per trip. Schedules would be revised accordingly. Hope the exercises the BEST is doing will yield the desired results.

 

The BEST story

 

Excerpts from SN Pendsay’s book.

Story by : R Srinivasan

The book by renowned Marathi novelist and ex-BEST employee SN Pendsay, which was translated into English by Prof. MV Rajyadhyaksha, is an account of the progress made by the BEST undertaking till 1997. Excerpts:

 

People take to the bus

The people of Mumbai received the bus with enthusiasm but it took quite some time before this means of conveyance really established itself. For several years, it was looked upon as a transport for the upper middle classes. Those were the days when the tram was the poor man’s transport, carried one all the way from Sassoon Dock to Dadar for a mere anna and a half, that was nine paise. The bus fare for the same journey was four annas, that is 25 paise…

…Double-decker buses were introduced in 1937 in order to cope better with the growing traffic. The single deck vehicle carried 36 passengers, the double-decker could take as many as 58. This and its sheer size and look made the double-decker popular as soon as it was put on the roads…

 

Apart from a lot of information, the book has some rare photographs of trams, bus models, etc. The cost of the book is Rs 100 but it can be purchased at a discounted rate of Rs 65 from the Public Relations Department. But cash needs to be paid at the cash counter which is not open on Saturdays, Sundays and on holidays. Also the timing
is from 9.30-12.30 and 1.30-3.30.

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