The Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) bus service is facing a survival challenge since long as it is losing passengers at an alarming rate while its revenue graph doing downwards with time. According to reports, its ridership is at the lowest in the past decade. The average daily ridership of BEST buses stands at 26.20 lakh at present. It is down from 28.34 lakh for the same period last year. BEST buses used to ferry 42.06 lakh passengers per day a decade ago. That is why BEST decided to reduce fare which will likely be implemented from July 8. While riders are mostly unhappy about poor services and rude staff of BEST buses, only cheaper fare unlikely to help in its revival. BEST is in dire need to improve services to win the hearts of the city again.
VS Nagaonkar, Officer on Special Duty, BEST, told Afternoon Voice, “BEST has decided to reduce bus fare. Cheaper bus fare will attract more passengers and ultimately, it will enhance its revenue. More people will travel by bus, more will be our income.”
It is worth mentioning that the state’s Regional Transport Authority (RTA) has given green signal to BEST’s proposal for reducing bus fares. BEST officials expect that this move will boost ridership and income, too. As per the final decision, the minimum non-AC bus fare has been reduced from Rs 8 to Rs 5 for the first five kilometres, while the maximum fare for this class has been capped at Rs 20. The minimum AC bus fare has been brought down from Rs 20 to Rs 6 and the maximum fare has been kept at Rs 25. Now, the fare slab for non-AC (regular) buses will be Rs 5, 10, 15 and Rs 20, while it will be Rs 6, 13, 19 and Rs 25 for air-conditioned buses.
BEST has a fleet of 3,337 buses, including 120 double-deckers. At present, BEST is unable to recover even its cost of operation. It operates 483 routes in Mumbai, Thane and Navi Mumbai and its daily loss is estimated at around Rs 2 crore. BEST aims to bring its daily ridership to at least 42 lakh passengers per day. Meanwhile, the BEST will be getting 450 Midi/Minibusses that are smaller in size. These will maneuver on narrower roads and as per future plans, become modes of transport for connecting Metro rail stations on various routes.
Vasanti Pandurang Main, a regular BEST commuter and a resident of Lalbaug said, “BEST Bus staff never reply properly to any query. Their behaviour is not good. BEST buses do not run on time. Therefore, people do not prefer travelling by bus. Although BEST has reduced bus fare, it will not be beneficial more. Time is very precious and important to the Mumbaikars. So, they will not choose buses to travel if their services continue to remain poor.”
Official notification will be issued in a day or two, after which the new fares will be implemented across all routes. BEST Chairman Anil Patankar said, “If the notification is issued in two days, there will be the weekend and implementation will only be possible by Monday or Tuesday.”
Senior BEST Committee member Ravi Raja also welcomed the decision, but he pointed out that it is going to make an annual loss of Rs 125 crore due to fare reduction. Meanwhile, the BEST will be getting 450 Midi/Minibusses that are smaller in size. These will maneuver on narrower roads and as per future plans, become modes of transport for connecting Metro rail stations on various routes.
Sachin Kamble, Conductor of Vikhroli Bus Depot asserted, “After the reduction of bus fare, definitely the number of passengers will increase. However, the number of staff has gone down. In spite of this, BEST buses are clean and comfortable. Bus staff act promptly on any complaint.”
Experts say that BEST needs to take multiple steps to counter the situation and win the heart of the city dwellers. They suggest that it must increase the speed of its buses, besides improving service quality. Priority should be given on increasing the speed and frequency. Local trains, metro, and Monorail are competitors of BEST bus services in the state capital. Besides them, private taxi services are also putting challenges for bus services. So, BEST has to overcome all challenges and improve its shortcomings.
Purva Mukesh Satane, a student from Ramnarain Ruia College said, “For people who come under BPL (Below Poverty Line) category, only bus traveling is affordable. So, the common man will never stop travelling by bus whatever the circumstances might be.”
On the other hand, many passengers say that BEST bus services are no longer the best. Bad management and rude staff hurt people. Conditions of BEST buses are not good. Their brakes fail anytime and anywhere during the journey. They say that the average peak hour speed of BEST buses has dropped by nearly half in a decade, from 16 kmph in 2008 to 9 kmph today. The situation in the peak hour must be even more suffocating. There is a big loss for customers. Over 17 lakh passengers have opted out of bus travel daily in the same ten year period.
‘Amchi Mumbai – Amchi BEST‘, a forum of transport experts, welcomed the move but with a note of caution. The Forum co-convener said, “We agree with fare reduction, but it has to be complemented by other measures like dedicated bus lane on all arterial roads to ensure buses get priority. In addition to this, commuters should be concerned about contractor-run buses because it is uncertain whether these buses are safe or reliable.”
By Rajesh Kumar Choudhary & Moumita Mukherjee