The local arm of the Indian Railways and the ubiquitous red BEST bus are the two main transport services we Mumbaikars rely on to get us from point A to point B.
No, really? When was the last time you did travel in a bus? For several Mumbaikars, working or studying, commuting is slowly but subtly shifting to the share-auto or the pooled cab. The availability of faster alternatives to commuting has hit the BEST hard. The result - the BEST corporation is running into huge losses. So, how does it cope? It pulls the shutters on its AC bus service - one which ferried commuters from far flung suburbs to the hub of the city's commercial district. This it does at the height of summer in the city, leaving commuters stranded overnight and struggling to find alternatives.
In Mumbai, around 70 lakh people travel from one place to another daily. The Railways are already over burdened, with the local bursting at the seams with passengers who often travel on the rooftops, risking life and limb. For the others, the BEST is still the go-to option for want of alternatives. But reports now claim that the number of BEST buses has fallen 21 per cent in the last five years, which means there are fewer buses you can take even if you do want to travel in one.
“When I board share auto from Kandivali railway station to Ganesh Nagar and Charkop, it takes 10-15 minutes to reach but the bus takes 40-50 minutes for the same distance,” says Prasad Shahu, an IT employee who works in south Mumbai.
The BEST which is running in losses already have cancelled services at many places as there are fewer passengers. In order to recover the losses, they have sold 100 buses, and cancelled orders for 118 new buses and yet are in losses. Last financial year, BEST had taken a loan of Rs. 100 crore from BMC but even this move did not help BEST to cope up with the losses. It has tried other tactics like taking the road to privatisation, and other cost cutting measures, but is anything working?
“Many commuters prefer share auto to save money but one more reason for doing so is the rude behavior shown by BEST conductors and drivers. Firstly sometimes they drive rash and secondly, they are rude,” said Deepak Pathak, a lawyer.
Nevertheless, the BEST bus is for masses and not for classes. If we want it to survive, we will have to stop it from dying. If we stop doing it, then soon, private cabs will take over and Mumbaichi another lifeline ‘bus’ will lose its shine and identity.