Thousands of state-run buses went off the roads of India's financial capital Mumbai on Thursday, severely affecting public transport in the city.
Employees of the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) launched a 72-hour strike at midnight on Wednesday demanding better salaries. BEST is the city's only public transport network besides the trains.
BEST trade unions accused the management of not increasing employees' salaries despite promising to do so.
Every day, hundreds of thousands travel by the 3,500-strong fleet of BEST buses. Over 42,000 BEST employees are participating in the strike, BEST sources said.
With the suburban railway network carrying passengers way beyond their capacity, Mumbai hit the slow-motion mode following the bus strike.
Commuters, caught unawares, had to avail of auto-rickshaws and taxis to reach their destinations. Not only were autos and taxis charging exorbitant fares, harried crowds had a trying time even flagging them down.
"I usually take a bus to the Mantralaya (Secretariat) from Churchgate. But with the bus strike, I am having a tough time getting a taxi to Nariman Point," said Suresh Matale, a government employee.
"The taxi drivers are demanding three times the usual fare. My options are either to walk to office or be overcharged by a cabbie," he added. Autos do not ply within Mumbai city limits.
And in the area where the autos operate, they too made a quick buck.
"I usually take an auto from Bandra to my office in Bandra-Kurla complex. With the strike, I had to pay Rs.5 extra over the usual fare, as autos refused to ply as per the metre," said Rajani Kumar, a journalist.
BEST union leaders said they were not responsible for the commuters' plight.
"Commuters should ask the BEST management about this. It is the BEST workers who come forward and provide undisrupted service to people during water logging, fire or riots. Our services to the people should not be forgotten," Sharad Rao, general secretary of the employees union, told IANS.
The BEST management has threatened striking employees with "stringent" action.
Citing a Bombay High Court ruling on the strike, BEST official Uttam Khobragade said: "The strike is illegal. Those employees, who have not reported for duty, will face stringent action. Efforts are being made to run the buses."