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How can Mumbai’s BEST buses attract commuters? By being punctual, reducing ticket fares

New routes, a tracking app, a social media presence: it won’t cost much to revive BEST and woo back the customers it once had

mumbai Updated: Aug 02, 2017 09:21 IST
Giving buses their own space will help them go faster.
Giving buses their own space will help them go faster.(Illustration: Siddhant Jumde)

 Would you take the bus if you could use an app to track them, pick the best seat and know you would reach your destination on time?

BEST buses have for decades been Mumbai’s wheels, popular with the working-class Mumbaiite for being cheap and covering nearly every corner of the city. But the network — once called Mumbai’s pride and Asia’s best public bus service — is in poor shape today and rapidly losing popularity. The good news, however, is that it won’t cost the government much to revive it and woo back the customers it once had.

But it needs to be done quickly.

A cheap, easy plan

In the next five years, Mumbai could have an additional 50km of roads, but the new elevated roads and flyovers won’t keep pace with the growing number of vehicles. The city is staring at a traffic nightmare, unless the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport takes some economical short-term measures to make more people take the bus.

The simplest measure, transport experts told HT, is to increase the speed of the buses and make them more punctual. “Currently, buses run at 12 kmph (their speed used to be 18 kmph at one time).But this is because there are more private vehicles on the road,” said AV Shenoy, a transport expert.

What is the solution? Shenoy feels giving buses their own space will help them go faster. “This is the only way they will get more punctual.”

READ: Better buses, BEST solution: How to revive Mumbai’s bus network

Experts said it will take only a few weeks to set aside lanes for buses. It’s easy to implement and ridership would increase instantly. Currently, BEST has bus lanes only at the Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC), and it claims it is a success there. “Bus lanes will carry more people than all the other lanes put together. When commuters see the buses moving faster than their cars, they will automatically shift,” said Ashok Datar, a transport expert.

Reducing ticket fares will also bring commuters back. Two back-to-back fare hikes in 2015 saw thousands ditch the buses for cheaper options such as share-autos. Introducing mini buses could also help. Experts said smaller buses will move faster on Mumbai’s crowded roads.

Adapt to survive

In the past few decades, there has been a major shift in where Mumbai works.

There are new hubs and working hours have changed, which means people are travelling all over the city and all the time. But BEST has not changed its timetables or its routes.The result? In just a decade, the number of people taking the bus has fallen from 42 lakh to 29 lakh, and almost all of BEST’s 504 routes make losses.

Experts suggested shutting down routes with little demand and starting services to Metro and train stations. “BEST’s finances are in a critical condition. Shutting down loss making routes, reducing fares and introducing dynamic pricing could improve the situation,” said Sulaxana Mahajan, an urban planner. Again, these are simple steps that need planning more than funds.

Think innovative

From getting popular on social media to starting apps for commuters to track buses, there are several innovative ways to make taking the bus popular again, said experts. Getting citizens involved to save the iconic bus service is another way to make the buses popular again. The BEST management could use social media and networking applications to promote bus routes among commuters, said experts. Lower fares during non-peak hours and happy hours on holidays and weekends could also help.