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How can Mumbai’s BEST buses be revived? With a bit of hard work

mumbai Updated: Aug 03, 2017 10:06 IST

(ILLUSTRATION: SIDDHANT JUMDE)

 

Making BEST buses Mumbai’s wheels again is no easy task. Think about it — it would involve replacing politicians on the planning panel with experts, overhauling a decades-old system, rethinking routes and putting the commuter first.

The good news is, it only sounds impossible. HT spoke to experts to find out if the crumbling bus network had a chance of surviving. It does, they said, but it’s a long road ahead.

Make BEST relevant

The first step is to start making the iconic Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport’s (BEST) red bus service useful to a new breed of commuters in a city overflowing with people.

One way to do this, according to transport experts, is to allow BEST to operate its buses across the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR). That’s nine municipal corporations and eight municipal councils including Thane, Navi Mumbai, Virar-Vasai, Kalyan-Dombivli and the hill station Matheran (all spread across 604 sqkm, with a population of 2.3 crore).

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

Each of these services is shoddy and inefficient on its own, forcing citizens to rely on suburban trains and autorickshaws. If all these transport bodies are brought under BEST or a new umbrella organisation, Mumbai and its neighbours would get a seamless bus transport system.

“If BEST is given the authority to operate in MMR, it will not only make travelling easier, but also help BEST financially as it will cater to lakhs of commuters. But today, most of these buses operate parallel to each other,” said Ashok Datar, transport expert.

And, BEST has a model it could follow — the state formed the Pune-Pimpri Chinchwad Metropolitan Transport Limited (PMMTL), which handles buses across Pune and the neighbouring Pimpri Chinchwad area.

Experts, not politicians

Experts said BEST’s biggest enemy was its planning body, the BEST Committee. It is full of political nominees who lack expertise in public transport and a few union leaders who are more concerned about the welfare of the workers than of passengers. To make BEST better, the panel needs experts who know how public transport systems around the world work and who could suggest constructive ways to improve the system.

“The BEST committee should support the overall development of the bus network, but currently the committee itself is an obstacle. The panel needs transport and finance experts,” said transport expert AV Shenoy.

Make BEST independent

Another long-term change in how BEST functions is separating the transport wing from BEST’s power department.

“If the transport wing is brought under the BMC, the government can think of ways to corporatise it, just as the railways created the Konkan Railway and the state created Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC),” said urban planner Sulakshana Mahajan.

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

How would this help? “An independent profit-making company without any political pressure can plan better and improve public transport in the city,” Mahajan said.

There are ways, is there will?

Apart from overhauling its system of working, experts said BEST must start looking for new and innovative solutions to its problems.

And, Mumbai’s infrastructure actually makes BEST’s work simpler.

While dedicated bus lanes on congested roads is a good start, in the next few years, BEST needs to develop a Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) — to complement the city’s railway and Metro network.

In BRTS, bus lanes are protected by barricades, have separate stations and enable faster speeds . Experts said the city already had the infrastructure — wide roads on the Eastern Express highway, Western express highway and Jogeshwari-Vikhroli Link Road — for a BRTS. Cities across the world, from Bogota to Johannesburg, have been able to tackle traffic congestion using the BRTS.

BEST needs to get back on its feet and soon, but all these long-term, well-thought-out reforms need the strong will of the ruling parties to become a reality.