Mumbai BEST strike called off, but what about the future?
Promises of timely salaries, merging BEST with civic body are temporary solutions; ways to overhaul service not discussedmumbai Updated: Aug 08, 2017 00:44 IST
From promising to pay employees before the 10th of the month to ensuring the loss-making transport body is merged with the BMC, the ruling Shiv Sena found a way to end the workers’ strike, on Monday — but only temporarily.
But there was still no concrete measures discussed to reform BEST and save it from the crippling debts it faces. Experts said the BEST bus service will continue to be in trouble.
Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray assured the unions he will ensure salaries before the 10th of the month and also start within a week the process of merging BEST’s budget with the BMC’s to end the financial crisis. After Thackeray’s assurance, the unions ended their 16-hour strike.
But now, questions are being raised about how the authorities would keep up this promise.
BEST ferries 29 lakh commuters a day on 504 routes. But decades of neglect has the century-old transport body facing its worst-ever financial crisis, with cumulative losses crossing Rs2,100 crore. BEST does not have money to disburse salaries on time and was even forced to drop a plan of buying 303 new buses.
As a way out, the BEST political leadership had demanded a Rs2,000-crore bailout package, but BMC commissioner Ajoy Mehta refused to give funds until BEST accepted reforms suggested by the BMC. “There is no denying BEST employees must be paid salaries and buses should run for Mumbaites. But they should run effectively,” Mehta said. He suggested reforms such as wet-leasing buying buses (leasing with drivers), reworking fares, shutting down the AC buses and running mini services. Mehta said these reforms could help BEST save more than Rs700 crore every year.
Transport experts agreed, but pointed out that while merging BEST’s budget with BMC will end financial problems, it won’t be enough to woe back passengers until operations are overhauled and the service is made better.
“BEST has resolved the labour issue, but the root cause — of losing passengers — has not been addressed. The passengers won’t return to BEST buses till it improves efficiency, speed and punctuality” said AV Shenoy, a transport experts. Shenoy suggested the need to appoint a consultant to study and suggest a total revival plan for BEST.
Experts fear the city will continue to suffer if authorities ignored reforming BEST’s services.
Just days before the BEST strike, HT, in a four-part series, highlighted the crisis at BEST (Mumbai’s second-largest mass transport system), why it needed to be saved and the possible solutions. Experts suggested several solutions such as running small AC buses, introducing dedicated bus lanes, lowering fares and restructuring the BEST committee to save the iconic service and help it increase revenue.