Passengers had a narrow escape as an air-conditioned bus of the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) caught fire near the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Powai.
The incident took place at 9.55am on Thursday when bus number 442, which runs between Andheri and Mulund was on its way to Mulund.
“A mechanic forgot to remove the single seat cushion used to check the rear engine inside the engine compartment. Due to the heat in the compartment, the cushion caught fire, which spread to the engine. However, the fire was controlled,” said a BEST official who requested anonymity.
According to Sanjay Potnis, chairman of the BEST committee, the fire was brought under control immediately and not much damage was reported. “We have ordered an inquiry and action will be taken against workers responsible for the incident,” he said. He also insisted that there are no problems with the air-conditioned buses and that they are safe for passengers.
However, the incident has raised concerns about the safety of these buses. “Today’s fire may be due to human error but the BEST has to make sure that these buses leave the depot only after complete check up,” said transport expert Sudhir Badami.
Ravi Raja, BEST committee member corroborated Badami’s viewpoint. He said, “The administration should take this incident seriously and make sure that every bus that leaves the depot is checked thoroughly. The safety of the commuters is of utmost importance and all AC buses must be rechecked and certified by their manufacturer”. He added that the administration should make sure that every technician of BEST knows how to operate and maintain AC buses.
Around 59,261 passengers travel daily by AC buses, manufactured by Chinese company King Long, which entered the BEST’s fleet around three years back. There are 282 King Long buses in the BEST’s fleet presently, of which 200 were added last year under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission.
Despite their popularity, these buses are prone to catching fire with 19 similar incidents taking place in the last 15 months.
Last year, the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation had pulled out its 15 AC buses due to a similar problem. However, the BEST continued to run its AC buses, claiming that have been rechecked by their engineers and are thoroughly safe for commuting.