The Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) seems to have gone off its green route. It has decided not to increase the number of buses that run on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG).
The reason — difficulty in getting the right infrastructure, and ensuring variation in the fleet to run the transport wing smoothly in case of any emergency.
Out of BEST’s fleet of 4,700 buses, 2,207 run on CNG while 2,493 are still using diesel. At least 44 more Volvo buses running on natural gas will be added to the fleet by year-end.
Considered an eco-friendly gas, the BEST had introduced the first CNG-run bus in it’s fleet in 1997. Since 2003, the transport body retrofitted 761 buses with CNG engines by bearing the cost of Rs10 lakh per bus. And the fact that CNG prices were lower than diesel was an added bonus.
“However, if you look at the statistics, cases of breakdowns in CNG buses are much higher than those of diesel buses,” said OP Gupta, general manager, BEST. “The CNG engine is a new technology and out workers are still not used to it. Currently, we don’t feel any need to increase our CNG fleet.”
In January, a 45-year-old man suffered 20% burns after a bus caught fire in Andheri. It was later found that the CNG pipe had leaked and resulted in the bus being gutted.
Also, the recent damage to the CNG service pipeline that practically brought the city to a standstill has the undertaking concerned.
According to Gupta, running the whole fleet on CNG was not practical as it was necessary to have variation in the fleet to ensure smooth service in case of emergency situations. “What if there is a supply failure of CNG? If we have a substantial number of buses running on diesel it will help the city to commute smoothly and give us some flexibility in the fleet,” he said.
Arun Mokashi, transport specialist, agreed with the decision. “CNG is not the only solution to the problem of pollution and there is major improvement in the quality of diesel used today,” he said.
Also, the BEST has got pumps in only 13 of the 25 depots across the city. Another three will come up in the next few years. To get one CNG pump the BEST needs to get permission from 15 to 20 authorities, including the state government.
The BEST has decided to dedicate Vikhroli, Colaba, Shivaji Nagar and Marol depots to diesel-run buses.