Even as developed countries the world over are making large investments in their respective public transport systems and encouraging commuters to avail of the services, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC)’s decision to deny a subsidy of Rs 150 crore to the Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) undertaking has drawn widespread criticism from Mumbai-based transport activists and experts.
BMC’s refusal has resulted in the announcement of steep hikes in fares.
Activists on Wednesday criticised corporators in the BMC for opposing the subsidy, which amounts to a negligible fraction of the BMC’s budget, which stands at Rs 31,169 crore for the approaching fiscal. The subsidy, if granted would have helped 40 lakh bus commuters who use the BEST’s services on a daily basis.
Instead, the bus commuters will now have to shoulder the burden of two consecutive fare hikes in a span of two months. The first fare revision, in the Rs 1-10 range depending on the distance travelled, is due on February 1, while other will follow on April 1.
“It is a shameful act on part of politicians that they don’t want to charge toll on the proposed coastal road, which will benefit only car users. However, they are burdening the working class for a miniscule subsidy of Rs150 crore,” said Rishi Aggarwal, research fellow at Observer Research Foundation (ORF).
Transport experts said efficient public transport systems are common to developed cities, the world over. Cities like Hong Kong, Amsterdam, Singapore and London, have highly developed and efficient public transport systems, which result in better living standards of citizens and discourage them from purchasing vehicles that choke roads. Singapore, for instance, levies high taxes on car ownership, and extracts congestion fees from motorists, discouraging car owners from bringing out their vehicles.
“Till a few years ago, Singapore, Copenhagen and London faced similar problems of traffic congestion, but they strengthened their public transport by putting in requisite investment, which discouraged the use of private transport. As a result, today there are an increasing number of commuters in these places who opt for public transport,” said Ashok Datar, transport expert.
Criticising the BMC’s move of not allotting subsidy, BEST committee member Kedar Hombalkar said, “The Shiv Sena ruled-BMC is showing dreams of coastal roads to citizens, but is refusing to allot Rs 150 crore to BEST, which serves 40 lakh bus commuters. Ahead of elections, the Shiv Sena promised free tabs to students. By refusing subsidy, they have tripled the cost of student passes. This clearly shows their double standards.”