The Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) undertaking’s administration is facing an unusual dilemma — drivers and conductors are demanding that the number of standees in buses be reduced.
If this doesn’t happen, they threatened, they’ll go on strike.
The BEST Workers’ Union has also demanded that daily wage drivers and conductors be made permanent employees.
On Monday, more than 2,300 BEST drivers and conductors stayed away from work, to press for their demands. As a result, more than 900 of the BEST’s 4,700 buses lay idle in their depots and lakhs of commuters suffered.
Around 45 lakh commuters use the bus service every day.
BEST sources said on condition of anonymity: “Every day, at least 5 per cent of the fleet is off the roads for maintenance purposes. On Monday, an additional 15 per cent didn’t run.”
These drivers and conductors were hired as daily wagers two years ago as a back-up for the staff that went on strike in 2007. These daily wagers earn around Rs 8,000 less than regular drivers and conductors who earn Rs 12,000-Rs 15,000 per month.
“The large number of standees is a problem for conductors while issuing tickets. We want the BEST to follow the mandatory 10-standee limit specified in the Motor Transport Workers Act (1961),” said Sharad Rao, general secretary, BEST Workers’ Union.
The union has given the administration 15 days to come up with a solution.
Manish Borse, a Dadar resident and regular BEST commuter, said: “Does the union want us to keep waiting till a bus that has less than 10 standees turns up?”
During peak hours, most buses are jam-packed; many passengers are forced to perilously hang on to a railing at the door. Many struggle to even buy tickets.
“We will see how many were absent on Monday and ask them why they stayed away. We’ll then see what action can be taken against them,” said OP Gupta, BEST general manager.
The administration met with the daily wagers and agreed to look into the demands. There were minor protests at depots at Gorai, Wadala and Goregaon.