993 new buses by 2020? But old promise didn’t see BEST result
While the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) has proposed to procure 993 buses by March 2020, it is yet to get even one of the 900 new buses proposed in its previous budget.
In the budget for 2018-19 presented last year, the century-old transport body had proposed to procure 800 new buses on wet lease, in which the contractor takes care of driver and maintenance of the buses, along with 100 under the state-funded Tejaswini scheme. According to BEST’s budget document, of the 800 buses, 400 each were to be air-conditioned and non-AC, 400 wheelchair accessible midi and standard buses and 100 mini buses (both AC and non-AC).
BEST officials said no new additions have been made to their fleet, restricting its size to 3,337, which includes 25 hybrid electric buses owned by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority.
The absence of new buses has hit the frequency, forcing passengers to wait for at least 30-45 minutes on certain routes. Consequently, the number of commuters has dropped to 29 lakh from 45 lakh a decade ago.
BEST panel, the policy-making body of the undertaking, had approved three proposals to hire more than 700 buses in December 2017, but it got stuck in a legal battle.
According to BEST officials, the petition will come up for hearing in the Bombay high court on October 16.
Ashish Chemburkar, chairman of BEST panel, said, “The issue is pending in court, but there is no plan of procuring all buses on wet lease the next financial year.”
“It is less likely that BEST will get new buses by March 2019,” said an official, who is not authorised to speak to media.
While presenting the ₹720-crore deficit budget for the next financial year on Monday, BEST proposed to buy 993 new buses, including 441 CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) buses, 400 mini AC and non-AC buses, 80 electric AC and non-AC buses and 72 mid-sized AC and non-AC buses, by March 2020.
“The additional buses will help plan more routes, but proper use of new buses is important. BEST should introduce feeder routes, instead of longer routes,” said AV Shenoy, transport expert.
BEST is going through its worst ever financial crisis from the beginning of 2017. The cumulative losses of the undertaking are more than ₹2,000 crore, with no funds to pay retired employees. Even its parent body BMC has refused any financial aid to BEST until it implements a ₹800-crore revamp plan, which has faced stern resistance from the unions and political leadership as well.
Despite repeated attempts, Surendrakumar Bagde, general manager of BEST did not respond to the query.
Most of the proposed buses in the next financial year will be acquired on a wet lease. Moreover, 113 buses will be scrapped next April and 167 more by March 2020. Hence if new buses won’t come early, the BEST operation will hit in a big way.