11 Mumbai Darshan buses for tourists yet to start running
Eleven special air-conditioned double-decker buses purchased for ₹8.80 crore to run the ‘hop-on, hop-off’ services in the city are gathering dust at Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport Undertaking’s (BEST) depot at Santacruz for the past 10 months.
Why? Nobody knows. While two senior officials of the tourism department and Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) blamed “internal politics”, Madan Yerawar, minister of state for tourism, elaborated on how he has consistently followed up on the delay, without mentioning what was causing it. HT could not confirm the exact reason for the delay as tourism minister Jaykumar Rawal did not respond to text messages or calls.
Hop-on, hop-off buses allow you to get off and onto the bus on the pre-decided route multiple times, with ticket validity for 24, 48 or even 72 hours. The 45-seater buses, purchased by MTDC for nearly ₹80 lakh each, have audio-visual guides, chemical toilets and restaurant-like customised seating. The buses were to start from two spots – Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) in the western suburbs and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus in the island city. The bus starting from CSMT was to travel via the museum, Gateway of India, Marine Drive, Mani Bhavan, Haji Ali and other spots in the city. The bus from SGNP was to travel via the same route in the opposite direction. Tourists have to pay ₹400-500 for a person, and are offered free breakfast along with other facilities. Currently, MTDC offers a tour of south Mumbai’s tourist spots using BEST’s double-decker bus Nilambari. The tourist has to shell out ₹180 and ₹60 for a journey on the bus, which has an open upper deck.
The plan to run the service, on the lines of Metros across the world, has been pending since 2015-2016.
The idea dates back to the Congress-NCP government, and its execution began during the BJP-Shiv Sena rule. In 2015, the district planning committees (DPC) for Mumbai and Mumbai suburban districts, in their budget, allocated ₹3.11 crore and ₹5.60 crore for these buses, respectively. A private operator was appointed as a contractor. In March 2016, MTDC signed an agreement with the operator to provide the bus service. The buses were ready within six months, but their registration was completed at Kalyan road transport office (RTO) by mid-2017. By then, MTDC was reluctant to launch the service and the private operator handed over the buses to the corporation in March 2018. Since then, the buses are parked at the depot.
Yerawar said, “I have written 10 letters to get this service off the ground. It will be an innovative service, and will certainly get good response. I don’t know what the issue is.”
Recently, MTDC wrote to the operator to launch the service from January 26, 2019, but the plan didn’t materialise. “We will launch the service soon,” said Abhimanyu Kale, managing director of MTDC.
An MTDC official, however, admitted that as the buses have been unattended for a long time, they can’t be put to service without repairs, which will lead to expenses for the authority. HT contacted the private operator, but he refused to comment on the issue.
According to the agreement signed in 2016, MTDC was to get 11%, 15% and 21% revenue share in the first, second and third year from the private operator, respectively. The revenue share will be 26% and 31% in the fourth and fifth year. MTDC has lost the revenue for the first year.