Why BEST still waits for the much-needed overhaul?
During the Hindustan Times’ Unclog Mumbai initiative in the last two years, transport experts had repeatedly stressed on the need to encourage public transportUpdated: May 12, 2017 09:22 IST
It’s been 15 years since the Maharashtra government launched its ambitious Mumbai transformation plan to rebuild the city’s crumbling transport infrastructure. It included a bouquet of infrastructure projects such as the metro, monorail, water transport, expanding the capacity of the suburban train network and building roads such as the eastern freeway.
The original plan was to invest Rs43,000 crore, but now the cost of the projects has increased manifold. In the past few years, some more projects such as the Mumbai coastal road has been added. What we have seen over the years is that the authorities in the state or the city are more interested in big-ticket projects rather than the ones that would boost public transport. The only exception is the network of seven metro routes planned by the government after Devendra Fadnavis took over as chief minister.
Besides the metro, most projects seem to be aimed at promoting private transport. State and city level authorities seemed reluctant to take up the overhaul of Mumbai’s century-long bus service, which is still the second largest mode of mass transport for Mumbaiites, after the suburban railway network.
Over the years, as the makeover plan was being implemented, BEST’s bus service was losing its sheen and commuters. Reviewing functioning and making changes in it, keeping in mind the way Mumbaiites work and commute, was never taken seriously. When it came to the BEST, the only solution seemed to be buying more buses. The BEST, which was somehow running its loss-making transport wing by using its profit in distribution of electricity, suffered a blow when it was prevented from doing so under the provisions of the Electricity Act. The provision in the law was meant to benefit electricity customers but it brought trouble for the bus service. It was at this juncture that both the state government and the BMC, which owns the BEST, should have charted out a plan to make the service financially viable but nothing much was done. The BEST administration tried to increase the fare but the political leadership did not allow.
This approach towards affordable mass transport in the city has led to the situation in which the BEST finds itself now. On Monday, it wound up its air-conditioned bus service. Next, it is going to shut some existing routes. Its accumulated losses have crossed Rs2,000 crore. Since last month, it does not have enough funds to pay salaries. The administration has prepared a plan, which includes curtailing bus operations and increasing the fare.
During the Hindustan Times’ Unclog Mumbai initiative in the last two years, transport experts had repeatedly stressed on the need to encourage public transport.
Over the past two decades, the way Mumbai works and commutes has changed a lot. The traffic is no more only north-south bound as new commercial hubs have emerged across the city. In the next few years, the metro will start taking shape. Considering this, BEST should rework its routes, use smaller buses and adopt new technologies to make its service commuter-friendly, say experts. The state and BMC authorities must provide funds for the overhaul of the service. While big-ticket projects are being chased, some attention needs to be paid to low-cost but effective solutions such as dedicated bus lanes. Experts have also been suggesting that the bus service in the entire Mumbai Metropolitan Region should be handed over to the BEST. It makes sense considering the emerging commercial hubs along the periphery of Mumbai. During his election campaign, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis had promised a lot of things for Mumbai and the city gave a substantial number of seats to his party. Maybe he can start with the BEST.