The decline of Mumbai’s public bus service is from ‘BEST’ to worst!

ROHIT CHANDAVARKAR
Monday, 14 January 2019

The biggest factor contributing to the BEST bus service becoming a loss-making unit is also the political interference by the powerful lobby of politicians and the public sector-like non-professional work culture that the organisation has witnessed over the decades. No motivation among the staff, too much of union politics and lack of up gradation of equipment has put the BEST transport service on a downward spiral.

Lakhs of citizens living in India’’s financial capital Mumbai have been hit hard since the past seven days because of the strike by employees of BrihanMumbai Electric Supply and Transport undertaking or BEST. Once upon a time, known for its high-quality service and professional management, today looks very pathetic with unfit busses and unhappy employees making it a very sad organisation.

The BEST’s transport wing has been making financial losses for a long time but was subsidised by the electric supply and distribution wing. However, a High Court ruling some time ago which said that transport services cannot be subsidised at the cost of electricity consumers changed that situation. 

The rising cost of fuel, spare parts and buses hit the BEST undertaking very badly and over the years, it has reached a level where now it is perhaps financially unsustainable. Another very crucial aspect which has affected the BEST very badly is Mumbai’s choking road traffic. Rapid growth in the number of vehicles on Mumbai roads and a huge rise in density means the buses are now travelling much slower on the roads compared to earlier and that consumes much more fuel and also pushes the passengers away to suburban trains or other options. These factors, coupled with political apathy over the past several years, have pushed the BEST to the brink now.

But the biggest factor contributing to the BEST bus service becoming a loss making unit is also the political interference by the powerful lobby of politicians and the public sector-like non-professional work culture that the organisation has witnessed over the decades. No motivation among the staff, too much of union politics and lack of upgradation of equipment has put the BEST transport service on a downward spiral.

Governments, not just in various states of India, but also all over the world are now realising how public transport is very crucial in megacities and how private vehicles should be curbed if reliable and clean transport is to be developed which also controls emission levels. However, the debacle of BEST only shows how in one of India’’s biggest megacities where over 1.3 million people have to travel every day from their residence to their place of work, there is no attention given to how public transport systems can be expanded or even saved. The ruling class, including the elected representatives of various political parties and civic administration, is responsible for this.

Shiv Sena, which has ruled the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) for decades, seems to be looking away and is silent while over 1.5 million commuters who use this service every day are suffering endlessly. The leadership of this party seems interested in travelling to Uttar Pradesh to talks about building Ram Temple there, instead of solving the problems of its crores of supporters/ voters living in its own bastion.

Now, a blame game has begun over who is responsible for this strike and the hardships Mumbai citizens are facing because of the buses being off roads. Whatever allegations and counter allegations may be levelled, the fact is BEST seems to be in ruins and entire political class, as well as civic administration in Mumbai which runs the undertaking, will have to hold the responsibility for the steady decline of what once was known as pride of Mumbai and was seen as a role model for other megacities to follow as an ideal public transport system.

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