The AC buses plying on the BEST network in Mumbai, known as King Long buses, are in fact manufactured by JCBL in Mohali and have nothing to do with the Chinese bus maker, except few parts here and there
Commuters travelling by the AC buses run by the BEST Undertaking in Mumbai are furious at learning that the King Long buses that cost around Rs40 to Rs45 lakh are not even made in China but in our own Mohali and that too by a local manufacturer using few parts from the Chinese company. Mumbai Mirror revealed this today after an RTI application.
“Investigations carried out by this paper have revealed that King Long buses, sold to us as top-of-the-line Chinese import, are not King Long buses at all. The purple buses you see breaking down every now and then have nothing to do with the Chinese bus maker Xiamen King Long United Automotive Co, except a mechanical part here and there. The rickety clunkers that have given the usually efficient BEST a bad name are Cerita buses put together by an Indian company JayCee Coach Builders (JCBL) at Lalru, Mohali in Punjab,” the newspaper said.
Transport experts are also furious at this blatant lie and misuse of a brand name. “This (the revelation) is undoubtedly a terrible stuff. As a large buyer of buses, BEST should take due care in the specifications, technical audit for all the buses that it buys,” says Ashok Datar, a transport expert.
"We need to understand the cost of so called King Long buses and what would be the cost of actual King Long buses," says Mr Datar, adding that there is definitely a need that Mumbai can get a number of low cost but good quality AC buses. "AC buses, in addition to the luxury high end buses, costs about Rs1 crore. Investment in such buses is equal to Rs3 lakh per seat which is more than Rs2 lakh per seat for an ordinary AC car. We know that for a bus, cost of interest, depreciation and employees works out to be about 2.5 times that of fuel cost. Hence cost of a bus is more important than the cost of fuel," he said.
Uttam Khobragade, the then GM of BEST, labelled these AC buses as ‘King Long’
During the inauguration ceremony on 15 December 2007, both the then Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and Uttam Khobragade, the then GM of BEST referred to these buses as King Long, says Mumbai Mirror. "Interestingly, though the first bus carried the Cerita logo on its nose, it was not clearly visible because of the elaborate floral decoration. The media - both print and electronic - lapped up the Chinese connection and in those days, when Shanghai was Mumbai's aspiration, the lie suited everyone," the report says.
For years Mumbai has been sold the lie of these haphazardly put-together vehicles with a ridiculously high incidence of breakdowns—4,037 in two-and-a-half years for 285 buses—boasting of a Chinese lineage, the newspaper report said.
Bombay Electric Supply and Transport Undertaking (BEST), which manages the public transportation on city roads has been lying throughout the years, officially and unofficially about these problematic AC buses. Speaking with Mumbai Mirror, BEST General Manager OP Gupta, who took over recently, admitted that the 285 buses known for their poor performance in his AC fleet are Cerita and not King Long. “Yes, these are Cerita buses and not King Long. Their warranty period has expired and we have taken a decision to not buy any of these buses ever again. In fact, when I took over, I stopped delivery of 38 of these buses that still had to be acquired,” he told the newspaper.
Following a fire mishap in 2010, the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) decided to rest all its fleet of about 15 of these so-called King Long buses. Similarly, these buses while plying in Mumbai also faced same situation, one at Cadbury Junction in Thane and another near Huma Ad Labs on LBS Road. But BEST still continues to ply these buses across the city.
An activist who has campaigned for an efficient school bus system in Mumbai, says, "In order to encourage usage of public transport, an efficient public transport service is an absolute necessity. The fleet of buses, therefore should, most certainly be safe, durable and comfortable for the public to avail of this service. BEST are now in deficit of buses in their fleet, therefore the facility offered to the public is also greatly insufficient!"
Khobragade, the then GM of BEST when these AC buses were introduced in services, told the newspaper that since the matter is too old, he can't remember the specifics.
A retired IAS officer who has worked with Khobragade says, "I agree that Khobragade is 'corrupt' and may have conspired on the King Long deal. But the question is will the Government prosecute him?"
According to news reports, last month around 100 King Long buses were used during the opening ceremony of the London Olympic Games. About 10 XMQ6127 buses were even appointed as franchised vehicles by Olympic partner Samsung Company to serve OCOG officials, athletes, referees and volunteers.
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