MCGM is obliged to keep BEST operational through financial Support
MCGM is obliged to keep BEST road transport division operational through financial support, the support every city public transport gets world over and in India from the Urban Local Bodies. BEST Transport Wing has been getting subsidy hitherto from its Electricity Supply Wing  
 
The BrihanMumbai Electricity Supply and Transport Undertaking (BEST) provides two essential services to its consumers – as the name suggests, supply of electricity and providing road public transport. It is an Undertaking of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM or BMC). Following the enactment of Electricity Act 2003, it is required that profits made by any company carrying out activities of electricity generation, distribution and supply shall be pooled back into its own maintenance, improvement and replacement. It shall not be subsidising other operations of the company if any. Thus, in the case of BEST, its transportation wing shall not be subsidised by surpluses from its electricity supply operations.
 
With growing number of motorcars in use or parked on road, there is tremendous vehicular congestion due to which the BEST buses too travel at atrociously low speeds especially during the peak periods of high demand. At railway stations besides roadside hawkers, share-autos add to the congestions making the BEST feeder routes operate at very low fuel efficiency and unpredictable frequencies. Buses on long distance trunk routes too travel at very low speeds, which are highly fuel inefficient, unpredictable and of low frequencies. All these discourage even the loyal BEST commuter from traveling by bus if he can have alternative mode of transport even at marginally higher expense.
 
BEST Buses during peak period do carry full load at however low speeds of buses leading to low passenger throughput bringing down the BEST Bus commuter numbers to about 28 lakh from about 44 lakh in 2012. It is not the inefficiency of BEST Staff or buses consuming excessive fuel due to aging. Shortage of funds for operations have resulted in poorer levels of fleet maintenance and delayed payments of staff salaries. Point to note is that at this time around neither the BEST staff is seeking higher wages nor is there any surplus staff employed. BEST report states that in fact there is a shortage of number of drivers and conductors currently.
 
The drop in number of passengers carried by BEST Buses past few years has naturally resulted in drop in revenue, setting in a vicious circle of accumulated deficits and associated undesirable situations. BEST is looking at various measures to be taken to increase the revenue and seem to be considering adopting measures such as hiking fares, withdrawing routes giving worst loses, reducing staff, taking private buses on ‘wet lease’. These are sure measures to shrink operations, further shrink revenues and pave the way for closure. Closure of services would be detrimental to the bare minimum levels of quality of life of a large section of society currently dependent on BEST Bus services.
 
Urban areas are centres of economic growth and to enable an uncurbed growth, various initiatives are taken by the Governments. One of them is to provide efficient public transport, be it a rail based suburban railway network or metro rail or monorail or road based bus system. Greater use of public transport allows lower emissions of foul gases from reduced use of personal private motorised vehicle. The fare structure of public transport has to match affordability of commuters, else the commuter has to travel by perhaps more uncomfortable, unsafe yet affordable options such as overcrowded suburban railway, motorised two wheelers, shared-autos, bicycles or walk. To keep the urban area efficient for working, people must be able to reach their place of work and return by traveling in reasonable comfort and safety. While walking and cycling are carbon neutral modes of travel, they have their limitations of distances.
 
However, practically everyone walks some distance or the other, safe walking infrastructure mandatorily needs to be provided. Similarly, if safe and convenient cycling infrastructure is provided, many may opt for this carbon neutral mode. Tying these up with public transport infrastructure will not only facilitate commuters but will also address air and noise pollution largely. In Mumbai, it is MCGM’s mandate to provide them.
 
Considering these, providing public transport is absolutely necessary for the urban local body. In the case of Mumbai, it is the duty of MCGM to provide this, which it does via BEST, its undertaking. Since the subsidy of the transport division of BEST is no longer being met by the electricity supply division of BEST, it is mandatory for the MCGM subsidise BEST.
 
Since MCGM must subsidise BEST, it must take all the measures to reduce the subsidy by making BEST operation on the road smooth and efficient.
 
One of the items in the reforms package thought of by the bureaucracy is to take buses on ‘wet lease’. Perhaps thought has not been given to where will the ‘wet leased’ buses be parked or maintained? Whether the drivers are competent to drive their vehicles safely with safety of passengers, the bus itself and the other road users as central theme rather than merely operating with profitably as core objective.
 
Currently the suburban railway system in Mumbai carries more than twice its own capacity, one of the main reasons for more than 3,500 annual fatalities on the railway system. There is a great potential to wean away some of the 75 lakh rail commuters by providing supplementary bus public transport, which the BEST can very well take the responsibility of. This is possible through well designed bus rapid transit system (BRTS). 
 
Many people are unaware of what BRT System is. They go by alleged failures of BRTS elsewhere in India without as much even wanting to know whether it is truly a failure or whether it was designed specifically to the site or not? Without much elaboration, it is a bus service, whose trunk routes are operated at high frequency, level boarding-alighting enabling not only quick getting in and getting out of commuters, considered acceleration,  decelerations and barely any side sways, generally low on noise using Intelligent Transport System (ITS) to keep commuters aware of service status, feeder services again at high frequency by proper selection of feeder bus size and routes integrated with trunk services and the railways too. 
 
For Mumbai, BRT to attract large number of commuters, the trunk routes will have to operate at 20 seconds interval. It is not just the BEST, which has to be involved in provision of BRTS service but MCGM, Government of Maharashtra and the Traffic Police too need to contribute with suitable cooperation in planning infrastructure, mobility of people rather than primacy private motor vehicles.
 
At slightly lower capacities, BEST could operate with dedicated lanes. Reference could be made to An Innovative Approach to Resurrect BEST Part1 and An Innovative Approach to Resurrect BEST Part2. This is the time to expand BEST Transport operation and not curtailing it. 
 
(Sudhir Badami, an IIT Bombay graduate in Civil & Structural Engineering, is a Transportation Analyst. He has extensively worked in Engineering of Chemical, Petrochemicals, Fertilizers, Thermal Power Plants as well as buildings (residential, commercial and industrial) covering planning and design of Civil and Structural Works including tower building structures, stacks and process columns as well as flexibility analysis of piping systems and challenging erection planning of structures and equipment. He has worked in International as well as Indian Engineering Consultancy firms.)
 

 

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    COMMENTS

    Manish Shah

    2 years ago

    Mr Sudhir Badami, admire your passion for Bombay city and its transport issues. Your suggestions and solutions I have been reading for the last few years. Agree with them in terms of what is to be done, but not in terms of WHO will do it. No it should not be governments responsibility to run buses, airlines, banks, hotels etc. Running buses is not a rocket science, neither does it require huge capital. The same can be run by private sector in a far more efficient manner, with lower cost. The model to be adopted is that BEST becomes the regulator and manages only the depots (they are critical to the infrasturure), and lays down the rules and regulation for operations like the DGCA, for which it should charge the bus operators a reasonable amount. The trunk routes should be reversed auctioned with the operator/s bidding the lowest price for charging tickets for x number of services winning the rights for the route. The terms and conditions would include minimum frequency per hour, type of service (AC / non AC), mini bus or maxi cabs, etc, This are matter of details. The principal is to involve private parties for innovation, capital, efficiency. Rest assured, BEST under any government authority, whether BMC as a department or under separate undertaking as currently, will be a mess . A case study of how not to manage an organisation. Any entrepreneur would do a good job rather than a bureaucrat or academician. My thoughts, open to change on discussion.

    Damages Claim: How Much Is Too Much?
    This is a tale of two servings. One denied, the other unwanted. Both problematic.
     
    Linda Atkins, a sales associate, got $277,565 (nearly Rs2 crore) in back pay and compensatory damages after being fired for drinking orange juice prior to paying the Rs120 for it. The operative word is ‘prior’. Her company had a Pehle daam, baad may kaam, policy. Pay first, drink later. She had not.
     
    Linda was a diabetic. People with ‘sugar’ problems face two life-threatening situations. Hyperglycaemia or hypoglycaemia—excess sugar in the first case, and very low sugar in the latter. The swings come about because of insulin imbalance, often caused by medication. In the latter case, when the levels touch rock bottom, a quick bite of chocolate, or a spoonful of sugar does the trick. The dizziness disappears. But speed is of the essence. Linda would rush to the sweet drink dispenser before she collapsed.
     
    Linda, therefore, asked for a juice bottle near her station. The supervisor demurred, quoting rules. Twice she had to rush to get her sweet drink and she paid for it afterwards. ‘Violation’, claimed the auditor, and diabetic Linda was unceremoniously thrown out of her job. Linda sued.
     
    It transpired that the company had accommodating rules, but the supervisors were unaware of them. In fact, regulations require a private area to test sugar levels, to administer injections or medication till return to normal and special breaks for eating and drinking. Linda was denied all that. 
     
    We started this article with the result; no need for acting the judge. We, therefore, go to the next story. 
     
    You be the judge on that.
     
    One Ms Pahade was en-route to New York from Mumbai. She was served, she claimed, a hair in her rice and curd as ‘green as cherry’. She sued. The district consumer forum awarded her Rs15,000 as compensation. 
     
    On appeal, the state forum increased the amount to Rs1 lakh. It said the passenger would have had to go for long without food. The airline would have none of it. It appealed.
     
    The airline claimed that it had fined the caterer Rs20,000. This was an admission of the fact that the food was suspect. But it considered the amount to be paid too high.
     
    How would you decide? That the food was inedible is established. The only point of dispute is the amount. Is a lakh of rupees too much, too little or just enough?
     
    Here, we enter uncharted waters every time. Is there a chart detailing fines? No, there is not. Are fines decided on the whims and fancies of the judges? Both parties often think so. One wishes for more; the other hopes for less. Torts have a way of queering the pitch, almost every time.
     
    Again, we say, “If there is a malady, there needs be a remedy.” Usually, the remedy is monetary compensation. This leads us into unknown terrain, every time. How much is good enough? Or is the good enough too little? The matter becomes subjective and soon a law may be made to limit the payouts, both minimum and maximum. Until then, the wishes of the judge and his, or her, perception is the guide.
     
    These ‘awards’, as they are called, are termed ‘The Stella Awards’. After a woman called Stella, then 69. It is reported that she drove into a drive-in cafeteria and ordered a cup of coffee. She drove out, holding the cup between her thighs. Naturally, the coffee spilled; hot, hot coffee. Stella was scalded. She sued. Her grouse was that she had not been warned that the coffee was hot and there was no warning printed on the cup. Warning her that it was hot coffee.
     
    You be the judge. 
     
    Yes, Stella was paid. Damages. To the tune of US$2,900,000/-. That’s nearly Rs20 crore! Long live Stella and American awards!
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    COMMENTS

    Thorin O

    2 years ago

    Ultimately any exchange of goods and services between the business and consumer is a contractual agreement. Question then becomes how gravely the terms & condition of contract has been violated. If the violation is minor and only affects an individual or few then the remedial compensation (penalty) can be minor or none. But if it affects the entire society then in such cases the compensation (penalty) would be larger. To an individual when the victim is awarded a large figure the Indian society would view it as victim being greedy. But the American society would view it as fair because the idea of high value compensation is not to enrich the victim but penalize the business in such a way that it compels the business to change its behaviour and practices for good so that the individual and society-at-large greatly benefits out of the ordeal for good. It is win-win for all and also is the way the market participants (and NOT Government or Regulatory Body) can keep a check on businesses.

    REPLY

    Abhishek Singh

    In Reply to Thorin O 2 years ago

    I would not view "victims" like Stella as greedy but would the system as crooked. Also, instead of paying very large amount to an individual, it should go to some regulator for awareness related to the case so that other victims could also be aware and sue (if required)...

    Who To Blame in a Lift Accident?
    Today, we cannot think of a building without an elevator, unless it is an old two- or three-storey structure. There are examples of lifts being installed in private bungalows with just one or two storeys. Even as the number of lifts in the country is growing, so are the accident cases involving lifts. 
     
    When an accident happens because of a malfunction in the lift and someone is...
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