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.
(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.)