The Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Trust (BEST) is planning to revive the ridership of its loss-making air-conditioned buses by increasing their number and initiating sustained efforts into their maintenance. The reason is stated to be a positive response to a dip in fares implemented last year. BEST had reduced the number of these buses on the road to 100 last year due to no visible rise in ridership. However, official records show that after halving the fares its ridership has actually doubled by more than 50 per cent in comparison to the year before.
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“We saw a positive increase in the number of commuters travelling by AC buses after the fares were slashed last July. It was followed by an increase in demand for which we provided some extra buses in September. In all, 218 AC buses now ply on the road in comparison to 100 earlier,” said a senior BEST official. According to official figures received from BEST office, the number of commuters has increased by 62.5 per cent from 2,49,417 in August 2015 to 4,05,340 passengers in August 2016 (after fares were halved).
At the same time, the service’s earnings from passengers reduced by 12 per cent to Rs 1 crore 80 lakh from almost Rs 2 crore. “As the rates were halved, there was a simultaneous dip in the passenger earning. However, this number gradually improved and we saw a daily average passenger count of 18,000 in December with an average earning of Rs 3,00,00. Seeing this response, we decided to increase the number of buses,” said Jagdish Patil,General Manager, BEST. AC buses have for long been considered the ‘white-elephant’ of the bleeding undertaking. The revenue AC buses made was hardly enough when compared to the revenue from non-AC buses, and they consumed more funds for their maintenance and upkeep.
Officials said that work on maintenance of some of these buses was undertaken in December last year after receiving complaints from commuters. The work includes re-painting, revamping the flooring and ceiling of the buses and changing their lighting scheme.
“By increasing their number, we are also able to reduce the cost-kilometre spent on the running of these buses. Commuters complained that some AC buses could not even climb slopes due to their ill-maintenance. We have tried to work on most of these errors,” the official added.
The fares of these buses were brought down in a bid to lure back commuters who had deserted BEST for AC buses run by other corporations in the city. These other corporations were alleged to be ‘swaying’ BEST commuters due to low fares, and with its fares now on par with those of AC buses of other corporations, BEST hopes to bring back some of the commuters it has lost.
“Our core base of AC bus commuters travels from West to East section and otherwise. Thane-Borivli and Mulund-Andheri sections remained the major demand areas for these buses. We are working on increasing their demand on other routes by extending their routes and increasing their frequency through this move,” added the official.
268 AC buses were purchased by the undertaking in 2009 after which frequent changes were witnessed in their running on the undertaking. Transport experts have recommended that these buses be run on dedicated bus lanes to increase the ridership.
“One cannot ignore complete utilization of AC buses on the road as they form the future of road transport in the city. Through this move, private vehicle owners could gradually shift to traveling by AC buses and reduce congestion,” added Patil.