A citizens’ group has expressed disappointment over the refusal of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to offer financial aid to its bus utility Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST). In an open letter marked to the BMC Commissioner and General Manager, BEST undertaking on Wednesday, the group condemned the 2018-19 budget presented by BMC for not including a grant for BEST. The undertaking is facing losses to the tune of Rs 1,000 crore. The BMC, in its budget presented on February 2, did not mention any financial assistance to BEST and has asked the undertaking to “fix its problems” before it is offered any further assistance.
Members of the group, Amchi Mumbai Aamchi BEST, which include transport analysts and academicians, stated, “The Corporation has no problem finding Rs 1,500 crore (more than enough to meet BEST’s funding requirements) to allocate to the coastal road project, which will mainly serve private automobile users; yet it refuses to support public transport,” excerpts from the letter read. It added, “The BMC has no shortage of funds overall. It is the richest municipality in the country, with Rs 69,000 crore in fixed deposits. Yet it refuses to fund an essential service of the city. The authorities have periodically declared the BEST an essential service, in response to workers’ strikes. Yet they are now treating it as a non-essential service, and going on a ‘funding strike’,” the letter stated. They have demanded the Corporation to subsidise the bus utility.
“The BMC must aim to create a proper parking mechanism across residential and commercial areas. This will help them achieve additional funds, which could be used to fund the undertaking. Integration between different modes of transport allowing commuters lesser time of wait should also be the aim,” said Husain Indorewala, assistant professor, Kamala Rahej Vidyanidhi Institute for Architecture and Environmental Studies.
The group also demanded construction of dedicated lanes for BEST buses to cut travel time. “The undertaking should not increase ticket fares as that dissuades commuters from opting for bus services. A reduction in use of public transport affects urban planning, as it leads to increased congestion (due to greater use of private vehicles), greater pollution, and a worsening of public welfare. This should be avoided,” Indorewala added. “The concerns raised are true. Through various measures including bringing mini-buses, BEST is trying to increase its ridership,” a senior BEST official said.