Fans of the double-decker bus can breathe easy. Amid talk of the iconic sight on Mumbai’s roads being phased out, the BEST has assured that there is no such plan.
The red double decker has been in operation since 1937, but has seen a decline in its numbers over the years. Today there are 122 buses running, and BEST says there will be no further reduction in that number until 2019-20.
“Since most of these buses have been bought fairly recently, they will remain in service and will not be scrapped till 2019-20,” said BEST general manager, Jagdish Patil.
Seen as part of the “heritage” of Mumbai, these buses are now mostly restricted to a few routes mostly around south Mumbai. “BEST was the first organisation to have introduced double deckers in India,” said Patil.
The service was introduced to cope with the growing number of passengers and was modelled on the lines of London’s red double decker services. In 1947, the number of double-deckers in BEST’s fleet stood at 242.
Operational costs are high, and that has been one of the reasons for the gradual phasing out of double-deckers from the fleet. A new double-decker costs upwards of Rs 30 lakh and typically has a 15-year life cycle. An official said the cost of operation of a double-decker is around Rs 70 per km as against Rs 45 for a single-decker bus.
“We require an additional conductor for such buses. Also double deckers consume more fuel than single decker buses,” explained an official. Also, with the increasing number of traffic on the city’s roads, the body of these buses has become “slimmer” over the years.
According to BEST, while a single decker carries around 79 passengers approximately, the double deckers can accommodate around 110. “Passengers are not allowed to stand on such buses as it disturbs the balance of the bus.
“These buses were sturdier when imported chassis were used but now Indian chassis are used. Also earlier, you could take goods in these buses, which were stored in a space just below the staircase, which has also been discontinued now,” added an official.
Devidas Ganar, who has been an employee of BEST for the last 24 years, says he prefers driving a double decker to a single decker.”It is more fun. Also, if you follow traffic rules, driving the double decker will give you no trouble, said the 50-year-old.
The BEST Museum set up at the Anik depot has on display chassis of old double-decker buses along with their different models.
While double-decker services will continue to ply in Mumbai for a few more years, in London, the ‘Routemaster’ (the name for the double-decker) has been re-engineered and over 800 ‘New Routemasters’ are expected to enter service in 2016, according to the Transport for London website. The New Routemasters have two sets staircases (one in front and one in the rear) for easier access, and this London icon has been redesigned with green features.
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