A DAY after the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) undertaking increased bus fares on longer routes, regular commuters and transport experts expressed disappointment over the move. The existing ridership of the beleaguered transport service may further reduce as a result, say experts.
After the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Transport Authority (MMRTA) approved the bus fare hike on Wednesday, travelling in buses became dearer for those riding on longer routes.
According to the proposal, the fare increase starts after six kilometers, with an adult passenger paying Rs 14 to Rs 15 more on ordinary non-airconditioned buses. The highest fare is now Rs 62, up from Rs 50, for a distance of 50 kilometers. The fare hike also affects commuters taking monthly and quarterly passes.
Sulochana Balawade, who rides with her son every day from Masjid Bunder to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT) to drop him to school, said, “The fares for school students have also increased. While they should offer concession to school students they have done the opposite. And neither has the undertaking increased the frequency of buses nor do they arrive on time. Why do we pay the increased fare?” she complained.
The BEST suspended the movement of air-conditioned (AC) buses in 2017 after it claimed that maintaining these buses is expensive. Over the years, officials have complained that they are losing ridership to taxis, rickshaws and app-based cabs. The BEST records a ridership of 26 lakh on a daily basis. B B Shetty, a regular commuter on BEST buses, who had also filed a petition in the High Court against suspension of AC buses, said, “First they suspended the AC buses and now the fare hike. Both decisions have created a negative impression of the utility among commuters. As compared to the committee taking decisions, the administration must be provided with additional power to revive the undertaking.”
Husain Indorewalla, an academician, who has studied the issue closely, said the fare hike will make BEST buses irrelevant for Mumbaikars. “The fare hike further contributes in BEST losing ridership to taxis and app-based cabs. It is high time BMC takes over the undertaking and runs it like a public utility and not a business enterprise.” Another expert A V Shenoy added, “The way in which they have increased fares is unjust. If the undertaking increased fares for each kilometer covered by Rs 2 proportionately, commuters would have still digested it. The BEST must look at controlling their operational expenses rather than passing on the burden of their inefficiencies on to commuters.”
BEST presently faces losses to the tune of Rs 1,000 crore. A senior BEST official said, “The BMC has asked us to re-work our operational expenses and look at ways in which can boost the revenues. The fare hike is one of them. We have not touched the fares for the core ridership of BEST who travel on feeder routes.”