The Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) on Monday introduced five AC minibuses to its fleet — the first of their kind for the transport utility and the city.
Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray inaugurated the buses at BEST’s Colaba headquarters by taking a 200-m ride in one of the buses. “BEST Administration decided the route, mai sirf margdarshan kar raha hun (I am only showing the way),” he said.
The buses were part of the Rs 1200-crore financial revival package BEST received from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).
Addressing the gathering at the inauguration, which included senior BEST management and other staff, Uddhav assured that the wet-leasing of buses, which is part of the revival plan, would not result in job losses. “Not a single BEST kamgar (employee) will lose their job,” he said.
Echoing Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s remarks on the reasons for the slowdown in the automobile industry, Thackeray said the transport undertaking had lost customers to Ola and Uber, but added they would return.
In July, BEST reduced fares to Rs 5 for 5 km in non-AC buses and Rs 6 for AC buses. It said that after the fare reduction, commuters increased to 30 lakhs per day, from the earlier 17 lakh per day.
A BEST official said the AC minibuses, which have been obtained on wet-lease, would ply short routes such as Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus(CSMT) to Nariman Point and on the Churchgate-Nariman Point and Cuffe parade routes.
Officials also said the utility has finalised the procurement of 400 AC minibuses, and that by November end, 100 more minibuses would join the fleet.
“We understand that with a drop in fares, the number of daily passengers has gone up from 22 lakh to 32 lakh,” said Praveen Pardeshi, BMC Commissioner. “This is the reason why BEST will be getting 1,000 buses by January…”
The five new minibuses are expected to hit the road within a week after they get registered.
BEST Committee gives approval for wet-leasing of 500 buses
The BEST committee passed a proposal for the wet-leasing of 500 buses, half of the total number to be added to the fleet by January 2020. But committee members also asked BEST administration to make sure the existing fleet would not be reduced and that BEST employees would not be affected.
When the proposal was placed before the committee, BJP leader Sunil Ganacharya told BEST General Manager Surendra Kumar Bagade that the wet-leasing plans should not result in cutting down of the utility’s existing fleet of 3,337 buses.
Ravi Raja, a senior BEST committee member, raised a question on the tendering process. He pointed out that an earlier supplier had backed out from the contract. Raja also raised the issue of who would collect fares from commuters and stressed that it should be controlled by the BEST administration, not a third party.
Bagade assured the committee that while the buses would be operated by a private contractor, BEST would fix and collect fares. He also said BEST would pay contractors on a per-kilometre rate and that the utility has decided to increase its fleet to 6,000 buses. To meet that target, BEST is wet-leasing buses from the contractors, he said.