With the heat rising over its beleaguered fleet of air-conditioned King Long buses, the Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) administration has a perfect plan up its sleeve to cool tempers again. It has initiated a lengthy process of procuring 200 new AC buses to ply on city roads. As per the proposal, BEST is now looking at international or national manufacturers who would be willing to supply such a huge number of AC buses.
“We wouldn’t be spending any money on them, instead would acquire them free of cost against which we would grant the contractors advertising rights,” said a senior BEST official, on condition of anonymity.
Each of these buses would cost about Rs 80 lakh, if not more. “The BEST administration is approaching global companies to procure 200 buses. Let’s see how things go,” confirmed Ravi Raja, BEST committee member. Sources claim that they expect these buses to be received some time next year, once they finalise things with companies who show interest.
Ever since the King Long buses were added to the BEST fleet in 2007, there have been several complaints against them. At present, there are 282 King Long buses in the 4,700 strong BEST fleet. Of these, at least 60 such buses remain off the road each day, for some reason or another.
Passengers have been complaining that the King Longs often stop suddenly during their commutes, due to problems in their engines; the ACs they are fitted with leak and the doors don’t close properly, hampering the cooling process. “There were several complaints against King Long AC buses. If they plan to introduce new buses they should ensure that the problems aren’t repeated,” said K Parmeshwar, president, King Long Bus Passenger Association.
There are cases where the engines of King Longs have caught fire, scaring passengers sitting inside. Breakdowns are also frequent. Taking cognisance of these shortcomings, the BEST undertaking has finally decided to scrap or phase out these buses.
BEST General Manager OP Gupta had in one of the recent BEST committee meetings said that they would devise a plan to slowly phase the King Long buses out rather than abruptly get rid of them. They would also get replacements for them.
“It is better to scrap such buses that burden the already loss-making BEST,” said Kedar Hombalkar, BEST committee member. The BEST already has two AC Volvo buses; there were plans to buy 48 more, but it was later stalled. In October 2010, Mercedes Benz had offered its AC buses to BEST for trial runs.