Do the best for BEST

Mumbai's transport nerve, BEST, has always been a loss-making enterprise given the subsidised rates at which it offers its services. That it has been so since its existence underlines the lament of its head that unless drastic remedial action is not taken soon, the only option left would be to privatise it or shut it down.

On several occasions, the administrative head of BEST, a bureaucrat from the IAS cadre, had apprised the financial state of the organisation to the BMC, BEST's governing agency. However, elected public representatives have always ignored the alarming downfall, by not allowing proposals such as fare hikes, citing public outcry. Of course, any fare hike is also a vote loser.

The result? A massive Rs 3,500 crore in losses. Experts are aware that no public transport organisation anywhere in the world makes profits. However, the problem with BEST has been the quantum of the losses. To make matters worse, BEST officials are muddled in their self-created administrative cobwebs -- shortage of manpower, lack of quality hands to maintain a large fleet of buses, and unmanageable overhead expenses.

Not that there are no solutions. A former BEST head, Uttam Khobragade had suggested sweeping reforms close to a decade ago to bring BEST back on track. That has not come to be. The primary revenue generators for BEST are tickets and power distribution. However, BEST could have supplemented its earnings by leasing out its 25 depots and numerous bus stations. This could have at least helped BEST marginalise its losses.

Efforts to innovate revenue generation by introducing advertisements on the rear of bus tickets, seats and handles did not fare well. Also, commercials on television sets inside the buses have not yielded much response from advertisers.

It is high time, therefore, that authorities took serious steps to salvage BEST from its self-created financial mess and ensure that public transport never goes out of fashion in the city.

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