Thousands of commuters who were out on Monday to celebrate Raksha Bandhan were thrown for a loop as the city's red BEST buses stayed off road. While the BEST strike wrapped up on Monday evening, it is evident that one of the most vital cogs in the city's road transport system desperately needs solutions to its problems. This is no longer about one strike, it is about approaching the many obstacles the fleet is facing.
Notwithstanding its current problems, Mumbai's big reds are rightly compared to London's red buses. Their ubiquitous presence on our roads is a big part of the city's identity, and they are the only cost-effective alternative to our local trains.
But now, the red fleet is in trouble, perhaps because BEST took its eye off the ball when it came to competitors. The end result, though, is that commuters could lose an important transport wing. Of late, the fleet has also cut its numbers, making the waits at bus stops that much longer. The white-collar bracket lost their office commute option when air-conditioned buses went off the roads – a well-meaning, though myopic, initiative that folded earlier in the year.
This strike must be seen through a broader prism of how to keep alive this flailing service. Pumping in some money and resolving one strike at a time is at best a stopgap measure. It is time to find a permanent solution to the BEST crisis.
With more transport options on the roads, there are more challenges and competitors, but there are more commuters too.
This is a service that is worth reviving to its former glory. Smaller buses, shorter routes, a different union: We do not know what the magic mantra is to get fleet functioning to its optimum capacity, but BEST needs all the help it an get to bail it out of its worst days.
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