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MSRTC enters BEST domain with AC buses

Ever since the Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) launched its AC buses across the city, it has managed to deliver mediocre service and has raked in losses for the company. Now, with another government operator, the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) wanting to take a bite of its share, the road seems tougher than before.

Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar
Easy ride: Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar flag off MSRTC’s Shivneri corporate AC bus service from BKC to Kandivli. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi

Starting yesterday, the MSRTC launched air-conditioned bus services between two routes -- Kandivli (East) to Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC), and Borivli to Thane -- in order to offer better connectivity to the public.

However, this initiative has lead to an unhealthy competition between BEST and the MSRTC. According to sources, this is the first time the MSRTC has attempted to enter city limits and with better services.

New buses, new routes
In contrast to the AC buses run by BEST, the spanking new buses by MSRTC will be point-to-point services, ie these will not halt at any stops on the route. The state government also plans to run special services for women in the near future.

The route connecting Kandivli (East) to BKC was started keeping in mind the officegoers from the suburb plying to the administrative centre. The other route will connect Borivli to Thane and the state transport authority plans to use the Volvo Shivneri buses for both the routes.

Money matters
According to officials from the city transport authority, MSRTC will be spending about Rs 57 per kilometre to run the buses after taking into account factors such as fuel, maintenance cost and other expenses and will be adding an additional Rs 12 per kilometre to their kitty. Whereas, BEST spends about Rs 102 per kilometre and recovers Rs 15 lesser than what it ideally should.

“The labour cost and limited number of kilometres run by AC buses even after plying for 18 hours in a day within Mumbai city and suburbs leads to higher expenditure per kilometre, but doesn’t yield much in return. Meanwhile, this won’t be the case with MSRTC as their buses operate throughout the state,” said a BEST official.

The main difference between the two services will be quality of buses since MSRTC will offer the luxury of VOLVO buses, which would make commuters opt for public transport over personal vehicles. “There is a need for proper bus service in Mumbai and this would promote the scope of carpooling. However the fare is high and also the number of services are few,” said Ashok Datar, transport expert.

BEST officials also said that the state transport body would soon realise that operating AC buses in Mumbai is not an easy task. “Plying buses in Mumbai is BEST’s job. This decision by the state government to allow MSRTC buses in city limits is a complete mockery of policies and we demand that this service be shut immediately,” said S Ganacharya, BEST Committee member.

Fare ‘un’fair?
The difference in fare for both MSRTC and BEST services is also a point of debate. While BEST charges Rs 80 on the Kandivli-BKC route, MSRTC will be charging almost double of that touching Rs 140 for the point-to-point services. “We want to target corporates who can afford to pay higher fares,” said an MSRTC official.

As a counter argument BEST officials said that since they are doing service to the general public they are against hiking fares and it is their duty to keep charges nominal in order to make the services more affordable across sections. The BEST operates about 282 AC buses, of which they have scrapped about 20 services and plan to cut down further.

There is also a considerable difference between the fare prices for the Kandivli-BKC route and the Borivli-Thane route, with almost the same distance in kilometres. 

MSRTC will be charging Rs 76, which is half of the fare for Kandivli-BKC route.

Sources in MSRTC attributed the difference to the fact that Borivli and Thane are two distinct districts and intra-state charges would be applicable on it. The service will save them cost of heavy traffic, loss of fuel and manpower. The point-to-point service is expected to ease traffic as it can accommodate commuters that would fit in about 50 cars. If MSRTC sees some success in this venture, it soon plans to start services for areas such as SEEPZ, Lalbaug-Parel, MIDC, Marol and Navi Mumbai.

Officialspeak
“We will scale up the number of services depending on the demand. We also plan to introduce a monthly pass system with travel cost equivalent to the cost of just 20 days,” said Deepak Kapoor, vice chairman and managing director, MSRTC. “These AC bus services are not in conflict with BEST operations. They will complement our services,” said OP Gupta, general manager, BEST. 

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