Mumbai: Ahead of app launch, BEST spurs crackdown on rivals

RTOs seized 35 mini-buses of private aggregators Cityflo and ZipGo last week, allegedly as part of efforts to shut them down

How do you eliminate the competition? By driving them out of town. Before making inroads into the mobile app-based bus service, the Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) Undertaking and the transport department have allegedly devised a devious plan of shutting down all shuttle bus service providers. Early last week, the four regional transport offices (RTOs) of Tardeo, Andheri, Wadala and Thane seized 35 buses of private mini-bus aggregators Cityflo and ZipGo as part of a city-wide crackdown.

One of the mini-buses of Cityflo seized last week
One of the mini-buses of Cityflo seized last week

The crackdown, said RTO sources, was to facilitate the launch if BEST’s app for special AC bus services, due to be launched in another six months. The sources said the air-conditioned mini-buses were seized following BEST’s complaint that there were being operated illegally. “These app based buses breached the contract carriage permit (to ply on fixed destinations),” said an RTO official.

The vehicles were released after payment of fines under the relevant sections of the Motor Vehicles Act. These buses were operated on specific routes, and ferried especially office-goers working in the Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC) and Powai.

“They were running 16 different routes across Mumbai, running nearly 200 services a day, mainly on the western and eastern suburbs, all the way till BKC. We had received complaints about it from BEST, too,” said an RTO official.

New venture
To seize the opportunity in the shuttle bus service sector, BEST is working on introducing its app offering AC buses. “We are working on the app. It will be introduced soon. Fifty AC buses, each with 20-22 seats, have been proposed for such a service,” said Jagdish Patil, general manager, BEST Undertaking.

BEST officials, however, said the app could take well over 6 months as they are working on its nitty-gritty. Already facing a fund shortage, BEST will also need time — and resources — to cobble together the Rs 25-crore needed to run these mini-AC buses.

To cut corners, the undertaking cancelled 52 routes and then reinstated them under political pressure. It has also halved its AC bus fares.

The appeal
App-based bus aggregators offer last-mile connectivity and are a popular alternative to regular modes of transport. All that one has to do is download the app, book a seat in the bus playing on a specific route for a particular time, pay through an e-wallet, and sit back and relax. Pick-up points and the routes, too, are mentioned by the bus aggregators.

Another USP of such bus aggregators is that they offer competitive fares. Besides Cityflo and ZipGo, Ola is planning to launch it shuttle bus services in the city soon. These could create a major dent in BEST’s plans.

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