This Fool’s Day, the Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) Undertaking pulled a fast one on physically-challenged commuters. On Friday, it withdrew its entire 10-year-old fleet of 30 low floor Tata Star buses, which catered largely to physically-challenged commuters of South Mumbai.
The low floor buses, which ran on CST-Churchgate-Nariman Point route as well as to and from Nariman Point via Old Custom House and Fort, had been a boon for physically-challenged commuters and a large number of officer-goers. File pic
The buses plied on two fort-ferry routes — the first covering Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus-Churchgate-Nariman Point and the second cutting across to Nariman Point via Old Custom House and Fort — and were a favourite with many commuters since the fares were fixed.
“The basic aim [of running these buses] was to address the needs of the physically-challenged as it had a mechanism that would make the platform jut out of the bus and allow wheelchairs to get in,” says Ranjan Chaudhari, a member of the BEST committee.
Another BEST official points out that the buses were not exclusively meant for physically-challenged commuters. “Officer-goers coming all the way to CST, Churchgate and Nariman Point, too, used them.”
BEST officials say the buses were meant to be run only for 10 years, but they had begun falling apart much before. Besides, they had become a liability, incurring huge maintenance costs. Dubbing the buses “dangerous”, sources say they spewed large quantities of fumes, creaked and groaned under the weight of passengers during operations and even broke down in the middle of service.
Chaudhari points out that the roads were not built to support the wheelchair-friendly mechanism either.
A BEST official says single-deck buses, which are more compact, will replace these buses. “We are also planning to the AC Kinglong/Cerita buses into non-AC ones after getting the relevant permission from the regional transport office.” The doors and the seats of these AC buses will also be modified.
The average lifespan of a BEST bus is 9.5 years. The undertaking is looking at extending it to 15 years.
On March 22, the undertaking gave an order to procure 25 hybrid AC buses from Tata at a cost of around Rs 1.7 crore, which will operate on a dedicated lane through Bandra, Kurla and Sion. The first batch of these buses will arrive by June and the rest will follow suit in a year. These buses will run on dry batteries and will run on diesel once the speed touches 30 kmph.