Mumbai: BEST rolls out 225 'unfit' buses to counter auto strike

Officials claim the additional buses were those that were supposed to undergo minor maintenance, but were kept handy so that they could be operated during the auto strike

The loss-making Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) operated over 225 additional buses yesterday, to help commuters counter the daylong auto strike. While the action is praiseworthy, it has been learnt that these additional buses were supposed to undergo maintenance to make them fit for the city streets.

BEST officials claimed that buses that were to undergo minor maintenance work were pressed into action. Pic for representation/Pradeep Dhivar
BEST officials claimed that buses that were to undergo minor maintenance work were pressed into action. Pic for representation/Pradeep Dhivar

“Maintenance activities can range from overhauling engines to replacing tyres. However, we had informed all our depots not to send such buses for maintenance so that they could be used to tackle today’s autorickshaw strike,” said a BEST official requesting anonymity.

Yesterday, BEST operated 3,925 buses out of its total fleet of 4,200. The remaining 200 buses were those that developed last minute technical glitches or were totally unfit for the road. On a regular day, the undertaking operates about 3,700 buses.

“We ran additional buses wherever required. Some of these buses, which otherwise needed minor maintenance but were safe to run, were diverted from depots,” said BEST spokesperson Hanumant Gophane. Officials even claimed that the buses were running 10 minutes before time and ferried almost 35 lakh passengers.

The average carrying capacity of BEST buses is 29.5 lakh passengers per day. “We not only ferried more people, but as the roads were empty, we managed to run the buses faster. This helped us maintain our schedule,” said a BEST official.

Not so happy
While the undertaking boasted about operating additional buses to facilitate commuters, its employees appeared less enthusiastic about it. Most of them lamented about the manpower shortage that has paralysed the undertaking, claiming it forced them to put in additional hours.

Some conductors and drivers claimed that their leaves were cancelled, so that the additional buses could be operated. Similarly, a few of the BEST committee members expressed their displeasure over undertaking operating buses that were supposed to undergo maintenance.

Commenting on the issue, committee member Ravi Raja said, “The BEST shouldn’t be running buses meant for maintenance. It could endanger lives of commuters.”

No rap on the knuckles
While the auto drivers once again held citizens to ransom, the state transport department looked ineffective in controlling the situation. It has been learnt that no action would be initiated against the auto drivers or union (Mumbai Auto Rickshaw-Taximen’s Union) that called for the daylong strike.

“We had a fruitful discussion with the union and they agreed to withdraw the strike. We won’t be initiating any action, as the issue has been sorted. As for their demands, these are policy matters,” said Sonia Sethi, transport commissioner.

Claiming that the daylong strike was a success, union leader Shashank Rao told that they have put forth 21 demands before the transport authorities. “We had no option, but to call for a strike to highlight our problems. About 95 per cent autos remained off the city streets,” Rao told mid-day.

Make a killing
Though most of the autos stayed off roads, those plying short distances, especially between station and business districts, fleeced passengers. Auto drivers operating outside stations like Bandra, Andheri, Borivli, Kurla, Ghatkopar, Vikhroli, Mulund and other suburban railway stations brazenly overcharged passengers.

Here, drivers operated on share-basis, ferrying up to five people at once. Commuters complained that almost every share auto driver was charging double. And those who travelled alone paid exorbitant amounts. Also, most of the autos plying on the streets appeared to be driven by illegal drivers without badges.

3,925
No of buses operated yesterday

3,700
No of buses operated on a regular day

29.5 lakh
No of passengers ferried on a regular day

35 lakh
No of passengers ferried yesterday

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