A fare start, but what next?
The proposal says as per the new fare structure, price of tickets for regular buses will range from Rs 5 to Rs 20 and A/C buses from Rs 6 to Rs 25.
I welcome the Tuesday committee meeting where it was decided to make the base fare for BEST buses Rs 5. The proposal will first be sent for approvals, though. It says as per the new fare structure, price of tickets for regular buses will range from Rs 5 to Rs 20 and A/C buses from Rs 6 to Rs 25.
Having said that, I have to say that reducing fares per se is not going to solve the problems of the BEST. I do hope though that this is implemented because a reduction in fares means an increase in passengers or ridership, which is what the service needs.
There are a number of other initiatives that need to work in tandem with this. One of which is to introduce bus priority lanes or lanes that ensure buses have the right of way.
The BEST has suffered dramatically due to traffic congestion. A bus full of commuters will carry the same number of persons as 30 cars might carry. If this vehicle is given the right of way and capacity to move faster, it will prove crucial to getting more people to use the service. Unfortunately, our big-ticket projects like the Coastal Road or Sea Link lead to an induced demand for private vehicles. Instead, our focus should be on improving public transport.
Many BEST routes have been discontinued on the premise that they are not profitable. This is counter-productive, as a public transport service has to accept that it may not make money. Our suburban rail transport runs at a deficit with ticket fares covering only 30 to 40 per cent of the costs. The rest is public money. That is the way all over the world. What is being done is actually making this service a feeder for Metro, by cutting the routes.
The intent seems to be clear — the BMC is happy to subsidise the BEST to create a guaranteed ridership for the Metro, but not for affordable public transport. There is some cheer from a section of people that buses will be given over to private players. Contractors will come into the space. There should be fear rather than cheer. The buses run by contractors may not ensure the high standards that the BEST protocol demands when it comes to safety and maintenance.
In the end, the big red is the Mr Dependable of public transport especially in the monsoon. A holistic, integrated approach and shift in focus from private to public is needed for revival and survival.
As told to Hemal Ashar
The columnist is co-convenor of Aamchi Mumbai, Aamchi BEST
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