Lockdown: How Mumbai, committed to its trains, turned to buses

Updated: 10 July, 2020 08:44 IST | Rajendra B Aklekar | Mumbai

With ridership hitting 10 lakh this week, buses become Mumbai's lifeline for first time, thanks to lockdown service, last-mile connectivity

Commuters board a BEST bus on WEH. Pic/ Satej Shinde
Commuters board a BEST bus on WEH. Pic/ Satej Shinde

HERE is how buses became the favourite mode of transport in Mumbai, which has dedicatedly relied on its train network for decades. An assessment of the figures over the past two months found that for the first time, due to curbs, BEST and State Transport buses ruled the roost, having been put to test as the number of passengers swelled. 

With the daily average figure of bus commuters touching 10 lakh this week, they have left the suburban railway — that is ferrying 2 to 2.5 lakh passengers daily on the Central Railway (CR) and Western Railway (WR) — far behind. "Buses are the new lifeline and the favourite mode of transport, primarily for two reasons — because they kept running even when trains were not there and second, they have always been offering last-mile connectivity, unlike trains where one has to depend on feeder routes," a BEST official said. The CR and WR in Mumbai are running 700 local train services, 350 each while the BEST buses have been plying about 3,000 buses on average. MSRTC (Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation) buses further contribute about 10,000 passengers in MMR.

Vidyadhar Date of Aamchi Mumbai Aamchi BEST — a citizens' forum for affordable public transport — said that he is not surprised with the development.

'Not surprised'

"We have been saying this from Day 1. Buses need to be encouraged. One of the main reasons is buses are far more flexible, they can reach corners the trains never can."

This has important lessons for Mumbai. It is only in the last couple of years that the authorities are paying some attention to the BEST bus services after deliberate neglect for years. It is an irony that during the lockdown, BEST proved to be Mumbai's lifeline," he said.

Raxit Sheth, who had developed 'Mobile for Mumbai', a bus search app for city commuters, said, "Commuters are looking for predictable, safe, comfortable, fast, hassle-free and cost-effective travel. BEST and other buses have the potential to attract and build a commuter base of short- and medium-distance travellers, not only during lockdown but beyond. In Mumbai, time is money and what commuters want is to know when the next bus will arrive. Private bus operators have solved this problem by developing bus-tracking apps, offering seat-based bookings and digital payments. Another idea would be to create a community of bus travellers (like local trains have informal groups of daily commuters). Listening to them can make the BEST thrive again."

People wearing masks seen on a BEST bus. PIC/ASHISH RAJE
People wearing masks seen on a BEST bus. Pic/ Ashish Raje

Chetan Temkar, co-founder of Mumbai Environmental Social Network, who had developed an app called BusRoute Finder, said undertakings like BEST should work like gig start-ups where first you get as many customers you can and figure out how to increase revenue.

A medical professional from Mulund, Amish Gawaskar, who has travelled on public transport abroad, said there is scope for improvement. "The management needs to cater to commuters' demands. First, the wait for a bus is an endless and clueless activity. Second, there is no technology for transactions. They still depend on coins and tickets. The BEST has to improvise if it wants to stay ahead. As of today, buses are just broken seats in a box on wheels."

Besst Dat

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First Published: 10 July, 2020 07:02 IST

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