BEST bus strike aftermath: Mumbaikars did not miss this mode of transport

Jan 09, 2019, 07:44 IST | Rajendra B Aklekar

The massive strike that would have crippled Mumbai some years ago, makes only a minor dent in citizens' day on Tuesday

BEST bus strike aftermath: Mumbaikars did not miss this mode of transport
Commuters throng autorickshaw stands on Tuesday, as BEST buses stayed off the road. Pics/Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi, Nimesh Dave

Around 11,000 BEST employees and 500 buses will be back to work today, following the Shiv Sena trade union withdrawing its support for the strike last night. While a majority of the buses will stay off the roads, if yesterday was any indication, the once-indispensable red buses won't be missed much. While a few regular commuters, particularly school and college students, were inconvenienced, trains, taxis and autorickshaws picked up most of the slack.

Of the 3,204 buses scheduled for service across 27 bus depots during early peak hours, not a single bus left the depot last morning, a BEST spokesperson told mid-day. BEST trade unions have gone an indefinite strike, with various demands including the merger of the BEST budget with BMC's budget, as well as the completion of wage agreements. Since Monday night, 10 buses were damaged by stone-pelting, and one bus driver was injured.

It was a busy day for auto and cab drivers, as commuters turned to alternative modes of road transport in response to the BESt bus strike. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
It was a busy day for auto and cab drivers, as commuters turned to alternative modes of road transport in response to the BESt bus strike. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

Few were bothered
The quintessential red buses were once a lifeline for the city, with a formidable daily ridership of 45 lakh passengers in 2004-05. This has dropped to a mere 20-25 lakh now, and continues to dwindle.

The meteoric rise in the number of tourist taxis has made the biggest dent in BEST buses' ridership. From 8,852 T-marked cabs in 2008, the number shot up to 59,917 in 2017 — about 4,500 more than black-and-yellow taxis. Most of these are accounted for by Ola, Uber and Meru drivers. This, in addition to increased services by the Mumbai Metro and suburban railways, ensured that commuters had plenty of alternative options when the red buses did not take to the roads last morning.

On Tuesday, the Western Railway ran six additional fast and slow services, as did the Central Railway. The Mumbai Metro, too, scheduled 12 additional services. A spokesperson for state transport body, MSRTC, said they were operating additional city buses along routes such as Thane-Mantralaya, Kurla-Chembur, Dadar-Mantralaya and CSMT-Mantralaya. They ran about 123 services up and down in various parts of the city.

Police bandobast at the Wadala bus depot, following incidents of stone throwing yesterday. Pic/Ashish Raje
Police bandobast at the Wadala bus depot, following incidents of stone throwing yesterday. Pic/Ashish Raje

Late, overcharged
Students were hardest hit by the strike, with many rushing to make it to exams. With seven exams scheduled for yesterday, Mumbai University issued a statement to exam controllers to allow entry for late students, in view of the strike. Many chose to hail autos to school or college instead, but parents complained of hiked charges.

There were complaints of overcharging and refusals by many auto and cab drivers across the city, but app-based cab aggregators salvaged the situation. While Ola said there was no surge pricing despite the increased demand, Uber did not issue a statement. Meru Cabs said they offered a discount of 10 per cent on the code JAN10, which will remain in operation till January 14.

Surendra Bagde, BEST general manager
Surendra Bagde, BEST general manager

'Willing to talk, but only once the strike ends'
After a row of meetings between the BEST, BMC and the trade unions late into Tuesday evening, there was still no resolution. Surendra Bagde, the worried general manager of the BEST Undertaking, warned employees that the administration was initiating action against the striking employees under the Maharashtra Essential Services and Maintenance Act (MESMA).

Calling the strike "illegal", Bagde said, "The BEST management will not be in a position to conduct negotiations till the strike is recalled. We cannot agree to random demands. There has to be a comprehensive proposal taking all aspects into consideration."

There have been talks of BEST leasing buses with drivers to provide more services to citizens, but existing employees feared this would threaten their jobs. To this, Bagde responded: "We have given an undertaking in court that we will not compromise the service of any existing employee. So, if we wet lease buses with drivers from outside, no driver from the Undertaking would be compromised. The BMC is also willing to merge its budget with ours, but this cannot be done in one day; it is a process. The BMC and BEST are willing to talk, but first the strike has to be withdrawn."

Sena union says
Shiv Kamgar Union leader Suhas Samant told mid-day, "We have decided to withdraw our moral support to the strike as the BEST administration has expressed willingness to look into various demands. The first shift of the day begins at 4 am and by 9.30 am, there will be 500 buses on the roads. About 11,000 employees affiliated to our union will resume work, and 6,000 among them are BEST transport employees."

Commuters say
Harsha Kamble
'I travel either by Metro or BEST. Commuters who could not afford the Metro's increased fares shifted to BEST. Now they are left high and dry. Instead of a bullet train, government should focus on daily transportation issues'

Mansoor Darvesh,
'A few commuters who did not know about the strike had to face hardships, such as senior citizens like me, as well as schoolchildren. Parents had to pay more for rickshaws to send their kids to school'

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