BEST General Manager Lokesh Chandra speaks to mid-day about the Undertaking’s plans to make various changes using out-of-the-box ideas
BEST General Manager Lokesh Chandra said a digital ticketing app should be ready by December 2021
BEST is in a phase of transition and several out-of-the-box, never-tried-before ideas to optimise resources, including setting up Amazon and Flipkart pick up points, leasing out retail space at depots, a bus banking experiment, roping in call centres, corporates, reviving tourist circuit buses and a digital ticketing app to be ready by the new year, should revolutionise the public transporter.
In his first exclusive tete-a-tete with mid-day, BEST’s General Manager Lokesh Chandra said the Undertaking has just embarked on a journey of “absolute green energy buses”, route rationalisation and is also addressing a host of other issues systematically. Chandra said the BEST, as of today, has a fleet of 386 electric buses, which is India’s largest among public transporters. On limitations, he said that only four depots have charging points, and that they are trying their best to accommodate demands for more routes.
“We have embarked on a journey of absolute green energy buses, which are emission and noise free. The buses would run on power generated from solar or hydro sources. No coal is being burnt,” he said. With energy procured at Rs 9 per unit, the cost of operation per km will go down significantly, as compared to other fuel buses. Asked about increasing the fleet strength, he said the BEST would have 5,400 buses by 2023, including wet-leased ones, with over 100 iconic double-deckers. “By 2027, 100 per cent fleet would be electric.”
Speaking on route rationalisation, he said they were assessing every single complaint to understand why it originated, and are striving to address the issue. The idea was to get more frequency at bus stops. He said since the route rationalisation process began in September, the record of highest number of passengers a day rose to 27.65 lakh from 23 lakh earlier, and daily earnings went up to Rs 2.2 crore from Rs 1.5 crore.
Live track, digital ticketing
Chandra said a digital ticketing app would be a game-changer and should be ready by December 2021; a new year gift to Mumbaikars. “It will not only enable digital transactions, but also live-track buses, get a status of ETA (Expected Time of Arrival) and vacant seats. For those who are not digital savvy, a smart card will do the trick. The new ticketing system will be National Common Mobility Card-compliant.”
Tourist, corporate buses
There’s also a plan to revive the old tourist circuit buses, and also approach corporates to facilitate bus services, he said. “The name BEST gives one trust and recently a call centre approached us to ferry their night staff.”
There is a plan to have dedicated women’s buses for routes with the demand, and the mobile app will be equipped with panic buttons and buses would have all necessary safety features, he said.
Chandra said the Undertaking had short listed a number of out-of-the-box ideas to bail it out of the losses. “The plan is to optimise existing resources. Leasing out bus fuelling points at depots as per demand, allowing online shop pick up points, giving out space for retail shops and units. These could prove to be good revenue sources,” he added.
Renting out drivers
He said the scheme of renting out conductors was much misunderstood. “We have about 1,200 drivers in excess. There was no policy for their proper use as per skill. So we have drawn up a policy, where their skill can be used for government vehicles, and also in case of absence of wet lease drivers. Also, it is voluntary,” he said.
Safety of conductors
Asked about the safety of conductors, who are vulnerable to theft as they wait at bus stops with bundles of cash, Chandra said the digital system will tackle that issue. He added that they were looking at genuine ways to use huge amounts of cash and coins. One of the long-term ideas was to use buses as a bank service, by allowing use of cash for banking purposes after a proper MoU with a bank.
Non functional ACs
Responding to mid-day’s article about non-functional air-conditioners in the buses, Chandra said he has directed the staff to ensure strict monitoring of all such buses and routes. “I have told staff that such complaints should not get repeated,” he said.