08, Mar 2018 | Sushmita
Mumbai’s local trains and BEST buses form the backbone of public transit system in Mumbai. During monsoons, when many parts of the city get inundated and when train tracks get submerged, BEST buses are often the only mode of transport still functioning. These buses are not only safe, but also an economical and convenient way for Mumbaikars to get to work and back.
But a recent government decision threatens the city’s BEST buses. Claiming a financial crisis in the BEST, the BMC Commissioner Ajoy Mehta has proposed to:
(1) reduce the number of BEST buses
(2) close 20-40% of bus routes
(3) introduce steep hikes in fares
(4) double the price of student passes, and
(5) hand over bus operations to private contractors.
Large numbers of BEST employees will lose their jobs. The land of BEST depots may be handed over to private parties. This package will benefit private companies which will run buses. And it will deliver huge profits to real estate sharks who have their eyes on the BEST depot land.
These supposed ‘reforms’ will destroy the BEST bus service for people. It is going to increase the waiting time, increase the crowd in buses, make travel more expensive, destroy the reliable workforce of BEST, hand over roads to car owners making the roadways more congested, increase the pollution etc.
Some actions that have planned in this regard are:
- Out of the existing bus fleet of 3,790 buses, the BMC plans to scrap 453 buses reducing it to 3,337. This will deepen the problems of BEST, and increase waiting time for commuters.
- In additions to 170 routes that are already closed, the BMC plans to cancel 82 more routes,leaving people no option but to move to unaffordable and inefficient modes of transport.
- Bus passes for students will cost more. Ticket prices are likely to go up.
- In addition now BMC-BEST has ordered private contractors to run 450 new buses—200AC mini, 200 non-AC mini and 50 midi buses to being with.
- In the latest 2018-2019 BMC budget, there is no provision made for any financial assistance for BEST transport. On the other hand, the BMC has no problem finding Rs. 1,500 crore (more than enough to meet BEST’s funding requirements) to allocate to the coastal road project, which will mainly serve private automobile users. This is a downright regressive stance
To counter the BEST workers strike to oppose the privatization move, BEST has approached the Industrial court. Till March 5, Court had ordered stay on BEST move to privatize the transport.
To protest these changes, a citizens group under the banner of Aamchi Mumbai Aamchi BEST organized a protest on March 5, 2018. They marched from Veer Kowat garden in Dadar to Wadala Bus Depot, demanding the proposal to increase in fares and prices of students’ passes be scraped. They have made a case against privatization of BEST buses and have also demanded to scrap the proposal to reduce the BEST fleet.
The group has also proposed ways to ensure the permanent funding of BEST buses in a more sustainable manner, such as:
(i) Convert into grants the BMC’s loans to BEST, and ensure a rightful place for BEST in the BMC Budget.
(ii) Raise funds for BEST through means such as parking charges, road space charges, motoring taxes, and property taxes.
(iii) Scrap all unfair taxes on BEST, including VAT on fuel.
(iv) Introduce charges and fines for on-street parking, parking in public spaces and public parking facilities, and use the revenue for BEST.
They also suggested to upgrade the BEST bus services. You can watch how people came together for the protest in Dadar here: