Mumbai, (The Hindu): For the first time in its 113-year-old history, the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) Undertaking will induct 450 private buses into its fleet. This will also mark the resumption of air-conditioned bus services.
Members of the BEST committee, which sanctioned the proposal on Monday, said the decision in effect sanctions privatisation of the BEST.
About 200 AC mini buses, with the capacity to seat 21, another 200 non-AC 21-seater buses, and 50 regular 30-seater non-AC buses will start plying on roads in phases in about three months. The addition to the current fleet of 3,337 buses is aimed at improving connectivity to feeder routes without any initial capital investment from the loss-making utility.
The transport undertaking has granted seven-year contracts to Anthony Garages Pvt. Ltd. and Shree Krupa Services Pvt. Ltd. to provide 225 buses each along with drivers, and to maintain the vehicles. BEST conductors will man the routes and take care of ticketing. The utility will also provide parking space. The buses will sport advertisements that earn revenue for the BEST, and will bear the BEST monogram.
The buses will operate at a gross rate of 48/km for mini-AC buses, 41/km for mini non-AC buses and 45/km for regular non-AC buses. A penalty of 5,000 per day per bus will be levied if the contractor fails to provide vehicles at the designated time and place.
The fleet expansion is part of the reforms that the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has demanded the BEST carry out to get financial assistance. The BMC did not allocate any funds for the BEST in its 2018-19 budget, and has also refused to pass BEST’s annual budget.
Members of the BEST committee were unhappy at the proposal being “forced on them by the BMC”. Congress leader Ravi Raja said the BMC must be made to pay up for any losses resulting from this contract. The contractors will also have to ensure that they comply with all labour regulations.
Shiv Sena’s Suhas Samant suggested that the BEST should insert two clauses specifying that the BMC would cover the losses and that the contractors would hire the kin of BEST personnel and local residents.
The BJP’s Sunil Ganacharya said the “historic and suicidal” decision signified the privatisation of the BEST and would result in about 10,000 personnel losing their jobs. He asked why the BEST was insisting on AC bus services, which were the primary cause for its losses.
General Manager Surendrakumar Bagde, who had pushed this proposal strongly, said, “Just because we had a bad experience with AC buses earlier does not mean that we should give up on them.” The expansion will reduce losses by around 8-9 per kilometre. “There will still be losses, but the gap will be reduced,” he said.
Mr. Bagde said the wet-lease model had been tried in cities like Delhi, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad.
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