After three more BEST staffers tested positive for coronavirus on Friday, taking the case tally to seven so far, including one death, the Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) undertaking has decided that henceforth, buses will be conductorless.
In two of the three new cases, staffers contracted the infection while on duty. Currently, the BEST is the only mode of public transport in the city, ferrying essential service providers to and from work. Each bus is manned by a driver and conductor, and in some cases, an additional helper.
However, from now on, there will only be a driver on the bus. This rule will also apply to those BEST buses being used as food distribution vans and medical response vehicles. Additionally, those buses ferrying passengers to and fro from Mantralaya must ensure the maintenance of social distancing norms.
"BEST staffers are ferrying medical professionals and civic workers, both prone to the risk of getting infected. With this new rule, there will be limited people on duty, which will help us control the spread of the virus among our employees" said a senior BEST official.
"We are providing emergency services to essential service providers. If the number of positive cases in BEST starts rising, how will be we able to provide mobility? The entire city will come to a standstill," the official observed.
Early on Saturday, buses left from Kurla, Vikhroli and Ghatkopar with just a driver each. The buses set off to fetch staffers from Palghar, Asangaon, Kharghar and Badlapur. However, this new directive was met with opposition at the Wadala depot, where drivers and conductors staged a protest on Saturday morning, resulting in operations being stalled for an hour.
The BEST workers' union alleged that the management was using the pandemic as an excuse to manipulate policy. "BEST is using corona as an excuse to change its policies.
Today, there was an excessive turnout of conductors in the depots and they remained in the depot after the buses left," said J M Kahar, secretary, BEST Workers' Union. "No one is going to pay their employees if they don't come to work. BEST is planning to layoff its conductors because they have been planning this for a long time and are now using Covid-19 as an excuse," Kahar added.