There will be more double deckers on the city’s streets, in substantial numbers and in a ‘double’ upgraded avatar – they will be air-conditioned e-buses. Currently, there are just 48 two-tiered vehicles, down from the earlier 120. The Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) Committee, for the first time, approved the induction of 900 air-conditioned double decker electric buses on wet lease on Tuesday. But there are wheels within wheels at play - a tug-of-war is on between the Shiv Sena-ruled BEST Undertaking and the opposing Bharatiya Janata Party.
First, the good news
On January 25, the BEST Committee approved getting 900 AC double decker e-buses on wet lease, after previous plans to procure 200, rather than wet-lease them. According to BEST officials, there were four bus manufacturers who had evinced interest in bringing in a fleet of 200 double decker AC buses.
The 4.5-fold jump in numbers happened on Tuesday. “These 900 buses will be inducted on wet lease for a period of 12 years. We expect the first batch of these buses to start coming in by this year-end,” said a BEST official.
Initially the BEST had planned on adding 2,100 AC e-buses that included 200 AC e-double deckers. By March 2023, the BEST proposes to have a 50 per cent electric fleet and by March 2027, hopes to have a full e-fleet. The undertaking intends to add 1,400 single-decker AC e-buses, 400 midi AC e-buses, and 100 mini AC e-buses to its stable.
However, before the proposal for these 900 double deckers was approved, sparks flew between the Shiv Sena and BJP. The arguments were on double grounds; the first being that the BEST Undertaking had initially proposed to procure 200 AC e-double decker buses through funding from the ministry of heavy industries, for which tenders were called.
But for some reason, funds for these are yet to be finalised. “We demanded that the tender be cancelled and re-tendering be done. However, out of the blue, they announced getting 900 AC e-double decker buses on wet-lease without any clarity on its funding, the expenses borne by BEST and other details that aren’t mentioned in the tender,” said Sunil Ganacharya, BJP leader and a BEST Committee member.
The BJP questioned the scope of procurement, and how it got merged with Maharashtra government’s scheme on clean energy without it being mentioned in the tender document. “We will be getting funds under the scheme from the state government for over Rs 925 crore. The lowest bidder has promised to get it running at Rs 56 per kilometre. The BJP is unnecessarily creating trouble over this proposal which will benefit Mumbai,” said Ashish Chemburkar, Chairman, BEST Committee.
Sources said that quotes from the four bus manufacturers ranged from Rs 56 per km to more than Rs 160 per km. Sources said that the second bidder was asked if they would agree to match the lowest bidder but the manufacturer allegedly refused.
Now, the BEST is likely to ask the second bidder to bring 200 AC e-double decker buses, while the remaining will be introduced by the lowest bidder. Transport experts say it is surprising that when single decker AC e-buses are being operated at Rs 54-72 per km; how could such low costing be possible for the double deckers.