After the local trains in the city, the Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) Undertaking's buses are also facing a critical challenge, struggling to cope with increasing demand, and the need for immediate fleet expansion to ensure the safety and convenience of passengers.
In Mumbai, the local trains, considered the lifeline of the city, have grappled with the same issue for more than two decades. Now, passengers relying on BEST buses, often seen as the city's second lifeline, are facing a similar problem.
A recent viral video showcased passengers hanging onto the back of a BEST bus, underscoring the severity of the issue.
The incident took place in the Bandra division of BEST on Wednesday, prompting officials to take immediate action. An official from BEST stated, "Bus inspectors have been instructed to remain vigilant to prevent such incidents in the future, and bus suppliers have been urged to expedite the delivery of more buses to increase passenger capacity."
Dwindling fleet of BEST buses
However, the situation has worsened due to a dwindling fleet of BEST buses. The total number of buses in the BEST fleet has fallen below 3,000, while the daily passenger load has surged to nearly 3.5 million. This decline in fleet size violates a memorandum of understanding between the BEST administration and the worker union, which stipulates a minimum fleet of 3,337 buses owned by BEST.
Shashank Rov, a BEST union leader, expressed concerns about this decline, revealing that the number of BEST-owned buses has plummeted to 1,300. Rov emphasized the urgent need for BEST to procure more buses to maintain the minimum fleet requirement of 3,337 buses.
Members of 'Aamachi Mumbai Aamachi BEST,' an NGO advocating for bus fleet improvement for several years, have also sounded alarms about the situation. They assert that the administration has not taken appropriate action. One member of 'Aamachi Mumbai Aamachi BEST' stated, "The BEST administration has been promising 10,000 buses in the city by 2026, but the reality is different. They need to acquire more buses urgently."
According to a senior officer of BEST, the current number of total buses operated by BEST in the city and suburban areas is 2,969, including nearly 1,700 wet lease buses. The total number of BEST-owned buses has now dwindled to 1,300.
Passengers express frustration
Passengers have expressed frustration with the shrinking fleet, as they are forced to wait for extended periods, sometimes exceeding 30 minutes, for buses on key routes.
Baliram Katdare, who was waiting for bus route number 115 at the SBI stop in front of Mantralaya on Thursday, lamented, "They keep talking about introducing more buses, but the ground reality is different. Now, Mumbaikars are forced to wait for more than 30 minutes for a bus on several prominent city routes."
Sulochana Shinde shared a similar experience, saying, "I've been waiting for a bus on route 115 for the last 35 minutes. One bus came after a 30-minute gap, but it was fully crowded and didn't allow any passengers to board."
Nevertheless, BEST officials have assured that the procurement of additional buses is in progress, with requests for funds submitted to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). In the meantime, the BEST administration urges commuters not to travel in unsafe conditions.