It was the 'lal pari' of Mumbai's streets, the ubiquitous Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) bus that the Israeli consulate on Thursday relied on, to pick up 20 of its nationals, stranded at hotels in various parts of the city because of the abrupt 21-day coronavirus-induced lockdown enforced from Tuesday.
Currently, BEST is operational strictly for essential service providers. The consul general of Israel sent out an SOS to the civic commissioner, Praveen Pardeshi, requesting transport for its stranded countrymen.
"Mumbai, being the financial hub of the state and the country, attracts numerous international tourists. Some Israeli tourists were in the city for the past three weeks. However, after the nationwide lockdown was imposed, they were unable to leave their hotels and pondering their future course of action," said an official at the consulate.
The consulate had arranged a special flight to Israel, to airlift, among others, around 20 tourists, scattered in the city's nooks and corners. The BEST was assigned the task of transporting the passengers safely to the city airport.
"We were approached by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, who asked us to help the Israeli consulate in transporting the tourists to airport. They were stranded in different parts of the city, having no other means to reach the airport," said Manoj Varade, spokesperson, BEST.
The undertaking pressed into service a 21-seat, air-conditioned mini bus, which picked up the tourists from their hotels. The various locations of the tourists were provided by the consulate. Two officers of the Mumbai Traffic Police escorted the bus to the airport.
"The buses were sanitised before and after the operation. The driver and helpers involved in the operation were equipped with protective gear," Varade said.
Meanwhile, business houses like TATA and the State Bank of India (SBI) have approached BEST to provide transport for their respective staff.
The BEST is already providing doorstep pick-up and drop-off services for doctors and paramedical staff of the St George, Kasturba, KEM and Rajawadi hospitals.
"We are running our buses under the Essential Services Act. Railways is closed, so we are providing special service to the medical fraternity, who are working night and day in these testing times," Varade said.
"For now, BEST buses are not just confined to city limits. In the course of providing special services, our reach has extended to Thane and Dombivli as well," he revealed.