“Pudhe Chala” has been the mantra of Mumbai, and our local BEST bus service truly establishes a Mumbai on the move. BEST (Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport) celebrates 75 years of its establishment a week before our nation celebrates 75 years of swaraj.
August 7, 1947 saw the birth of this organisation that has now evolved into the lifeline in India’s centre of growth and finance. Its red buses have transformed Mumbai and grown along with it, ensuring each passenger reaches safely and in time. Transport in Mumbai isn’t just a commute, it is a matter of destiny and making it to your dreams.
For Uddhav Thackeray-ji and me, this establishment has been a priority. For any transport service, the two things that matter the most are affordability and reach, which translates to fare and fleet size.
Sustainability, economically and environmentally are the key areas of focus today.
The bus fleet stands at roughly 3,300 buses in Mumbai on 470 routes; it carries 3.3 million passengers daily and safely. The good news is that we have crossed pre-Covid passenger numbers.
But the fleet cannot be frozen at that number for a city like Mumbai that is always on the move and growth.
We aim to have 10,000 clean/alternate fuel buses by 2027 in keeping with a target and growth strategy that we set in 2021. All these buses will be emission-free, noise-free and more so, charged by clean energy from the BEST’s own electricity supply.
By the BEST tapping into assistance from global stakeholders like C40, Giz, WRI, ITDP, ICLEI, TUMI and the German Federal Government, the world has invested and set its eyes on Mumbai. The scale at which BEST will achieve its electrification target is going to be unprecedented. And therefore, BEST is set to inspire confidence for an accelerated green transition, not just in India, but across cities around the world.
The double decker bus has been a part of every Mumbaikar’s life. Uddhav Thackeray-ji insisted on electric double-decker buses; 900 of them will be in the fleet by 2025.
Making public transport affordable has been a priority, and for the past five years, we have maintained flat fares that make these buses the most affordable in the world. Rs 5 for 5 km, Rs 10 for 10 km, Rs 15 for 15 km and more than Rs 20 takes you for any distance more than 15 kilometres. So BEST has scale, leads the world in going green at an affordable ticket rate, and per km cost like no other. Electric mobility per kilometre is more affordable than fossil fuel.
For the administration, digitisation of the BEST was very crucial for better management of the fleet. A central control room that we set up a few years ago maps and manages every bus movement in times of normalcy or disasters. Similarly for passengers, an application we launched early this year, you can plan your journey, book your ticket with a click of your phone.
A tap in – tap out card has been introduced and it is combined with the services of other transport agencies in the city.
While working on the route flexibility and affordability, we also highlighted the famous bus stops of Mumbai. Putting design to work, the new bus stops have more seating and waiting capacity, are transparent and safe and some even have green tops.
In my tenure as Guardian Minister of Mumbai, while bringing in almost 400 of these new design bus stops, we also got the BMC to look into footpaths on a large scale. The idea was to have people commute by public transport and then have the “last mile” as a non-motorised commute i.e. a walk to work.
Multiple aspects of Mumbai’s life now are effectively covered by the BEST. It runs a “women-only” bus, an airport ferry service, night routes, student pick-ups and drop-offs, a Hop-On-Hop-Off service for tourists, open double-decker buses for tourists with guided tours of the city, and a corporate booking-only service soon to be launched.
I have closely seen the workings of the BEST in the past 25 years: its drivers and conductors, its administration, its cash-strapped days being replaced with a rapid increase in passengers.
I’ve also had the good fortune to keep adding new initiatives to this world-class and affordable service.
The BEST has seen many firsts in India – from the wet lease model (that we also successfully petitioned the Union Govt to include in its FAME II policy) or the phone app.
Clean fuel buses are a unique gift to cities. While I don’t deny the contribution of railways and metros to public transport, buses are most practical in dense cities that cannot afford disruption, and unlike the fixed infrastructure of railroads and metros, buses can ply on flexible routes and manoeuvre through narrow lanes, and a huge fleet can be built in minimal cost, compared to any other mode of public transport.
As I congratulate the entire BEST establishment that celebrates its 75 years of keeping Mumbai running, I also hope that many other cities build their own networks of affordable, clean-fuelled public bus transport. As a side note, the BEST also has supplied electricity to the city the financial powerhouse of India.
This joint effort of bringing people to work and providing power to their workstation is what makes the BEST at 75 a worthy celebration.
(Aaditya Thackeray was a minister in Maharashtra and is President of Yuva Sena, the Shiv Sena’s youth wing.)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.
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