The last known high for the fleet was 4,700 buses in 2011. Since then, the number had never dipped below the 3,000 mark – until now.
The BEST fleet has now reached critically low levels. Most of the buses are in decrepit condition and packed with harried passengers forced to hang out on the footboards. This is the result of gross mismanagement and wrong policies, which has virtually ruined one of the finest public transport systems in the world. Mumbai’s traffic jams will never be unclogged till the time bus services become efficient. For that to happen, the BEST fleet should increase to at least 8,000.
The crisis has led to a shortage of buses on some routes and an increase in crowds at bus stops even as many buses run packed beyond capacity during morning and evening peak hours, said sources.
As per the MoU signed with the unions in 2019, the transport body had “promised” to maintain its own bus fleet at 3,337 buses, but this too has dipped by 60% to 1,321.
The remaining buses in the fleet are contracted on wet lease, and the number of these vehicles stood at 1,675 on Monday.
An official said that while delivery of new contractual buses had been delayed, the old buses which had completed their life span were being phased out gradually, with around 150 buses scrapped per quarter.
“It is high time BEST expedites procurement of new buses and increases the fleet to nearly double, to 6,000 buses,” passenger rights activist Gaurang Vora said. “These red buses are affordable at Rs 6 for AC ticket for 5 km for the common man, which is why there is huge demand from commuters who wait in long queues.”
An activist from Aamchi Mumbai, Aamchi BEST said services and fleet size had shrunk in the name of wet-leasing. “There is a need to improve service quality and ensure safety as there have been cases of reckless driving in wet-lease buses,” he said.
The fleet also dropped significantly after 280 wet lease minibuses went off the roads some months ago due to non-payment of driver salaries and buses rotting away at depots for want of maintenance.
BEST general manager Vijay Singhal recently said he was in touch with the top brass of companies and had issued a diktat to them to deliver over 1,500 buses by the end of the financial year.