All of BEST’s problems in recent years have been created by (1) government policy that is single minded in the encouragement of private automobiles creating unbearable congestion on roads, (2) lack of investment in upgrading and improving BEST fleet and operations, and (3) repeated fare hikes that have led to a drop in ridership.
But instead of alleviating the conditions that have led to the problems of BEST, the BMC’s recent plans will strangulate and privatize the affordable BEST public transport system. The BMC needs to look at the problems of BEST as symptoms of poor transport planning and management, and not simply as bad business practice.
As a citizens movement committed to public transport we make three key demands from the BMC and the BEST Management:
1) Subsidize and operate BEST as part of the BMC Budget
The BMC is the richest municipality in the country, with an accumulated Rs 69,000 crore of fixed deposits. Despite this, it refuses to fund an essential service of the city.
BEST bus transport has always received a financial subsidy from the BEST’s electricity division. It must now be subsidized directly by the owner of the whole undertaking, namely, the BMC.
BMC should provide for losses caused by BEST’s unplanned fleet expansion of 2006-10 by writing off its ‘loans’ to BEST, and paying off the other borrowings BEST has had to make in the recent period. This will clear the backlog and help BEST start with a clean slate.
2) Improve Public Transport, Discourage Private Transport
We demand that the BMC’s set aside its privatization-cum-fare hike plan and consult with unions, urban affairs experts, transport experts and people’s organizations to formulate a plan for revival of public transport, including BEST. Increasing public transport ridership, for the health of the city, should be taken as the primary criterion on the basis of which to judge performance.
The BMC must introduce bus priority lanes on all arterial and link roads in the city. This will reduce road space for cars, distribute road space more equitably, and make buses more efficient.
The BMC must introduce appropriate parking fees to create an income stream for BEST, and tax private automobiles for the multiple costs they impose on the city in terms of road maintenance, congestion, and pollution.
We demand that the BMC scrap the unsustainable, expensive and regressive Coastal Road project, and allocate the Rs 1,500 crore for that project to support and improve the BEST.
3) Make BEST Affordable and Accessible
Mumbai’s bus transport is already too expensive in relation to the incomes of its users, and this fact has led to a fall in bus ridership. Reduce bus fares for short-distance routes. The fares for the three shortest distances should be reduced to Rs 4, 6, and 8. This will bring back lakhs of commuters.
BEST is making public transport unaffordable to students. We demand that the price of student passes be reduced.
We demand an increase in short-distance buses on feeder routes to train stations. Traffic must be regulated at train stations to ensure buses get priority.
We demand that the BMC and BEST stop the discontinuation of routes. The BEST must be run with the spirit and commitment of a public service, and must be operated even on so-called ‘unprofitable’ routes.