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BEST to roll out 200 AC mini buses across Mumbai

Loss-making transport undertaking to take 450 buses on wet lease from two private contractors at a total cost of Rs 612 cr; 200 buses will be AC and ply on feeder routes.

Mumbaikars can look forward to a cool bus ride from August.

BEST, which had pulled out its AC buses from the streets because of heavy losses, has decided to bring back the ‘cool’ fleet, albeit in mini forms.

The transport undertaking is all set to procure 450 buses on wet lease, out of which 200 will be AC mini buses. Among the remaining buses, 200 will be non-AC mini buses and 50 non-AC midi buses. The proposal for wet leasing the buses from private contractors was passed at the BEST committee meeting on Monday amid protests from the committee members.

Two different contractors will provide 225 buses each to BEST. BEST will have to shell out a total of Rs 612 crore — Rs 306 crore to each contractor — for the wet leasing for a period of seven years. This translates into BEST paying Rs 48 per km for mini AC buses, Rs 41 per km for non-AC buses and Rs 45 per km for non-AC midi buses.

The buses will be supplied along with the driver by the contractors.

There are no AC buses in the existing fleet of 3,310 buses, the BEST’s lowest count ever. While the mini buses will have 21 seats and allow 9 standees, midi buses will have 31 seats with 12 standees.

General Manager of BEST Surendra Bagde said that the demand for the smaller buses was made by various corporators. “These buses will be rolled out in phases and the first of the lot is expected to come in by July-August this year. It will help us serve Mumbaikars better,” said Bagde.

BEST intends to ply the small buses on feeder routes, especially the ones connecting commercial offices, business districts and market places from stations, which is normally catered by share-taxis and share-autos.

According to BEST officials, the undertaking will be able to save Rs 8-33 per km by operating these buses. At present, BEST spends anywhere between Rs 103 and 104 per km per bus, whereas a revenue of Rs 57-58 is generated, rendering the whole operation loss-making.

However, BEST committee members slammed the move and pointed out various problems. BEST committee member from the Congress Ravi Raja said, “BMC and BEST together should make up for any losses after the whole wet-leasing process. They cannot just abstain from their responsibility.”

Sunil Ghanacraya of the BJP added, “BEST is not taking into account the cost of conductors who will retire in the next 2-3 years. The money spent by it will automatically come down to Rs 24 per km.”

Calling the initiative a step towards privatization, Shashank Rao of BEST Sanyukt Workers Union announced a strike on February 15.

BEST had stopped the AC buses in April 2017 after sustained losses of Rs 200 crore annually. BEST had 266 AC buses, of which 202 were in use. The fleet had a ridership of merely 18,000 passengers, of whom only 216 were pass holders. These buses were procured about a decade ago at the cost of Rs 60 lakh each.


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