Saving the BEST: A look back

Saving the BEST, a wonderful article by Rajendra Aklekar, journalist and author of the highly acclaimed book ‘Halt Station India’, appeared on Sunday’s edition of The Hindu. I’m going to attempt to reinterpret his article with a little bit of my own thoughts in the process.

Mumbai has traditionally been dependent on its railway lines for commuting. This dependency has been justified by their reach, optimal efficiency, and reliability. This makes them more than just a Rail Network. It makes it a lifeline, because it brings together the entire Mumbai Metropolitan Region.

The story with the road is similar. BEST buses have been on the roads for quite a while now. Motor Buses were to make their first appearance in 1913, operated by the Bombay Electricity Supply and Tramways Company Limited [BES &T Co. Ltd] which was set up in 1907, but didn’t turn up till 1926 because of World War I. Prior to this, the Bombay Tramway Company Limited operated horse-drawn trams in Bombay from 1873 with Electric Trams appearing on the scene in 1906 after BES&T took over the BTC. Today, BEST’s ubiquitious red buses form the last mile [or kilometre] connectivity for millions of passengers from both the city itself, as well as its suburbs and satellite towns.

However, things are changing. BEST is already in knee-deep trouble, getting passengers, especially for its lacklusture AC services that have been beaten by NMMT and TMT, although BEST is seemingly gaining a steady foothold after the recent fare revision. Further, app-based aggregators, including Ola, Uber, ZipGo, Shuttl, rBus, are all eating into BESTs revenue. To add to this, the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Transport Authority [MMRTA] is now allowing private buses to ply point to point within the city without a permit.

The fault here lies in not only the competition, but also BEST. Corruption, Politics, Unions, all have made the Red Bus seemingly irrelevant in today’s life.

To put it in figures, BESTs Transport Deficit is -₹858.02crore. Its Electricity Surplus of ₹925.41crore is what is keeping it floating, along with some cash flowing in from the MCGM.

While it common to understand that Public Transport, being considered Public Service is bound to go thru losses, why are BESTs coffers in such a precarious state?

As Mr. Aklekar puts it, it all has to do with the management of BEST. It has an Administrative Wing and a Committee that is a Political Body. The two often overstep their boundaries, since it is blurred, and cause skirmishes, which leads to losses.

Along with this, it is also BESTs lack of keeping pace. NMMT and TMT went the BMTC way by procuring high-end Volvo buses while BEST remained with their scam-tainted Punjab-made Cerita fleet that were procured under the name of ‘Kinglong’ buses. This, along with the fact that BEST had abysmally high fares for their dilapidated buses just made things worse. BEST’s ITS was a total failure, because it required users to send an SMS and was full of bugs. Later on, it got shut down. Of course, let us not forget BEST’s tryst with Electronic Ticketing, which for a Municipal Level Transco, is a commendable effort, one worthy of a case study.

While BEST doesn’t provide WiFi on buses, something the Mumbai Metro does, I have seen a bus with a White Box behind the Driver saying WiFi. Maybe this was a one-off trial.

While Mr. Aklekar points out that BEST didn’t have a public time-table, I did find out that BEST did indeed have one, visible on its website when searching for a route, and also visible on the Mobile app m-Indicator. Of course, the increased traffic on the city’s roads have practically rendered timetables useless. Last September, the day after Anant Chaturdashi, I ended up catching the 9.30 AS4 from NSCI to Backbay at 10.15 thanks to the traffic.

When Delhi can track its Cluster buses and Autos, why can’t BEST? 3500 buses aren’t hard to track. BEST can set up a system on a Public-Private Partnership and licence its API for others to use if they’re unable to give it out for free.

He also talks of bus stops using electricity for advertising. The power can also be used to light it up for the safety of commuters, as well as a Public Information system for arrivals. I believe this should be easy, atleast within town limits, given that BEST supplies power there. BEST can also explore the possibility of solar powered bus stops.

Why can’t BEST go the Ola-Uber way and tap into the Google Maps API to show where a bus is? Get an app, track buses, guide commuters to the nearest bus stop. Let them buy a ticket with the app! Paper tickets are great. Make them greater. Print some ads on them. BEST used to do so with their earlier punched tickets. Why not now? Print a WiFi password on it as well, so that commuters with a ticket can use it. Passholders can probably have it using an app!

While I had earlier stated that I would be favour of participation from the private sector to keep the city’s transport in shape, the case with BEST is peculiar. The decentralised nature of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region allows each Municipal Corporation to run their own buses. Why can’t BEST, NMMT and TMT coordinate their bus services? Why do they have their toxic competition?

BEST represents the city of Mumbai in many ways. It is a Heritage structure in itself. If not for anything else, BEST, its red buses, their bell pulls, the Double Deckers, makes the Undertaking unique in India. Even the Purple Faeries make them unique.

BEST needs to get its act together. Or else India’s Oldest Transport Body, a crucial part of Mumbai’s Heritage, Culture and History would be lost to the annals of time.

 

Click here to read Rajendra Aklekar’s article Saving the BEST.

Click here to buy Rajendra Aklekar’s Halt Station India

 

 

 

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BEST slashed its AC fares by half. What happened then is obvious!

BEST recently slashed its AC fares by 50%. The results of this, while obvious, are quite shocking.

BEST also introduced several new routes: AS-71, AS-72, AS-318, AS-415.

Earlier, NMMT and TMT AC buses would always run full while BEST buses were like Chauffeur services, with one or two passengers in some of them. The reasons were clear: BEST used its Purple Faeries while the other two use Volvos, and further, BEST charged one and a half [1.5x] times what the other two charged.

But not any more. BEST’s minimum AC fares have come down from ₹30 to ₹15 while NMMT and TMT charge ₹20.

The Net Result?

BEST’s AC buses are seeing a higher patronage. BEST, whose ridership had fallen from 43lakh to 30lakh, is now trying to get it to 45lakh.

Take a look below and see how two AC buses are performing.

AS-318

This is AS-318 at Bandra Bus Station [East] towards the Bharat Diamond Bourse in Bandra Kurla Complex.

As you can see in the picture, the bus is quite full.

BEST bus AS-310.
BEST bus AS-310. Image copyright Coolguyz.

AS-415

This is AS-415 from Agarkar Chowk to SEEPZ. As you can see, the bus is full of passengers.

BEST bus AS-415.
BEST bus AS-415. Image Copyright Coolguyz.

When was the last time you saw a BEST AC bus full of passengers? 2009? 2010.

With BEST getting the new Tata Starbus Hybrid fleet soon, things are just going to improve.

Of course, as stated earlier, BEST needs to get rid of the Cerita fleet soon and go for more powerful Ashok Leyland, Corona, Scania and Volvo buses to sustain this increase in passengers.

BEST slashed its AC fares by half. What happened then will NOT blow your mind! Click To Tweet

Images courtesy Coolguyz from Skyscrapercity.

Go ahead. Share this article. Share the joys of traveling in India’s Oldest Public Transport Company.

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[Satire] BEST announces BEST Dish Of The Day

In a move to boost employee morale and get more publicity, BEST has come up with a new programme.

Capitalising on Masterchef’s Best Dish of the Day concept, BEST officials decided that the new program will help boost publicity and the morale of staff and their families.

A BEST staff member from the Colaba Depot excitedly announced that, the Spouses of BEST employees would be cooking under this new scheme. The dish which manages to satisfy the judge or judges the most will be awarded BEST Dish of the Day and will then be sold in BEST’s Mobile Food House [Phirte Upahar Grih/फिरते उपहार गृह ] to tourists who use BEST’s Mumbai Darshan service. It will have a big banner with BEST Dish of the Day, and बेस्ट डिश ऑफ़ दि डे , written on it.

BEST's Phirte Upahar Grih, Mobile Food Van, Canteen On Wheels.
BEST’s Phirte Upahar Grih, Mobile Food Van, Canteen On Wheels. Image copyright Neeraj Pattath, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

According to sources, negotiations are underway to rope in Akshay Kumar, who hosted the first season of Master Chef in India as the judge for the program. Sanjeev Kapoor is also rumoured to have been contacted. One staffer even suggested that the Undertaking should try and rope in British food writer and celebrity chef Nigella Lawson to increase BESTs visibility to the world.

When contacted, BEST General Manger Jagdish Patil’s assistant responded by saying that his boss had gone for a food tasting. He said, “BEST has a brand name, and we must capitalise on this. Boss was joking about how Navi Mumbai cannot have an NMMT Dish of the Day, because it sounds stupid. He did say that TMT could capitalise on its brand name because its buses were falling apart like a bunch of rusted, loosely held TMT rods. This is one area where they cannot copy us, or outperform us.”

When contacted, NMMT General Manager Shirish Aradwad seemed a little irate. “They cannot focus on buses, now they are focusing on food also? We’ll make sure their food doesn’t enter our Depots just like we stopped AS-505 from entering the CBD Belapur Bus Stand. They say they’ll sell the dish made by spouses on the Mobile Catering Van, right? Well, we’ll get every employee of ours, to cook food and sell it on every bus. We’ll provide every bus with a stove running on the bus CNG tank and a chimney so that conductors can cook in between stages and drivers can cook while waiting at signals. We’ll even rewire the Bell Pull to stir the food when the conductor is selling tickets.”, he retorted.

One hopes that whatever happens, happens soon, and all of us have our tummies full.

BEST decides to award the BEST Dish of the Day! Click To Tweet

Note: All content in this article is fictitious, and must not be taken seriously. This article is satire, and should ideally be treated as such.

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New Innings for BEST

In another revolutionary move, BEST has decided to focus on becoming more public-transport centric and turn itself from a loss making body to a profitable one. In other words, BEST has decided to become the BEST, by taking on NMMT and TMT head-on.

Update: BEST has announced reduced bus fares and passes from 01-07-16. AC passes are back to ₹150, with a new Child rate for children under 12. Happy Hours have been introduced as well. More details here: BEST Fare Revision 2016

BEST has decided a reshuffle of its AC routes, cancelling two, reconsidering a few and proposing a few more!

Now, the interesting thing is that BEST is reconsidering two routes via T2 of the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport. BEST earlier ran dedicated AC express routes from the airport such as A1Express from T2 to CBD Belapur Bus Station and A14Express to Cadbury Junction. Among the routes being canceled are A76Express from Gorai Depot to NSCI Worli via the Bandra Worli Sea Link and AS592 from Kopar Khairane to NSCI Worli. Routes that almost got scrapped include:

  • AS9 from Ghatkopar Depot to Dr. Shyama Prasad Mookherjee Chowk
  • A74Express from Oshiwara Depot to NSCI Worli
  • A75Express from Hirandani Powai to NSCI Worli
  • A77Express from Gorai Depot to BKC Telephone Exchange

Routes that are being proposed include:

  • AS71 from Fishermen Colony, Mahim to Mira Road East, via CSIA T2
  • AS72 from Rani Laxmi Chowk, Sion to Bhayendar East, via CSIA T2
  • As415 from Agarkar Chowk to SEEPZ via Marol Depot
A lit of canceled, proposed BEST AC Routes
A list of canceled, proposed BEST AC Routes

Apart from this, 50 routes across the 27 depots are slated to be cancelled.

What started all this?

A simple change in the BEST committee in the MCGM. After close to a decade, the BJP took over the committee from the Shiv Sena. Rather ironic, given that the Sena is anti-Toll while the BJP is pro-Toll. If you recall, it was the Sena that hiked the fares of BEST in 2015, first in February and then in April in 2015.

A quick recap would show that the BJP has always been adept at providing good transport wherever it has been, be it in the form of the Mumbai-Pune or Ahmedabad-Vadodara Expressways, the BRTS corridors in Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Surat, Bhopal and Indore, BMTC and KSRTC which showed a massive turnaround under R Ashoka, the erstwhile Transport Minister of Karnataka.

Back in 2005, BEST, had introduced the Smart Card system with Kaizen Automation, in the form of the Go Mumbai smart card, which was a common mobility smart card for both BEST buses as well as trains on the Suburban Railway. These were subsequently phased out in favour of the present Trimax system that BEST uses.

Rebranding

BEST, which officially turns 70 in its current form next year, and currently has a debt burden of ₹2,250 crore, plans to change its logo as well the colour of the buses in a major move to rebrand itself.

BEST has written to the Sir JJ Insititute of Applied Arts, one of the city’s premier art institutes to guide it in the process. The colour change is part of an exercise to make BEST more acceptable among customers.

The Mumbai Monorail, operated by the MMRDA, got the National Institute of Design [NID], Ahmedabad to design its coaches. One hopes that BEST too, would reach out to NID, or maybe even the Centre for Enviornment, Planning and Technology [CEPT], Ahmedabad for some ideas in design and operations.

Passes

Among other changes, are the rates of passes, monthly, as well as daily passes.

While the Major changes are the the reduction of the Monthly AC bus pass from ₹4800 to ₹3300, a significant change is the reduction of the Magic Daily Passes:

  • Magic AC: ₹200 to ₹150.
  • Magic Non-AC: ₹70 to ₹51.
  • Suburban Pass: ₹50 to ₹36.
  • Island City/Town: ₹40 to ₹29.

However, these are valid only during the Happy Hour period of 11am to 5pm.

The question here is, if the pass is cheaper post 11am, nobody would buy a pass before that. An alternative explanation is that passes purchased between 11am and 5pm are not valid during the rest of the day, which is an inconvenience to those who might purchase a pass after 11am, but may need to use it at 9pm. I guess, an official explanation from BEST would be the best thing to wait for.

While, BEST currently has good integration with the Suburban Rail, what is desired it better integration with the Metro, Monorail, and MSRTC services.

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The BEST way to Imagica

BEST recently announced that it would ply AC services to Imagica.

Yep, you heard that right. BEST, which has been incurring heavy losses for several years now, has decided it will ply AC buses to Imagica. Apart from this, BEST has managed to get Diamond Traders to sign a ₹80,000 agreement for bus services from Andheri to Seepz.

BEST is also looking at tying up with IPL to provide bus connectivity to stadiums during matches, something that BMTC has been doing for the past few years.

BEST also announced that they were in talks with Essel World to provide buses.

The bus to Imagica leaves from CST at 7am in the morning and costs ₹500 for a round trip. Tickets can be booked the previous night on Imagica’s website.

Now, the question is, what buses is BEST using? Since it is a weekend bus, they can probably use the Volvo on Sunday when AS-4 is not operational.

A BEST Volvo on Route AS-4 from Backbay Depot to Oshiwara Depot.
A BEST Volvo on Route AS-4 from Backbay Depot to Oshiwara Depot. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Using them Purple Faeries on this route, would severely ruin BEST’s image as only a handful of them are good, mostly from the Oshiwara Depot.

A BEST Cerita running on route AS 461. Also known as them Mumbai Purple Faeries.
A BEST Cerita running on route AS 461. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, licenced under CC-BY-SA 4.0, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

The BEST must not make the BMTC mistake however. BMTC rents out its newer Volvo buses to corporate bodies such as Manayata Embassy Business Park [MEPB] and the Outer Ring Road Companies Association [ORRCA] and leaves the older, much older KA-01-FA series Volvo buses for the public to use. This is a good opportunity for BEST to resurrect the pathetic image that the AC fleet today has earned and replace it with the Premium luxury one that MSRTC enjoys for itself. BEST must ensure that all six Volvo buses don’t go for corporate trips leaving us at the mercy of the Purple Faeries. The Volvo buses must continue running on AS-4 and be used on the Fort Pheri services instead of idling at Backbay Depot. Similarly, BEST can use the AC buses that arrive at Colaba Depot as AS-9 on similar ring routes in SoBo with a subsidised fare to make them lucrative. This is needed, to keep the fleet running.

All said and done, I’m now excited at the prospect of seeing a BEST bus on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway and hope to get to click a photograph soon.

Route and schedule

The BEST Bus to Imagica leaves CST at 7.15am. The following are it’s pickup points and their timings:

  1. Mumbai CST at 7.15am. [Bhatia Baug Bus Station]
  2. Bhendi Bazar at 7.25am. [Route No. 1 Bus Stop]
  3. Byculla Station at 7.35am. [Route No. 1 Bus Stop]
  4. Jai Hind Cinema at 7.45am. [Route No. 1 Bus Stop]
  5. Lalbaug at 7.50am. [Route No. 1 Bus Stop]
  6. Parel TT at 8.00am. [Route No. 1 Bus Stop]
  7. Dadar TT [Khodadad Circle] at 8.10am. [Route No. 1 Bus Stop]
  8. Maheshwari Udhyan at 8.15am. [Route No. 504 Bus Stop]

Arrival at Adlabs Imagica at 10.30am.

Tickets can be booked on the Adlabs Imagica Website.

Buses from Borivali are provided by Neeta Travels. Who knows, this might be BEST soon.

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Stop and Go

So, how do Bus Conductors tell the bus driver to start the bus, and stop the bus at a bus stop?

There are various ways. In this article, I’m going to explore the different ways they are done, as well as delve a bit into the operations of buses of two non Indian cities, where a conductor doesn’t ask for a bus to be stopped, but the passenger does.

So let me start with our Desi transcos.

Starting, in no particular order:

BEST, NMMT, PMPML

The BEST Model also applies to NMMT, TMT, MBMT, PMPML, and partly to MSRTC.

A Bell-Pull inside a BEST bus.
A Bell-Pull inside a BEST bus. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Here, there is a bell next to the driver, with a bell-pull that goes upto the back of the bus. The rope of the bell pull is looped through several hoops, enabling the conductor to pull it from wherever he is standing. He pulls the rope and the bell rings. A single ring signifies stop, and a double ring signifies go. In MSRTC buses, especially at night, a double ring while the bus is in motion is to inform the driver to switch off or switch on the lights. Since BEST AC buses have only a front door functional, the driver knows when to stop or move the bus, while in the case of NMMT and TMT, the rear doors rarely open.

MSRTC

This is very prevalent in the Hirakani [Asiad] buses. It is similar to the bell-pull, but with a twist. Instead of a bell, an electric bell is installed near the Driver. A wire casing runs along the roof of length the bus, with bell switches after every three seats. The conductor presses the switch once for stop, twice for go, and twice in motion for the lights.

BMTC and KSRTC

One of the most interesting methods, no bus of BMTC has ever had a bell pull for the last decade. The conductor here, tells the driver to stop or move. He or she yells, that’s right, yells! The phrases used are Hold for stop and Right for go. Of course, Hold often sounds like Hold It, or Whole Day, and Right sounds like a Britisher saying the word, with stress on the ‘r’ and the ‘ight’ sounding like ‘oit’. This happens in the Vajra as well. Few conductors carry a whistle with them, blow it once for stop and twice for go, but most of them prefer shouting it out.

MTC and TNSTC

Older MTC and TNSTC buses had a bell pull in them, with the same ringing order as BEST. However, newer buses, especially the semi-low floor buses that came with the advent of JnNURM buses didn’t have these. In these buses, the conductor officially carries a whistle, and blows it; once for stop and twice to go.

DTC

DTC is a unique case. The conductor doesn’t tell the driver to stop or go. The driver stops, and looks at the mirror and leaves. However, this does get a bit confusing, given that nobody in Delhi seems to follow the enter from the rear, exit from the front rule. I wonder how the driver manages.

 

And now, for something completely different …

MTA

Metropolitan Transit Authority [MTA] buses in New York have a system where the passenger tells the driver that he or she wants to disembark at the next stop, since there is no conductor. How I wish, the BMTC was a bit smarter in this regard.

If you are a fan of the 1990s Nickelodeon animated TV show Hey Arnold!, you would notice that in the very first episode, Downtown as Fruits, you’d notice that Gerald refrains from pulling the bell-pull to indicate the stop.

MTA buses used to have a bell-pull along the length of the bus, next to the window, which a passenger could pull to indicate that they wanted to disembark at the next stop. These were subsequently phased out in 1980, with a yellow touch-sensitive tape on the walls that passengers would use instead. Once considered a relic of the bygone era, they made a comeback in 2009. Many a passengers were surprised, especially the old-timers, who were overjoyed on seeing something from their generation return, followed by the youngsters, who had never seen them before.

TfL

Transport for London [TfL], which operates the red London bus, which is what BEST buses were originally modelled on, have a bell-switch on the support poles within a bus. Indian buses, most notably Tata Marcopolo buses also have these, but they are not in use.

Of course, knowing the British, it is not surprising when I heard of a driver who left a note saying BELLS NOT WORKING, If you want Bus to stop, Yell Ding Ding.

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Hang Me, Oh Hang Me!

In a new adventurous twist, the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation [NMMC], along with the City and Industrial Development Corporation [CIDCO], has proposed a brilliant way to travel from Vashi to Kopar Khairane! Well, what is it you ask? Surprise, surprise, it…. is … a ROPEWAY!

A Ropeway, aka Aerial Tramway, aka Cable Car, is a form of elevated transport where a box is suspended under a cable and moves from end to end. Several exist across India, most notably in hilly areas such as the ones in Darjeeling, Gangtok, Palani, and Raigad Fort.

So, according to MiD-Day, Tata Reality has done a survey on a 5km stretch and pitched the idea to NMMC and CIDCO.

Tata Reality and Infrastructure Limited, TRIL, has also bagged a ₹150crore project to build a 2km Ropeway in the Dharamsala-McLeodganj section.

As many as six stations are being considered on the Stretch from Sector-17 in Vashi to Teen Take Chowk in Kopar Khairane. Currently, the fastest way to traverse this section is by road, and most commuters use autos, share autos and NMMT [AC 121, 123, 125 and others] or BEST [AS 524 and AS 592 and the regulars] buses.

The plan is to set it up initially on this short stretch, connecting Vashi Bus Station and Kopar Khairane Bus Station and then extend it further to different areas as and when required.

Let us now take a quick look at Navi Mumbai, it’s existing Transport system, and try to fit this in.

Navi Mumbai has two railway lines, the Harbour and the Trans-Harbour lines:

  • The Harbour Line connects Panvel to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus on the Central Line and Andheri on the Western Line via CBD Belapur, Nerul, Vashi and Chembur.
  • The Trans-Harbour Line connects Turbhe to Thane via Airoli, Rabale, Ghansoli, and Kopar Khairane. The Trans harbour line splits into two south of Turbhe and one joins the Harbour line towards Vashi and CBD Belapur respectively.

There is one Metro Line under construction, connecting CBD Belapur and Taloja via Kharghar and the Central Jail. Apart from this, there is a melee of BEST, NMMT, TMT, KDMT, and KMT buses flowing all over. BEST operates C-52 from Wadala Depot to Kalamboli, while NMMT operates 103 from Dadar to Panvel.

With so many modes of transport criss-crossing Navi Mumbai, one would assume that traveling there would be easy. However, this isn’t exactly the case. Navi Mumbai is vastly spread out. The two most important nodes, Vashi and CBD Belapur are separated by 10km. The former is an important commercial centre, while the latter is important in terms of governance.

The two main lifelines of Navi Mumbai; the Harbour Line and the Sion-Panvel Highway are not enough. The former has only slow rail services and the latter caters mostly to vehicles going from Mumbai to Pune.

Thus, it would be a wise move to welcome the Ropeway. It would be less land-intensive, would provide some good respite to the traffic in the area and would also afford a good view. Having six stations en route, again, a brilliant idea. NMMC and CIDCO can consider multiple routes. In Northern Navi Mumbai, it would help relieve the burden on the Trans-Harbour Line and the Thane-Belapur Road. The sections along the Western side are booming residential areas, while those on the East, like Mahape, Millenium Business Park, Reliance Knowledge Park, are booming business corridors. This would make the Ropeway immensely beneficial to these areas.

A second ropeway can be considered in Southern Navi Mumbai, connecting CBD Belapur with Nerul and Kharghar. The geographical terrain here is very much favourable for a ropeway as it is hilly. This would connect the Jetty at Nerul, the Hoverport at Belapur and the residential colonies at Kharghar. This would also act as a feeder for the Metro.

Right now, if the existing plan to build the Vashi-Kopar Khairane line is complete, it would act like the Mumbai Monorail; an independent mass transit line on one corner of the city, whose purpose would be limited because it isn’t connected well to other parts of the city and other transit systems.

NMMC and CIDCO should ponder upon this.

Note: I posted an update to this post later in the month. Click here to view it.

Navi Mumbai is getting a Ropeway! Click To Tweet

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NMMT Limited: Will it succeed?

NMMT Limited; after my previous post on BEST, seems to be an interesting development. Note I am only calling it NMMT Limited; the word Limited is just a figment of my imagination.

 

Back in 2014, NMMT had a meeting with several IT service providers, including Trimax, ARS, and Atos to set up an Intelligent Transport System [ITS], which would have brought NMMT more or less along the lines of BEST. However, nothing of the sort has taken place so far. I still see NMMT issuing punched tickets, they have no Bus tracking mechanisms like BEST, and their buses are mostly rickety. However, a recent article in ToI stated that NMMT was in talks with App Developers to create an app to book an AC Bus ticket. A rather interesting development indeed.

In November 2014, ten months ago, NMMT was issuing punched tickets on its Volvo bus on Route AC-105. I was given 3 tickets of ₹20, one of ₹10 and one of ₹5 for a ticket worth ₹75. This was two months after I had got my BEST smart card. The situation was the same in April 2015.

A 5 rupee punched ticket issued by the Navi Mumbai Municipal Transport
A 5 rupee punched ticket issued by the Navi Mumbai Municipal Transport. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International. Image available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Now, with punched tickets, and no Electronic Ticket Machines in sight, this could only mean that NMMT is manually handling accounts as well. With such a system in place, how do they expect to go straight to App based bookings? How will the conductor add it to his or her tally? Or will they treat the passengers similar to the way they treat a passholder for a limited route or distance? There are a lot of questions involved in this, so let us have a look at the possible problems that might occur.

 

Let us take an NMMT route with significant competition along it and examine what might happen:

Route: Borivili Station [East] – Thane Station [East] via Ghodbunder

There are four buses that run primarily on this route:

  • BEST 700Ltd: This is a non-AC service, with limited stops. [50 stops]
  • BEST AS700: This is an Air-Conditioned service with fewer services than 700Ltd. [44 stops]
  • TMT AC65: This an AC service with fewer stops than AS700. [18 stops]
  • NMMT AC121: This is an AC service with the same number of stops as AS700. [44 stops]

Now, given the competition along this corridor, we can say that just like the Bangalore-Chennai or Mumbai-Pune corridor, if one misses one bus, rest assured they will have another one, assuming they are not a Pass holder or a BEST prepaid card holder. For most people living in Borivili, being passholders, AS700 would be the ideal choice. For those living in Thane, AC65 would be the ideal choice. NMMT ideally would be catering to commuters between Borivili and Airoli, or Thane and Airoli.

Now, NMMT is planning an app for its commuters to buy tickets. The purpose of the app can vary. It may be to allow cashless travel, or paperless travel like the Indian Railways UTS app for the Suburban Railway lines across Mumbai and Chennai. However, if this was the case, then why is NMMT still issuing punched tickets? Another purpose of the App can be to reserve a seat, similar to CityFlo or rBus. However, my question is, if NMMT is still on punched tickets, this will lead to a big mess. For example: What if all the seats in the bus are full, and a commuter waiting for the bus has reserved a seat using the app, and walks into the bus to see there are no seats free? The app-user cannot be denied a seat since they paid for it, and the conductor cannot ask a seated passenger to get up. Similarly, if the app is indeed for paperless ticketing like the Railway app, how does it help in curbing frauds? The UTS app currently works in two ways:

  1. One is the GPS method, which works on select routes, mostly the Western and Central lines wherein you have to be either inside the station premises or within a certain radius of the station in order for the app to work. The ticket doesn’t need to be printed and showing the app screen is enough if a TTE comes along.
  2. The second method is the Printed Ticket method. This works on non GPS enabled routes, where after a ticket is bought, it needs to be printed. A reference number is given, which can then be entered into an Automatic Ticket Vending Machine [ATVM] at the Origin Station. The ticket cannot be printed anywhere else to prevent frauds.

How does NMMT plan to do this? The first method would be problematic since not all buses are equipped with GPS, unlike their purple counterparts with the BEST. The second method would be cumbersome for the conductor to punch in a number into their machine, if they have one, to log it. Since, they use punched tickets, the conductor would have to note down the number on a sheet to submit to the depot manager.

All this leaves a lot to wonder. Is NMMT equipped to handle all this? Can they outdo BEST at BEST’s own game?

Only time will tell us.

 

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The curious case of BEST and its AC buses

BEST and AC buses don’t exactly go hand-in-hand. Atleast not anymore. BEST should think of a way to reverse that.

Not so unusual site! An AC BEST of Mulund Depot runs southwards on BRTS-1 at Lalbaug
One of the original Ashok Leyland AC buses that the BEST procured in 1998. Image copyright, Ojas Parab, Flickr.

BEST introduced AC buses, back in 1998. These buses were built by Ashok Leyland and had Opening Windows. Tickets were a bit on the higher side, and included a newspaper [English or Marathi] and a 300ml bottle of water. These buses operated on the following routes routes initially:

  • A1 – Hutatma Chowk to Andheri Station (West)
  • A2 – World Trade Centre to Oshiwara Depot
  • A4 – Hutatma Chowk to Ghatkopar Bus Station
  • A422 – Agarkar Chowk to Mulund Bus Station
  • A461 – Mulund Bus Station (West) to Borivali Station (West)

These buses ran mostly in the mornings and evenings, mainly serving the office-crowd.

In 2008, under then General Manager Uttam Khobragade, BEST procured the first set of their purple ”Kinglong” buses. It took a lot of time to figure out that these Purple Faeries weren’t actually Kinglong buses. These buses were assembled in Punjab by Jaycee Coach Builders Limited [JCBL] and sold under their ”Cerita” brand.

The Kinglong buses owned by BEST were not Kinglong at all. Click To Tweet

A BEST Cerita running on route AS 461. Also known as them Mumbai Purple Faeries.
A BEST Cerita running on route AS 461. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, licenced under CC-BY-SA 4.0, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

These buses were powered by CNG, and unlike other AC buses, didn’t have a slave engine to power the air-conditioning unit, thus resulting in slow speeds and bad pickup. In simple terms, they struggle to climb the simplest of slopes. Yet, they had comfortable seats. These Purple Faeries used to breakdown frequently and some of them caught fire, thus leading to deteriorating quality of BEST AC services.

Somewhere around this time, BEST received a CNG version of the Volvo 8400 on the B7RLE chassis for trial runs. After a few weeks of trial runs from the Oshiwara depot, the bus was transferred to the Wadala Depot, after wihch it was returned to Volvo. Unfortunately, BEST never purchased the bus. It had a separate Slave Engine to power the AC, thus overcoming all the shortfalls of the Cerita buses.

Post this, BEST inked a deal with an advertising firm called Asian Concierge who were ready to supply BEST with 50 Diesel-powered Volvo 8400s in exchange for full body advertisements on them for 15 years. The deal was quite revolutionary and would have changed the transport scene, however, only 6 buses were procured. All of them belong to the Oshiwara Depot and ply on AS-4 between Oshiwara Depot and Backbay Depot.

A BEST Volvo on Route AS-4 from Backbay Depot to Oshiwara Depot.
A BEST Volvo on Route AS-4 from Backbay Depot to Oshiwara Depot. Image copyright Srikanth Ramakrishnan, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

BEST was given 50 Volvo buses free, in lieu of advertising rights. Click To Tweet

Now, the deal is that BEST, which was among the first Transcos in India to get AC buses is slowly phasing them out because of competition from the TMT, NMMT and MSRTC. For starters, BEST used to run a bus AS-505 from Santacruz Depot to CBD Belapur. They curtailed it because NMMT flooded the roads with AC-105 which ran from Bandra Bus Station to CBD Belapur. When I requested BEST to restart AS-505, they replied stating that it was a loss making route, and hence would not be possible. However, BEST’s 505Ltd is among the most profitable routes in the sector. Subsequently, NMMT has launched AC-106 which goes to CBD Belapur via Nerul (West). AC-105 remains their most profitable route.

Similarly, BEST’s AS-700 is doing miserably these days between Borivali Station (East) and Thane Station (East) because of competition from both TMT’s AC-65, AC-125, and NMMT’s AC-131. Now I can understand. Borivali comes under the jurisdiction of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai and Thane under the Thane Municipal Corporation, both pass through the jurisdiction of the Mira-Bhayandar Municipal Corporation as well, but NMMT? AC-131 starts from Borivali Station (East), takes the same route via Ghodbunder Road to reach Kopri [Thane Station], from where it proceeds to Airoli Sector 5, via the Mulund-Airoli Bridge, thus running a total of 9km within its own jurisdiction. What is the need to enter Thane Station? NMMT plies two more AC routes to Borivali, AC-123 and AC-125, from Borivali to Ova Camp in Kharghar. Both take Jogeshwari Vikhroli Link Road, where one takes LBS Marg, and the other the Eastern Express Highway, to reach the Mulund Airoli Bridge and then continue along Thane-Belapur Road. Where is the logic in this? The irony is that if you calculate the number of stops between Dindoshi Junction and the Mulund Airoli Bridge Toll Plaza; here is the interesting result that you get:

  • BEST 523 Ltd has 42 stops.
  • BEST 525 Ltd has 36 stops.
  • BEST AS-524 has 23 stops.
  • NMMT AC-123 has 43 stops.
  • NMMT AC-125 has 36 stops.

This makes BEST the fastest on this route. With fewer stops, any bus runs faster. This is the theory under which Limited Stop Services normally operate.

TMT runs a bus from Cadbury Junction to Agarkar Chowk in Andheri East. This bus enters Mumbai via the Mulund (West) Check Naka and takes the same route as AS-422 to reach Andheri. It travels a total of 3.5 km within Thane and close to 21km in Mumbai. NMMT’s Borivali to Kharghar routes overlap majorly with BEST’s AS-461.

As if all this was not enough, the MSRTC, went one level over all of this, by launching their now-discontinued Shivneri Corporate service. These buses where the regular Shivneri Volvo B7R buses running along the Kandivali-Bandra Kurla Complex [BKC] route, non-stop. BEST plies A77Express on the same route, at the same hours. The only difference was that A77Express started from Gorai, took all flyovers on the Western Express Highway and had a total of 20 odd stops while the Shivneri had none. The service was soon shelved because the fare of ₹100 one way was too high.

What BEST must do now:

BEST must start looking into the profitable routes of the competition and find ways to maximize its revenue streams there. One must remember that all TMT and NMMT AC routes enter Mumbai. None of them are entirely within their territories.

BEST here has an advantage that they must make use of completely. Electronic Ticketing Machines and the Public Information System are two features that only BEST has in its kitty. Prepaid cards, a Daily Pass system for AC buses, and GPS based tracking of buses is what can help position BEST above its competition.

BEST must also pursue the matter with Asian Concierge for the remaining of the 50 Volvo buses so that newer routes can be planned. BEST must allocate these buses onto these routes.

Possible Routes BEST can try out are:

  • Restart AS-505 from Santacruz Depot to CBD Belapur. Run it every half an hour. Make sure the Bus Tracking system works for it.
  • Start a bus, exclusively for the Western Suburbs. It can be on the lines of AS-4 from Oshiwara, but should terminate at Bandra, and can take alternate routes like going into Seven Bunglows and taking the route taken by 56. Run it at half hour intervals. With rising auto fares, people will definitely take these buses. Start similar buses along the Central Suburbs in both West and East.
  • Increase the frequency of AS-6 which connects Backbay Depot to King’s Circle. Let this be a bus that connects the Central Part of South Mumbai. Similarly run a bus from Backbay to Chembur along the Eastern areas. The Western part of South Mumbai is served by AS-4, whose frequency should be increased.
  • Start an AC bus from Mantralaya to CBD Belapur and to Kopar Khairane. Route these buses via Tadeo, Lotus (Worli) and then go towards Navi Mumbai. Perhaps an Express service can work here, via the Sea Link, land up at Sion and go on to CBD Belapur, while avoiding Vashi Bus Station.

BEST must innovate and provide more options for commuters. BEST has an edge over the other two players, which it is sadly not making good use of. Being India’s oldest Public Transport Corporation, I hate to see BEST lose out to newer entities who are just flooding the roads with their buses, and turning BEST buses into Bus. No 8954.

BEST must innovate with their AC fleet for the benefit of Mumbai. Click To Tweet

In 2015, BEST brought out some drastic measures including curtailing of a few routes, reducing frequencies of AS700, cancelling AS706, and scrapping AS422 on Sundays.

Early 2016, NMMT placed orders for Volvo B7RLEs that were Diesel-Electric Hybrids. Shortly after that, MMRDA purchased 25 AC Tata Starbus Electric-Diesel Hybrids which would ply on dedicated lanes in Bandra-Kurla Complex. The impact of it, is to be seen.

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