Commuters ditch share auto, taxi in favor of BEST buses | Mumbai news

MUMBAI: The Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) feeder buses — mainly mini and midi AC and non-AC buses — have turned out to be a boon for everyday commuters, who were being forced to pay exorbitant amounts for share auto rickshaws and taxis.

Auto rickshaws and taxis operate on sharing basis mainly on high-density feeder routes, particularly from business districts to railway stations like Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC) to Kurla and Bandra station, Kurla station to Mumbai University, Churchgate to Nariman Point, Andheri station to airport and Ghatkopar metro station to Sakinaka.

Passengers have stated that auto and taxi drivers charge 30 to 50 per passenger for less than 2 kilometers. However, after the introduction of additional BEST buses and a reduction in fares, passengers prefer taking buses. The BEST has wet-leased such buses, meaning they are owned and operated by contractors on a price per kilometer.

The BEST currently operates 1,600 mini and midi buses on its feeder routes, connecting business districts with railway stations and hospitals in the city. Currently, the BEST has a ridership of 3.3 million passengers daily and operates over 3,500 buses. Pre covid, BEST had a ridership of 3.2 million passengers

“I have paid 40 for a share auto rickshaw to travel from Kurla to BKC. It is outrageous that the auto drivers charge any money they want. After the fares were reduced and frequency was increased, I only travel by BEST buses,” said Ribetto Francis, a 25-year-old resident of Kurla.

Passengers also said that they use auto-rickshaws provided by mobile application-based cab drivers as a cheaper alternative to share and regular auto-rickshaws. “I travel everywhere from Powai to Lower Parel, Sion and Thane as well. I have not yet started taking buses due to the fear of crowded spaces during Covide-19. The mobile application-based auto rickshaws are more affordable than the regular rickshaws,” said Anagha Majumdar, a 40-years-old resident of Powai.

“I have paid shared taxis 25 to travel between Churchgate railway station and the Air India building. Now, I mostly travel by BEST buses s they are operated every 5 minutes from Churchgate station,” said Nikhil Mishra, a 34-year-old Cotton Green resident.

BEST is presently operating buses from Churchgate railway station to business districts in South Mumbai including the World Trade Center (WTC) and National Center for the Performing Arts (NCPA) at a frequency of three minutes. The body also plans to introduce new routes based on demand from passengers.

“We have been undertaking surveys from passengers at bus depots to understand the commuting pattern and demand of buses. New routes, including feeder routes, are added as we get demand from passengers,” said Lokesh Chandra, general manager, BEST

Further, the organization has redesigned its present existing routes to improve the frequency of the buses.

Meanwhile, share taxi drivers have stated that they are suffering major losses particularly after additional buses were introduced. “I have operated a shared taxi since 1982. My business has been completely gone. We charge 10 between Churchgate to Nariman Point and 15 from Nariman Point to Churchgate. Before lockdown, we could earn 800 per day and now we struggle to make even 400 a day. As the bus fares were decreased and new buses were added, we have no business left,” said Sagir Ahmed, a 63-year-old resident of Borivali.

“I have been operating taxis for 21 years. As AC buses have been introduced and are operated frequently, we are facing constant issues with fewer passengers. The crowd coming from Churchgate station board buses. Work and income have decreased,” said Aslam Shaikh, a 43-year-old resident of Mulund.

“We operate from new locations all the time. As buses have increased and are operated daily between BKC and Kurla, we have to search for locations where buses are not easily available,” said a share auto-rickshaw driver, who did not want to be named.

Autorickshaw unions have stated that with the introduction of new buses the competition has increased but it will not impact the business of autorickshaws and taxis significantly.

“When mobile application cabs were introduced there was the same fear and concern that the business will collapse but autorickshaws and taxis survived. Similar is the case with buses as competition will increase and will get stable. BEST is a non-profit organization and operates buses in the public interest,” said Shashank Rao, president, Mumbai AutorickshawMen’s Union.