BEST Privatisation: BEST workers threaten strike on Feb 15 over induction of 450 private buses
In a landmark decision, Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) Undertaking is set to induct 450 private buses in its fleet, including 200 air-conditioned ones.
This will be the first time in over a century that the undertaking will induct private buses in its fleet, paving way for the privatisation of BEST.
Buses on wet-lease
The BEST committee on Monday cleared the proper proposal to wet lease 450 buses for a period of seven years for Rs 612 crore. It plans to pay for the lease amount by leveraging ad revenue and hiking fares, which is awaiting BMC approval.
The fleet will comprise of 200 AC mini (21 seaters), 200 non-AC mini (21 seaters) and 50 midi buses (31 seaters). Of the total 450 buses, over a hundred will start plying by May end, while the rest will be introduced in July-August.
The committee’s decision to wet lease buses will also mark the return of AC buses in the city. The undertaking had decided to stop all AC bus services from April 2017 amid growing financial losses and lukewarm response.
BEST plan to lease approximate 1,250 buses in the next two years. If successful, a third of the undertaking’s fleet will be on a lease by 2020. The BEST has around 3,300 buses in its fleet at present.
The wet lease model had been tried in cities like Nagpur, Delhi, Ahmedabad, and Hyderabad earlier.
Under the arrangement, the contractors – Anthony Garages Pvt. Ltd. and Shree Krupa Services Pvt. Ltd. – will provide 225 buses each. They will also be responsible for providing the driver, maintaining the buses and bearing fuel costs.
The buses will be painted like existing ones and remain in BEST’s fleet exclusively for the seven years.
On its part, BEST will provide parking space in select depots, employ conductors to collect revenue via ticket sales and retain the right to place advertisements on the buses.
It will also reserve the right to levy a penalty of Rs 5,000 per day per bus if the contractor fails to provide vehicles at the designated time and place.
According to BEST’s general manager Surendrakumar Bagde, the decision will improve efficiency and minimize costs. The undertaking expects to save Rs 9 per km per AC bus and Rs 33 per km per midi bus.
“Passengers need quick and affordable services. They opt for taxis and share autos if buses don’t arrive on time. With the new fleet, we expect to deploy mini and midi buses on feeder and office routes and ensure they arrive on time,” Bagde was quoted saying.
The decision to lease buses comes in the wake of BMC’s firm stance of not offering any financial assistance to the debt-ridden undertaking. The BMC did not allocate any funds to BEST in its 2018-19 budget as well.
BEST reportedly spends between Rs 103 and 104 per km per bus currently, while generating less than 60 percent back in revenue.
Meanwhile, some Sena corporators in the committee cleared the proposal with a rider that the contractors give preference to locals and kin of existing BEST employees while recruiting drivers.
Workers threaten strike
While Bagde has stated that no deductions would be made from workers’ salaries, the decision to allow private buses met with strong opposition from the BEST workers, who have called for a strike on February 15.
“All BEST staffers will protest this decision, which is the first step towards privatising the entire organisation. We oppose privatization of the fleet and fear retrenchment of hundreds of drivers,” BEST Sanyukt Workers Union head Shashank Rao was quoted saying.
“Workers will voluntarily join our strike and buses will not operate from Thursday morning,” he added.
Around 30 lakh people commute via BEST buses everyday, all of whom will be inconvenienced if the strike goes ahead.