The impact of lockdown due to Covid-19 pandemic has been severe in the case of public bus transport in India. From March 2020 to July 2020, the revenue generation ability of public bus transport organisations was most affected. When operations resumed at the end of July 2020 or early August 2020, the challenges included a severely depleted working capital. Enjoying the status of an essential service at one end and grappling with numerous challenges at the other, the public bus transport organisations have been finding new ways to succeed since then. They are, according to Jan Deman, Director, Busworld, seeking new ways to get public funding. Stating that it is necessary to understand that no public transport would be sustainable without public funding, Deman mentioned that the pandemic has significantly changed the industry dynamics.
Emphasising that the private bus sector in India, which commands 80 per cent of the entire bus industry in India, too is in need of public funding to get back on its feet, Deman averred, “Public transport is clearly vulnerable and undervalued, and needs access to public funding.” Dr. Surendrakumar Bagde. General Manager, BrihanMumbai Electric Supply & Transport Undertaking (BEST), expressed that BEST buses proved to be of much use to essentialduty workers during the Covid-19 induced lockdown. He added that they have been successfully carrying out wetlease operations in Mumbai through four operators and induction of 1000 buses. Of the opinion that it is necessary to provide sustainable and environmentally friendly public transport service, Dr. Bagde said that his organisation is looking to operate 10000 buses for Mumbai’s 20 million population. Looking at operating a fleet of 3000 buses on wet-lease, BEST is said to be looking at a fleet of 3337 buses by 2025.
Claimed to work towards adding around 3500 buses on wet lease in its fleet, BEST has so far wet-leased mini and midi buses for conductorless operation. These are engineered to work as a feeder service; as a last mile connectivity service that is aligned to the suburban train, metro and monorail network. Keen to increase bus services to elevate safer and greener mobility in the city for the masses, BEST, according to Dr. Bagde is looking at reducing CO2 vehicular emissions. Wet-lease, at the other, would boost private investment and provide better employment opportunities for the local population. Keen to make use of an Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) to improve operational efficiency and transparency, BEST, in the interest of sustenance and growth, is working towards bridging the supply and demand gap, which is estimated to be three to four times that of the international benchmarks. One of these is that a city should have 50 buses per lakh of population.
Working with the respective benchmark in mind, BEST as one of the oldest and most regarded public bus transport organisations, is also anticipating the dynamic needs of Mumbai city. Termed as the financial capital of India, Mumbai is also home to the Reserve Bank of India. Witnessing exponential growth in population over the last few decades as an island, Mumbai, according to Dr. Bagde is in need of a balance between public and private transport vehicles. As the second most preferred travel medium after suburban trains in Mumbai, BEST, he explained, is considered as a cost-effective travel medium with ease of access by the masses. Navigating past the challenge of high traffic density in Mumbai, BEST is working on ensuring timely operation of its buses on the routes designated.
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