Late evening on the previous Sunday, I jumped into a Ghatkopar-bound BEST bus that was about to speed away from the Majas depot bus stop on the Jogeshwari-Vikhroli Link Road. The front board displayed the route number and destination in Marathi. By the time I finished grasping the info in Hindi on the side display, I almost missed the bus.
The route’s destination was Barve Nagar. Mine was Chembur. I asked the conductor where I needed to alight. He didn’t have a clue. He didn’t even know where exactly – east or west of Ghatkopar railway station? – Barve Nagar is located, nor the route details in a geographic sense.
Try Asalpha, he said. That just didn’t seem right. He issued me a Rs 15 ticket, valid till Barve Nagar. On that cold night, as the monster bus made short work of the bumpy, dusty, foul-smelling Mahakali Caves Road in Andheri East, the conductor came up to me suddenly, and advised me to alight at a spot that he said was near the Ghatkopar railway station, since the bus was now heading off into interior Ghatkopar.
There, it appeared unlikely that I’d get another bus home. So I hired a rickshaw. It’s a paradox that city bus travel is a nightmare in 21st century Mumbai even as the metro aspires to be a global financial hub.
Here are a few things that both BEST and the PWD can do to make it passenger- tourist-friendly.
To start with: Study city bus systems in Singapore, London, New York and Shanghai. Set and maintain benchmarks for Mumbai’s bus services.
It’s good that BEST has graduated from mechanical ticket-punching devices to electronic ticket dispensers used by conductors. Now, it should help introduce prepaid electronic cards (like Ezlink in Singapore and Oyster in London) that can be topped up in a variety of ways (including online) and at various locations (malls, banks, transport hubs, cinemas, and so on). The e-ticket can double up as a prepaid cash card acceptable in suburban trains, city buses, rickshaws, taxis and even for other services (restaurants, shopping, cinemas).
At the bus stops
Install electronic LED boards with route maps that can display information in multiple languages sequentially for each service, the routes/services in operation at that bus stop, timings and frequency of each service, when the next five services are expected on each route. Another board should offer value-added information like how to reach prominent landmarks and areas from that particular bus stop.
Introduce a BEST telephone helpline whose number should be displayed prominently at the bus stop (which should have its own identity number as well). Passengers can text the bus stop ID to the helpline and receive on their mobiles real-time information on the next bus and delays if any.
Install electronic LED boards on the front, the passenger-facing side and the back to display information (route number, destination, main stops on the route) in Hindi, Marathi and English sequentially. Use visible and easily readable colours and fonts.
Near the entrance, stock take-away maps in three languages with details of the route, journey duration and so on.
Install LED boards at key spots indicating the service route, origin and destination, current location, the next stop highlighted in bold. Complement them with audio announcements on built-in speakers and text on mobile TV screens, wherever possible.
All these measures are technologically possible, and can even generate revenues by way of sponsors and advertisements, so the initial cost ought not to be a concern. For a city of Mumbai’s size and population, and for a service organisation such as BEST, that’s the way forward in the 21st century.