The BEST’s financial situation was manageable till about 2003 since the shortfall suffered by the transport wing was made up by the surplus from the electricity supply wing.
However, with the Electricity Act 2003 coming into force, the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC) in 2005 disallowed this transfer of funds. This created a gap in finances. It went on widening since there was no revision of bus tariffs commensurate with the increasing cost of various inputs.
The gap had reached an alarming Rs.2000 crore by the end of 2010. The Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act, which governs the working of the BEST, stipulates that the Undertaking has to show a surplus of at least Rs.1 lakh each financial year. To make it possible, the BEST resorted to borrowings from the banks on short term basis. This resulted in the interest burden, aggravating the gap.
MERC’s decision was endorsed by the Appellate Tribunal for Electricity (ATE), which turned down the BEST’s plea to permit cross-balancing of the finances between the two wings. Fortunately, the Supreme Court upheld the BEST’s petition challenging these two decisions in February 2011.
This has been now accepted by MERC though it has asked the BEST to show the cross-balance recovery as a separate component so that the general public is aware of the arrangement.
The recovery under this arrangement has already begun and as a result, it will be almost nil by March 2016. When the BEST submitted its multi-year tariff (MYT) plan to MERC regarding electricity supply, it confidently stated that its power tariff will be more or less stable and the lowest in Mumbai.
The Transport Wing
The BEST’s transport wing is considered one of the finest among all municipalised transport bodies in the world, considering its size and its feat of carrying about five million commuters daily at quite cheap fares. However, of late, the transport wing was facing a serious situation because its fleet size had increased inordinately.
The fleet had grown to 4700 buses though Mumbai’s optimum need is considered to be around 3600-3700. I have brought down the number to 4200 and have prepared plans to trim it further. This will be coupled with optimisation of resources, both human and fleet.
We have awarded the work of developing software for fleet operation optimisation to an international firm, Trapeze, which specialises in handling municipalised transport issues. The emphasis of Trapeze will be on planning and scheduling of the fleet. We expect to bring down the manpower cost by almost 4.5 per cent.
Considering the present cost of fleet operations, this may result in a saving of Rs.800 crore per year. The BEST will be able to utilise this saving for creating more commuter amenities and modernisation. Presently, it has about 39000 employees in the transport wing and 11000 in the supply wing.
This initiative, let me say, is being taken for the first time in India. I am hopeful of a very positive outcome and expect that other civic bodies, too, adopt such steps so as to cut down losses and increase productivity. The Trapeze software is being used in Colaba and Oshiwara depots on an experimental basis. After analysing the results, it will be considered for all operations of the BEST transport wing.
My other area of concern was reliability, punctuality and safety in the transport wing working. Fortunately, thanks to the Unions and the employees, the number of fatalities involving BEST buses has come down drastically.
A couple of decades ago, the fleet was less than half its size today but the number of fatalities was much higher. I have insisted on BEST drivers attending courses conducted by organisations like Prajapita Brahmakumaris, the Art of Living and Salaam Bombay. This has brought about considerable improvement in their behaviour and outlook, enhancing the overall quality of service.
Another major effort has been to deploy drivers and conductors in such a way that they complete their duties in about ten hours against the earlier 12. This gives them two extra hours to take care of their family responsibilities and for personality development. In short, the field staff is very happy with this step.
The next major initiative is to integrate the BEST timetable with the Metro and Mono railway timetables so that a person boarding or alighting either of these rail services is able to catch a BEST bus immediately and vice versa. This way, the number of daily commuters will remain more or less the same and their dependence on other modes of transport will be less. We are working on this and confident to come out with a solution shortly.
Innovations for commuter/ consumer comfort
The BEST undertaking has introduced the e-ticketing system, which is very popular. Accounting and reconciliation has become quite easy due to this. Introduction of the Card Pass System and RFID has ended the need to pay in cash.
Very soon, a Smart Card will be available in Mumbai. It can be used for the BEST and railway, including Metro and Mono, commute. A Passenger Information System is in place already. Due to this, next stop announcements are made and information can be obtained by sending a SMS, quoting the 5-digit bus stop code number about the next bus or about any of the routes.
A large number of commuters has been using this facility. Our entire fleet will be connected through the PIS by the end of this year.
For the electricity supply wing, internet payment facilities are already available. Bills also can be paid through several banks and franchisees. I appeal to the consumers to make use of such facilities so that the cost on human resource comes down and the savings can be used for stabilizing the power supply tariff.
Happy commuters, employees and unions
Your question is to know the secret of excellent human relations in the BEST Undertaking. You say that earlier periods were marked by spats between the administration and the unions on one hand and the BEST committee members on the other.
I have no knowledge of the past but as far as the present is concerned, I have already explained that I have been adhering to a system, which is impartial and fair to all. I listen to the other side before reaching any conclusion. I welcome comments, frank discussions and a free exchange of views.
This way, an amiable dialogue is possible. I have experienced that this method is able to resolve most of the grievances, avoid complications and solve problems. Due to fleet and human resource optimization, employees and the unions are happy. The BEST committee members, too, respect the system and we reach a consensus even after some member expresses himself in strong words.
I am aware that they are elected representatives and accountable to the people. They know that I am an officer of the government and bound by certain rules and regulations. This way, we tackle various issues with a clear mind. Hence, there are no misunderstandings. The same applies to the unions. In my over three years in the BEST, hardly any disruptions or agitations took place since I believe in transparency in approach and working.
Your perception about the BEST
I have been an officer of the government for 20 years and have handled varied responsibilities. I shall say that the BEST is one of the best workplaces in my life. It has a tradition, culture and procedure.
Fortunately for me, the authorities have been supportive. Courts and the regulators have interpreted the law in accordance with history and precedents. My master is the general public, which evaluates my performance on a daily basis. I am extremely happy to be with the BEST Undertaking and enjoy a sense of fulfillment that I have been able to bring back its finances to a healthy position.
The e-ticketing system
I introduced e-ticketing in MSRTC. It was an instant success. That e-system was installed by Trimax. I have not heard any complaint from any quarter about the system. When I came to the BEST, I introduced the e-ticket system and the contract was won by Trimax in open bidding.
According to the feedback I received, there are no complaints about the Trimax performance. If you have heard conductors saying that they are happy with the system, I would believe you. That feedback is good enough.