The largest civic transport public body in the world, the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport Undertaking (BEST), ferries around five million commuters daily and supplies electricity to an equal number of residents in the island city of Mumbai. Without either service, Mumbai is unthinkable.
While the BEST bus is the most affordable and reliable mode of commuting, the electric supply round the clock at reasonable tariffs is the backbone of Mumbai’s swelling service sector. The Undertaking, famed for its efficiency and sterling public service, has developed into the juggernaut that it is today over the decades, continuously strengthening its USP.
Its predecessor, the Bombay Tramway Company Limited, was formed in 1873 to provide the general public with a means of transportation. The government gave the Mumbai Municipality the right to buy up the concern after the first 25 years or after every gap of seven years thereafter.
The Government enacted the Bombay Tramways Act, 1874, under which the Company was licensed to run a tramway service in the city. The tram-cars in initial years were of two types - drawn by one horse and drawn by two.
In 1905, a newly formed concern, ‘The Bombay Electric Supply & Tramways Company Limited’ bought the Bombay Tramway Company and the first electrically operated tram-car started operating on Mumbai’s roads in 1907. Double-decker trams were introduced in September 1920 to cater to the increasing commuter load.
Mumbai’s first BEST bus ran on July 15 1926. For several years, the bus was considered as a means of transport for the rich. The tram was the ordinary commuter’s transport.
While a tram ride from Sassoon Dock in Colaba to Dadar cost just an anna and a half (6 paise), the bus fare for the same journey was four annas (16 paise). But the trams were slow while the buses were faster.
The bus services were extended into the northern Mumbai in 1934. Double-deck buses were introduced in 1937. The first Limited bus service in the country was launched in 1940 between Colaba and Mahim.
The Bombay Electric Supply and Tramways Company was acquired by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) on August 7, 1947. The Corporation also took over the operation of the bus services, which were run by the B.E.S & T Company Ltd. Thus, the Bombay Electric Supply & Transport Undertaking (BEST) was born.
The BEST’s electric supply side has a similar eventful history. It was in 1905 that the B.E.S.& T Co. Ltd. commenced electric supply to Mumbai by installing its own generating station of 4300 KW. This was replaced by a station of larger capacity in 1912. It was closed down in 1925 and the Company’s entire requirements were supplied by Tata Hydro Electric Power Supply Company.
Though the municipal limits of Mumbai were extended to the suburban areas and the BEST expanded its bus services to cater to the entire municipal jurisdiction, the electricity supply has been restricted to only the island city area of about 75 sq km from Colaba to Sion and Mahim.
Significantly, the BEST electric supply is so guaranteed round the clock that even a brief interruption of just a few minutes becomes the talk of the town.
The BEST undertaking has always remained ahead of the others. For instance, realizing the risk posed by the increasing levels of pollution, it introduced CNG buses in its Golden Jubilee year. The suit is followed in other metro cities in India. It has also given a boost to the use of CNG by private operators.
If one compares the BEST bus staff with that in other metros, it is invariably found that the BEST personnel are, mostly, well-behaved and prompt. This has been achieved by the Undertaking paying special attention to human resource development.
Its Training Center for the traffic staff and the specially designed programme re-educates the staff on fuel conservation, safety measures, behaviour with the public and saving electricity. BEST drivers are perhaps the most accomplished around the world.
Their skill of maneuvering buses through busy localities on schedule is unbelievable. In addition, senior officers monitor the habits of drivers constantly. No wonder, the incidence of accidents is minimal. In the training, the emphasis is on an image revamp of every worker from just a BEST employee to a concerned individual who cares for commuter safety and comfort.
The Undertaking has maintained its prime place of remaining in the vanguard of implementing technical innovations. One such achievement is the digitalisation of records of underground cables. This is of immense importance in the location of cable faults.
With reducing the interruption time, the computer-aided design of electricity distribution system achieves minimum distribution losses. Another important scheme is of providing electronic meters for every consumer.
The Undertaking has schemes to computerise the Consumer and the Commercial departments of the Electric Supply Division. Decentralisation of the consumer and commercial services at all levels will prove to be a boon for the consumers whose problems will be dealt with through a single-window redressal system.
Some of the initiatives of the Undertaking include special bus services for female commuters, reserving six rows of seats in each bus for them, reserved seats for the specially challenged and senior citizens, point-to-point services and digital bus tickets.
The BEST Undertaking has been known for its path-breaking initiatives and even after fuming and fretting over the traffic chaos, a true Mumbaikar will invariably say, “ The BEST is really the best.”