Kailash Korde, Hindustan Times, August 03 2017
For years, the buzz word for successive governments has been ‘Mumbai makeover’.
In the past decade, resources were focussed on better roads. In the next decade, thousands of crores will be spent on metro lines. The city’s oldest public transport mode, however, has always been left out.
The BJP-led state government is spending Rs80,000 crore to build 150km of metro lines criss-crossing the city. Again, it has turned a blind eye to the 90-year-old BEST bus service that is the city’s second-most important mode of mass transport.
Such short-sightedness is costing the city that crucial last-mile connectivity, said experts. This is something only BEST buses can do efficiently.
Experts said while the Metro network will address the city’s future commuting needs, the network would be useful only if buses act as feeders to and from stations.
“The state has planned metro corridors and is spending around Rs80,000 crore to build them. But without buses providing that last-mile connectivity by reaching out to every nook and corner of the city, what is the use?’’ said transport expert AV Shenoy.
Nearly 30 lakh commuters use these buses daily, making BEST the second-largest mode of transport after the trains. Despite this, the government has not bailed it out of its crippling financial debt in the past decade.
Repeated requests from BEST to reduce the tax burden on it has also been ignored. BEST has been asking for concessions in passenger tax, nutritional cess, toll tax and Value Added Tax on fuel.
These taxes add an annual burden of Rs45 crore, Rs17 crore, Rs10 crore and Rs65 crore on BEST. BEST also pays a green tax on vehicles older than 15 years.
BEST sources said they had held a few meetings with transport minister Diwakar Raote, but no decision has yet been taken.
Manoj Sauunik, transport secretary, however, said no proposal of a concession in taxes is being considered by his department
But Nitin Kareer, the principal secretary, urban development said the state government was seriously looking into ways to save and revive public transport in the city, and that the BEST was a crucial part of this plan.
“Saving the whole public transport system of Mumbai, in general, is very important for the city. Priority is being given to public transport immediately,” Kareer told HT