Progress of Bus service

No urban transport service can hope to escape problems, they keep on cropping up all the time. And they have to be tackled ! Else the press and the citizens will not leave you in peace.Knowing this fully well, the BEST undertaking took charge of the bus and tram transport in the city in 1947, and it soon ran into a whole lot of problems. There was a big spurt in the number of new industries; refugees poured in. The Regional Transport Authority invited the Undertaking to run the bus transport in the suburban area-and that at a twenty-four hours notice. Innumerable housing colonies had sprung up, all over the suburbs, the Government Colony at Bandra (East), the Dhake Colony on the Andheri-Versova Road, the Malvani Colony on the Malad Marve Road, the Nehru Nagar at Kurla, the Tagore Nagar and the Kannamwar Nagar at Vikhroli, the S.G. Barve Nagar at Ghatkopar and the Sardar Nagar near Antop Hill.

Actually, Mumbai had started changing in a big way since World War II. Its population in 1941 was about 14 lakhs; in the next ten years it shot up to 28 lakhs; the next ten years took it to 41 lakhs, and in 1970 it was 56 lakhs. This population explosion, as far as the city was concerned, was most unexpected. Oblong in shape, Mumbai has most of its Government, professional and commercial centres of work concentrated in its southern part. This sets a peculiar traffic pattern : The rush is north-south in the mornings, and in the reverse direction in the evenings.

Mumbai has thus changed a great deal from what it was about fifty years ago.  But the changes, and the difficulties of adjustment that changes usually bring, did not come suddenly. They were spread over the years. In its early years the Undertaking tried ad-hoc solution to every problem that cropped up. The available buses were re-allocated amongst the various routes, according to the pressure of traffic. The seating arrangement in the buses was altered to squeeze in a few more passengers. The procedure for repairing the buses was streamlined so as to reduce the number of buses on ‘sick list’, and more buses were acquired. But the Undertaking also gave a thought to long-term measures like getting a scientific survey of the bus-routes made with the help of a computer, or getting experts to study the possibilities of using alternative means of transport like underground railway, mono rail, water-bus or mini-bus. These fifty years the Undertaking has been conscientiously trying to plan for and provide as efficient a service as it can. It discovered that a short-term measure can only bring a temporary cure. Every increase in the pressure of traffic rendered such measures futile. But the experience was not futile. It strengthened the Undertaking’s resolve to pursue its problems to their roots, and also to equip itself for the task. And thus we have a much improved bus service – and the people appreciate it !


The Undertaking applied itself to improving its service in many of its aspects, but the prime need was for increasing the number of buses. Since its inception in August 1947, the Undertaking has been making a well-planned effort to meet the need. Every year brought new vehicles. In 1947, 242 vehicles were on the roads. In ten years the number swelled to 582.

A double-decker bus was more suitable than a single-decker one, for occupying no more road space than the latter and with only one driver, it carried one and a half times as many passengers.

In the early days of the Undertaking a pressing need was increase the carrying capacity of the buses. The ‘standee’ bus  system introduced in 1955 was one attempt in that direction. It was restricted in the beginning to vehicles of a particular type. In thse buses, ten standees were allowed in the city, and seven in the suburbs. In 1958, the permission was extended to some double-decker buses; these were allowed to take eight standees.


Another innovation came in 1967 : the “all standee” bus. It has only a few seats, the rest of the space being for straphanging passengers. These buses were put on short routes. It was hoped that they would reduce the period of waiting in the queue for the passengers. But the passengers were not impressed. Finally, in 1970, the buses had to be withdrawn.


1967 saw yet another type of bus put on the roads : the articulated bus. There were ten of them. The Undertaking was the first transport organisation in the country to use such a bus. The engine was separate from the bus in this vehicle, and the two were joined together. The vehicle was of entirely Indian make, with the Ashok Leyland of Madras manufacturing the tractor-engine, and Mahindra Owen of Poona building the ‘bus’ part of it.


In the days of the B.E.S.T. Company, the proposal to run trolley buses was seriously considered. The Undertaking too gave a thought to it. Its tramcars had been ageing fast. Could a convenient substitute be found? So it decided to go in for trolley-buses. Twelve such vehicles were imported, and they replaced the tramcars on the Gowalia Tank-Mazgaon route on 11th June 1962. Somehow, the service did not do well. The trolley buses would go out of order again and again. They were finally withdrawn on 24th March 1971 in favour of ordinary buses. One reason for the failure of the service was that as it passed along very congested roads its speed had to be kept much below its maximum; and the trolley-bus had to run at a good speed in order to be profitable, as experience showed. As such speed is impracticable on any of the old tram-routes, it seems very unlikely that trolley-buses will be tried again in the city.


The undertaking had eight luxury coaches, and they were open to hire at three rupees per mile, but the demand for them was very limited. Therefore, to put them to profitable use, the Undertaking started a ‘Coach Service’ in 1966. The service operated every day between Electric House and Sion, and between Dadar and Juhu on Sundays and holidays. There was a special fare for this service : 8 paise per kilometer. Once the novelty of riding in a luxury coach wore out, the higher fares tended to discourage passengers from using it, unless they had no time to wait for the regular service bus.

The service lasted for hardly a year. With more ‘limited’ services introduced on the Sion-Fort route, the Coach Service was patronised even less. The income from the service started dwindling, while the operating costs kept rising. Finally, in June 1967, it was discontinued.


The idea of using mini-buses was first mooted in March 1969. The vehicle was to be something between a taxi and a bus, and it was to be used for short runs. According to the initial scheme, for a flat charge of 30 paise, mini-buses were to ply on the following routes : Strand Cinema to Nagar Chowk (Bori Bunder) or Ballard Estate or Churchgate; Colaba Bus Station to Churchgate; Museum to Mahatma Phule Market (Crawford Market); and Pydhoni to Dhobi Talao. In addition to using the bus stops, the mini-buses were to set down or pick up passengers on request. The driver was also to act as the conductor. It was intended to use station wagons for this service.

A year before the proposal started taking shape, some public bodies approached the Undertaking with the request that it start a mini-bus service on certain routes as between the Ghatkopar Railway Station and the S.G. Barve Nagar, for example.

The demand for mini-buses kept growing. Meanwhile, all the aspects of the proposal were under scrutiny. Two points were newly stressed : (1) Some of the undeveloped areas in the suburbs have narrow and Kutcha roads, which cannot take ordinary buses. Mini-buses would be particularly useful in such areas. (2) Mini-buses could be used to provide direct and speedy transport between the suburbs and the central parts of the city.


The Bandra Bus Company used to run the bus service in the Western suburbs. As the Company refused to comply with the Regional Transport Authority’s order that only the main road in those suburbs should be used for the service, the Authority requested the B.E.S.T. Undertaking to take it over immediately. That was on 30th September, 1949. The request was more of a challenge – for it meant assuming the responsibility of providing transport for 50,000 passengers at twenty-four hours’ notice. The undertaking accepted the challenge. And on 1st October 1949, B.E.S.T. buses started plying in the western suburbs. Twenty-six buses were spared for the service, which was hailed by the residents of the suburbs as a boon. The Undertaking was overwhelmed with expressions of praise and gratitude. The Undertaking bought eleven of the buses the Bandra Bus Company had been using.

The Undertaking also took over the employees of the old company. The old fare, in the suburbs, was 12 pies per mile; the Undertaking changed it to 9 pies per mile, which had been its fare for the city.

In January 1955, the Undertaking launched its bus service in the eastern suburbs. Thus it came to serve the entire suburban area, carrying nine lakhs of passengers every day. This was about the same as the number of suburban passengers using the two railways. However, the eastern suburbs had some private bus services still plying. The Undertaking asked for their closure. The matter dragged on in a court of law for four years. The verdict, given in February 1959, was for the closure of the private services.

The Undertaking applied to the Regional Transport Authority for permission to extend its bus service to the areas newly included in Greater Bombay – that is up to Mulund in the east and Dahisar in the west. Meanwhile the operators of private buses had moved the High Court for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court. On the High Court turning down their plea, the Authority granted the necessary permission to the Undertaking, from 1st December 1960.


To provide the passengers with a comfortable bus service needs a sufficient number of vehicles. The Undertaking has always been trying to achieve such sufficiency. But then what does ‘sufficient’ mean? You cannot define it. The vehicles are just one factor in a bus transport system. There are others like the conductors, the drivers, the maintenance staff and the repairs staff in the workshops. If all these employees are not up to the mark, no increase in the number of buses is going to make it ‘sufficient’. So much depends on the proportion of vehicles stabled for repairs.

Similarly, the efficiency of the service depends a good deal on the conductor and the driver not unnecessarily holding up the movement of their vehicle, the conductor issuing tickets promptly, and taking care to avoid altercation with the passengers. Efforts to secure such efficiency have to be made methodically. Some efforts made by the Undertaking in this direction in the beginning were as follows :

(1) The system of granting an efficiency bonus of Rs.25 every quarter was started in 1951. It applied to both the conductors and the drivers. To be eligible for the bonus, the employed had to attain a certain level in attendance and in efficiency.

(2) Absenteeism among employees is epidemic in the March June period. For lack of conductors and drivers, the usual number of buses cannot go out on the roads. A special bonus scheme had therefore been instituted for this period, to dissaude them from going on leave.

(3) A scheme called ‘Model Unit’ was started in 1961. To find out the defects in the maintenance of vehicles, and to decide on the remedies for them, fifty vehicles of the same make were grouped together, and their maintenance was to be carried out according to the methods and time-table laid down by the manufacturers. On the basis of this, a model maintenance system was to be finalised, and then aplied to all the vehicles of that make. To operate the scheme, fifty double-decker buses of Leyland Titan make were grouped together in the Central Depot. Similar groups were made in the other depots, one by one. Selected drivers were put on these vehicles.

(4) Sometimes it is minor defect which puts a bus out of action. In order that such a bus should not get stuck on the road for long, mechanics were stationed specially for the job at some of the starters’ chowkies at the important termini. To deal with major defects there is a ‘Breakdown Lorry or Van’. The van goes to the ailing bus, and sets it right as quickly as possible.

(5) The schemes like ‘bus running control’, the wireless van, etc. were in operation. The wireless van is a special feature. It does important jobs like reporting breakdowns of vehicles to the staff concerned or asking for extra buses at points where there are inordinately long queues of passengers.

These schemes were definitely instrumental in increasing efficiency. And yet they seemed to fall short of the requirements.

There were not enough vehicles. The proportion of absentees came down, but even then it was large enough to affect the working. Would the recruitment of women conductors bring about an improvement in the attendance? This was considered in 1951.

Then there were the sick vehicles. Although their proportion was gradually coming down, it was still considerably higher than in the bus systems in cities like London, New York and Tokyo. There was much scope for improvement in the maintenance of vehicles. The rainy season brought in its wake a flood of complaints about leaking roofs and windows that got stuck. The population of the city kept growing. It was a trying situation, and it called for more throughgoing and fundamental improvement. “The Incentive Bonus Scheme for Bus Transport instituted in April 1967 proved quite effective in combating some of the troubles mentioned above.


Under this scheme, a conductor was to be granted a bonus for extra ‘work’. The fare collected by him during the month was taken as his ‘work’. Some of the immediate benefits of the scheme were as follows : (1) The number of complaints received from passengers dropped from 600 to 400 per month. (2) The Undertaking could cope with the traffic without increasing the number of buses. (3) Passengers had to wait for a shorter time in queues. (4) The proportion of absentees among conductors came down.

New Incentive Bonus Scheme

Like the conductors, the three categories of staff namely Bus Drivers, Workers in the Traffic and Engineering Departments and the Maintenance Staff are important in a bus-transport system achieving maximum efficiency. But, in their case, the efficiency is not of an individual; it is the result of the co-operative effort of workers from each of the three categories. Such joint effort enables a bus to run smoothly and punctually. This scheme was designed to keep more buses running – that is, to reduce the number of ‘sick’ buses.

In 1969, this scheme brought down the percentage of ‘sick’ vehicles by 2 to 3 per cent – which meant 100 vehicles more on the road. In that year about 4,000 drivers, 200 of the traffic supervisory staff and 2,000 maintenance workers joined the scheme.

The workshops too came under a similar scheme from 1st October 1969. The measure of efficiency in this case was the number of vehicles lying idle in the workshop waiting for repairs. This scheme too had proved effective, the percentage of vehicles under repairs dropping.


You have read of the various schemes operated by the Undertaking to augment the efficiency of its transport service. Simultaneously, more facilities, besides the daily bus service, were being made available. Since the days of the B.E.S.T. Company, schools and private parties had been hiring out buses, and the practice continued. Some facilities tried out by the Undertaking were given up after a while as unworkable. The Luxury Coach Service was one of these. It was started in August 1955. The coach was fitted up with all manner of conveniences like Dunlopillo cushions for the seats, adjustable backs, a reading light for each seat, and fans. The coach was mainly meant for the use of foreign tourists. They were taken round in the coach on a guided tour of the city. Accompanying them was a guide to tell them about the important places. As the Coach Service failed to get sufficient response, it was closed down in 1971.

There was a ‘Sunday Excursion’, specially meant for visitors to the city. The bus left from the Taj Mahal Hotel every Sunday morning, and stopped at Hanging Gardens, the Juhu Beach, the Aarey Colony, the Powai Lake, Ghatkopar and Chembur, before returning to the Taj Mahal Hotel in the evening.

In 1961, the “Travel-As-You-Like-Ticket” was introduced. Rs.1.50 was the price for adults, and 75 paise for children. It was issued for Sundays and Holidays only. This ticket entitled the holder to travel anywhere in the city and the suburbs. But as it was found that the facility was misused, the Undertaking abolished it in 1967.


The undertaking had to build more and more depots and bus stations at suitable places in the city and in the suburbs as its bus service went on expanding. In a depot, a vehicle is cleaned up, its machine is oiled, and minor repairs are done. For major overhaul, of course, the vehicle has to be sent to the workshop. During the last fifty years bus depots came up, one by one, as under : (1) Bombay Central, 1950; (2) Santacruz, 1950; (3) Kurla, 1955; (4) Tardeo, 1960; (5) Wadala, 1961; (6) Worli, 1961; (7) Poisar, 1966; (8) Marol, 1968; (9) Deonar, 1969; (10) Vikhroli, 1972; (11) Ghatkopar, 1974; (12) Backbay, 1976; (13) Goregaon, 1978; (14) Bandra, 1980; (15) Dharavi, 1980; (16) Dindoshi, 1985; (17) Anik, 1988; (18) Oshiwara, 1990; (19) Malwani, 1991; (20) Magathane, 1992; (21) Govandi, 1992; (22) Kalakilla, 1993; (23) Majas, 1995; (24) Gorai, 1996 and (25) Pratiksha Nagar, 1996.


The BEST  Undertaking started a ferry service at Manori in 1981. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation entrusted the running of the service to the Undertaking acknowledging its excellent bus service, as it were. The Undertaking has justified the trust placed in it by making a success of the Marve-Manori ferry service.


Even after the B.E.S.T. Company was taken over by the Municipal Corporation, the bus fares continued unchanged till 31st March, 1951. For the city the fares were telescopic, that is, as the distance increased the fare per mile came down. For the suburbs, the fare was ‘flat’, that is, it remained the same whatever the distane. For one anna you could go a mile and a half in the city, but only one mile in the suburbs.

Then came the changes in the fare-structures. From April 1951, bus travel in the city became even cheaper, with the basic fare of one anna taking you a mile and three quarters. However, the fractional fares, like 1.1/2 anna or 2.1/2 annas and 3.1/2 annas, for the fare ‘stages’ were rounded off to the full anna. In the suburbs too the fare was brought down from one anna per mile to nine pies, that is three quarters of anna.

The disparity in the fares for the city and the suburbs was brought to an end in October 1955. The suburbs naturally profited from this. For an anna you could now travel a mile and three quarters, instead of a mile and a quarter. But the fractional fares were restored.

In 1959, with decimal coinage coming into force, except for the 7 paise fare for the first stage, all the fares were multiples of five, that is, 10, 15, 20 and so on. These came into effect from 15th January 1959. From 21st April 1963, the minimum fare was raised from 7 paise to 10 paise.

The Undertaking revised its bus fares from time to time strictly according to the provision made under Govt. notification. The details of revised bus fares from 1963 onwards are given below :


Fare Revised 
Ordinary  Limited
Ps. Kms. Ps. Kms.
21-04-1963  10  3.6  15  5.5 
07-11-1966 10 2.0 15 2.0
28-05-1974 15 2.0 20 2.0
23-12-1975 20 3.0 25 2.0
21-08-1980 25 3.0 30 2.0
23-03-1981 30 3.0 35 2.0
01-04-1982 40 3.0 50 2.0
01-06-1984 40 2.0 50 2.0
14-09-1984 50 6.0 50 2.0
01-04-1987 50 4.0 50 2.0
22-06-1989 50 2.0 65 2.0
04-05-1990 70 4.0 95 4.0
16-11-1990 95 3.0 95 2.0
08-01-1991 95 3.0 95 2.0
15-05-1992 95 2.5 120 2.5
11-05-1994 140 2.5 165 2.5
06-08-1996 140 2.0 165 2.0
10-08-1996 190 2.5 235 2.5


The nutrition surcharge is 10 paise on ticket upto Rs.2/- & 15 paise on tickets above two w.e.f. 1.4.1994.Every day the Undertaking’s buses run about 6.51 lakh km. and carry about 47 lakh passengers. These figures are an index of the vastness of the transport system. It would be wrong to expect that everything will run smoothly in such an organization. Troubles have to be taken for granted; difficulties will arise. The organization has to take them in its stride. A trivial incident touches off a lightning strike. There is hectic running about. The complaint is traced to a misunderstanding. It is set right, and normal working is resumed. In 1950, the Undertaking had a serious problem to face. Conductors in those days carried a ‘ticket-issuing’ machine, specially designed to print and produce a ticket of the required denomination at the turning of a handle. The machine recorded the amount automatically. At the end of his day, the conductor had to pay in the day’s takings as recorded. This sounds smooth and foolproof. But some conductors, who were obviously anything but foolish, found a way of so manipulating the machine as to make it record less than the amount collected. How much the Undertaking was fleeced of was anybody’s guess. However, the moment the trick was discovered, the Undertaking took swift action, and in twenty-four hours the ticket-issuing machine with every conductor was replaced with a ticket-box.

These are ‘internal’ troubles; not all of them cause disturbance to the transport service. But ‘external’ troubles invariably do, and sometimes they can be serious. The dislocation caused by the first heavy showers of the rainy season is almost a matter of habit. The low-lying parts of the city are flooded, and buses have to be diverted. To make it worse, the railway services too are disrupted. That puts further responsibility on the bus service. The buses, of course, do their best, but the best in such circumstances can never be good enough. Then there are the railway accidents, and man-made troubles like strikes, riots and hartals (or bandhs). They put a heavy strain on the bus service, but it has not been found wanting.

Strikes and political agitations usually aim, among other things, at disrupting communications. Buses, on such occasions, are exposed to the risk of being damaged; the driver’s cabin has to be fitted with wire meshes to protect him from different types of flying missiles. On some of these occasions not many people move out. Should the bus service be suspended then? The Undertaking does not opt for it; it owes a duty to the community.

There is always a limit to the number of buses a transport organization can run, and to its efficiency as well, for there is a limit to what the city roads can carry. Other means of conveyance too keep increasing in number. In Mumbai, for instance, in 1951, the number of vehicles, leaving out buses, was 45,000. In 1961 it was 85,000, and in 1971 it reached 1,80,000. Today there are over 6 lakh vehicles on Mumbai roads. The number continues to grow; but over the years the roads have been the same, except for a few additions, and some widening here and there. In such a situation, the vehicles have to move slower and slower. The average speed of our buses has been falling down. At present it is 12 to 15 km. per hour. In the congested localities it is as low as 6km. per hour.

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