Certainly not at its BEST

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July 11th, 2009 Namit Gupta

This one is going to sound like a rant over a seemingly trivial issue, especially for those who do not have to rely on public transport. Who on earth would want to read a thousand-word diatribe against what almost everybody—including this blogger—thinks of as Maximum City’s iconic service? Nevertheless.

I have always marveled at the clockwork efficiency of the two pillars of Mumbai’s commuting system—the local train and the BEST buses, and have often harped about them in discussions with colleagues from Delhi, a city which is only beginning to get a taste of what public transport should really be.

Which is why it came as a bit of a shock to me when the guy behind the wheel in one of those new air-conditioned BEST buses refused to open the door for me and a fellow passenger. His reason—we weren’t at the designated stop.

Here is what happened. The two of us had just missed the bus at the stop, but saw that it had halted at the traffic signal some 15-20 feet ahead. So we run up to the vehicle and knock at the glass door, asking to be let in. The driver, however, decides to throw the rulebook at us instead and doesn’t oblige despite repeated pleas, while the conductor merrily sits down nonchalantly on one the seats, deliberately oblivious to our existence.

That’s when the two of us decide to play tough. We go and stand right in front of the vehicle, blocking its path for a good 10 minutes, because of which it misses as many as four green signals. Charlie, meanwhile, is unmoved. He simply switches off the AC, throws out a yawn, while deputy digs his little finger into his ear, waiting for the “cattle” to clear the road.

All this while, none of the other passengers decide to take up for us. Instead, two elderly persons come right up to the front of the vehicle and start yelling at us from inside, ostensibly holding us responsible for a possible blot on their punctuality record. Doesn’t getting to office on time matter to us as well? While neither side can hear the other through soundproof doors, a little bit of lip-reading tells us one of the old men is threatening to call the cops. We don’t relent, so he does. We stay put.

Moments later, my ‘partner in crime’ sees the next AC bus approaching from a distance and decides to call off the protest. We head towards the stop where two cops accost us, asking what the problem is. We explain our point firmly but politely, are asked for our names, ages and mobile numbers, but not home or office addresses, and are allowed to hop on to the next bus when it comes.

Did we behave like juveniles? The pair of geriatric commuters obviously thought we did, though I can’t say anything about the other mutes inside the bus that morning. Let me make my case for why I think we were right.
 
For starters, we were consumers of the service and if we felt it was deficient, we were well within our rights to protest peacefully—which we did. I also say the driver’s ‘official’ stance was that he was merely following BEST rules was not driven by conscience, but by a self-acquired right to act tough and say no.

AC buses don’t run throughout the day. What if this one were the last of the morning? Worse, what if I were a pass-holder? Could I be denied the comfort of traveling AC when the establishment itself has taken a month’s fare in advance for a promise of service?

Secondly, any Mumbaikar will tell you that for all its efficiency, the BEST is making huge losses. In fact, its accumulated cash losses are estimated to have exceeded Rs 1,600 crore in 2008-09. And all of this was on account of the transport division—BEST’s other service, power distribution, is profitable. Despite this, the transport division’s employees are among the most highly paid public utility servants in the country. The pay, in fact, is so good, that the division’s establishment costs, which include wages paid to drivers and conductors, amount to as much as 96 per cent of the revenues the division generated, according to news reports quoting the utility’s general manager, Uttam Khobragade.

While figures on seat occupancy are difficult to come by, one can safely assume that if the transport division has to stay afloat in the long run, capacity usage has to be ramped up.

BEST, in fact, has been spending huge amounts on ads, appealing to Mumbaikars to move from private transport to its buses and has even introduced a facility that allows commuters to flag down and board moving buses on routes such as 211, which serves Bandra West. The driver has to oblige and can be hauled up if he doesn’t.

The flag down rule obviously doesn’t apply to AC buses, but I don’t recall having seen any other driver of such vehicles refuse passengers the right to board if the bus is absolutely stationery and has vacant seats. And I am not too sure BEST has instructed its drivers not to let in passengers in such cases in the first place.

By denying us entry, the driver served to defeat the efforts of the establishment to keep its head above the water. My fare was Rs 25, that of my co-passenger, Rs 15. Assuming that’s the loss the bus makes on every journey, the establishment will be forced to forego revenue of Rs 2,080 a month on a single bus, based on two trips a day for 26 days. I don’t what BEST drivers earn in a month, but anyone’s uncle can tell that’s a huge percentage of their gross monthly pay.

Thirdly—and this one is for the geriatrics and the mutes—BEST has been known to discontinue loss making routes in the past. By lambasting us (as the old men did) and for keeping quiet (as the rest of them did) they were working against our interests as well as their own. All they could and should have done was to ask Charlie to open the door and let us in. There’s strength in numbers.

 

 

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26 Responses to “Certainly not at its BEST”

  1. kimo Says:

    Hi Namit. Read your `Best’ experience and also how some people see it right and some wrong.

    This reminded me of a similar experience I had in Hyderabad.
    My friend, who accompanied me, had at point to make- I made the fuss because I saw the driver speeding away while I approached bus. There would not have been any issue at all if I did not see the driver!
    Would you do the same thing with a train driver and ask him to stop (not at station) for you? I had no answer to this poser from my friend.
    I realised either I am at the station and got the train or missed the train. There are no in betweens.

    Kimo

  2. Nikky Gupta Says:

    The incident you described in the write up is something i feel a number of Mumbaikars must be coming across daily. But the better part is that you decided to protest it. And I do with that it would have bore fruits. But, there is also one other aspect of the event. The BEST AC bus must have been launched to provide a rapid and comfortable transit to the commuters who are forced to travel a long in an mega-urban setup like Mumbai. But to make it a rapid and timely transportation, there has to be some specific rule for its operation. Fortunately you caught that bus only some metres away from the stop (therefore I do support that the driver should have allowed you entry) but suppose two more commuters would have got it 20 more metres away then some omre people at some more distance. Imagine if the driver had allowed all of them to enter, of course on humanitarian grounds, the bus would have become something which could provide everything but transit and timely transportation.

  3. Nilesh Says:

    driver did the right thing. he should not have opened the door for people like you. you wasted time of so many people. grow up.

  4. Alka Says:

    good one….i agree with you that the driver shud have open the door for both of u…however i think stoping the bus for good 10 mins is little unfair to the ppl who caught the bus on right time and from right place…I mean if i put myself in ur place, u did the rite thing…but if i put myself in their shoes, it must be annoying…

  5. raj Says:

    Namit you are wrong. Whatever said I agree with the driver in not stopping at a place that is not designated to pick up passengers. By acting selflishly you have put other passengers and traffic to inconvenience. This is eogistic of you. Agree that it is choatic in mumbai and others don’t follow the rule. But you appear to be educated and a BS reader, shouldn’t have fought for being on the wrong. It is important that BS regulates such egoistic blogs on their website.

  6. Pradeep Says:

    Hi Namit,

    I am totally agree with you….it happens in Delhi as well. Good article for those who spend life on the public transport….!!…and in India the numbers are huge..!!

    - PRADEEP PATHAK

  7. Amol Thorave Says:

    Best drivers and conductors are rude (most of the). last week i had seen one driver was shouting to senior citizen because of she was get off slowely and driver was getting late.

    I would say if any one get such rude person (Bus driver & conductor) in best, give them answer in their language.

    good issue emerged through you

    good job Namit

    Jai Maharashtra

    Regards,
    Amol Thorave

  8. SAN Says:

    Well… you were wrong…and no amount of explaining will justify it… enough said…

  9. Omigosh Says:

    Heck, isn’t that the name of a bakery or somethin?

  10. V Rai Says:

    This is extremely wrong. You were on the wrong side, and yet you present yourself as the wrong. As long as the bus left on time, there is no reason why you should have been holding the bus and the other passengers ransom to your demand. Why do you complain about the lost fare, even if it were the last bus, when you did not show up on time.

    This is shameful.

  11. Veenu Kapoor Says:

    As simple as it sounds, we all must try to be the best person we can: by making the best choices, by making the most of what we’ve been given…. am proud of u for doing ur bit Namit. …We won’t even attempt to do such a thing ..we all want someone to set things right but Whether one is willing to put in that extra effort is another matter.

  12. Swarup Chakraborty Says:

    The attempt to bring the topic to a logical conclusion is commendable, however, I am inclined to say that the premise that Charlie was at fault for not opening the door at the red signal is not completely true. On emotional and humane grounds we might argue that that is what he ought to have done but being on the right side of the law has its merits. There are variables that can be considered here, for example, there might have been a traffic cop lurking somewhere to issue a chaalaan to unsuspecting Charlie had he opened the gate as it is against the law. Charlie might also have been scared as the passengers on-board might have spoken against his action to let people in without it being a legitimate stop.

    Having said that I must also say that drivers, not always though, behave recklessly and the increasing number of accidents caused by BEST buses is a testimony to that. If Charlies of the world want to follow the rulebook then they should do it in totality and not in fractions.

  13. Jasleen Says:

    Hi Namit. Quiet interestingly you have portrayed the incident that took place between you / your colleague and the bus driver. Not only in Mumbai but in delhi as well bus drivers are moody and most of the time do not allow the passengers to board the bus if they don’t feel like stopping it. When you are alone you are left with no option but to feel disgusting and wait for another bus with the fear of getting late to office.
    There is indeed strength in numbers but unfortunately no one has ever considered it using for the betterment of the society.we see lot of people eve teasing at the middle of the road and everyone together gets cold feet.
    That power of unity is still sleeping in the minds of most of the people. They might come forward to protest against the bad security system prevailing in the city leading to terrorist attack but the fire which was ignited stays awake for few days. People here are forgetful and lead their life with ‘mind your own business’ kind of attitude. So a common man cannot think of protesting and would not think of the losses that might occur to bus drivers /conductors or BEST in this case if they are barring entry of the commuters in a particular bus.

  14. Archana J Sharda Says:

    This may be one of the few instances of a loop hole in Mumbai’s public transport system. Residing in Delhi for over a decade now and only been to Mumbai half a dozen times, I personally feel commuting in Mumbai is safe and in much better circumstances than we usually experience in Delhi…no offences friends (in Delhi)…merely an observation

    Cheers
    AJS

  15. Pushpa Goal Says:

    hi

    good blog post

  16. Deepa Says:

    Human conduct can be distinguished in terms of whether it falls in the realm of social custom or morality. Harming others by one’s conduct becomes a matter of morality. The self-regulatory mechanisms governing moral conduct do not operate unless they are activated. Moreover, people can be ruthless and humane simultaneously toward different individuals depending on whom they exclude from their category of humanity. Social situations and individual reactions to those situations are effected by population size and other socio economic factors.
    I would like to take this opportunity to point out that we are witnessing hazardous global changes of mounting ecological consequence.
    They include widespread deforestation, expanding desertification, rising earth’s temperature, ice sheet and glacial melting, flooding of low-lying coastal regions, severe weather events, and sinking water tables in the major increasing loss of fertile farmland, and so on as the Unrivalled Ruling Species atop the food chain, humans are wiping out species and the ecosystems that support life at an fast pace. So whether it is BEST employees and passengers behaving in a non-humane manner towards others of their own species or the harm we do as an unrivalled species to our environment by our own activities is a matter of moral obligation.

  17. Amarendra Says:

    Well done, Namit!

    The ‘BEST’ part was your STANDING upto to protest!

    More and more people need to STAND UP and TAKE ACTION!

    L

  18. Amarendra Says:

    Well done, Namit!

    The ‘BEST’ part was your STANDING upto to protest!

    More and more people need to STAND UP and TAKE ACTION!

    L

  19. ashok hingorani Says:

    we have little civic pride so we let the institutions run roughshod over us - citizens are too caught up in paroachial concerns and ignore the real ones that affect everyone.

    the media is helping these days to highlight all this as are blogs like this

    thanks Namit

  20. dolli Says:

    rulebook is meant for paying public and not for their own staff
    typical of any govt/monopolistic organisation
    moreover his pay doesn’t come from your 25/- he gets it in any case
    since he knows the above rules he has rightfully denied you a seat in the bus
    well the less said about the people i think the better it is
    jai ho

  21. Parinaz Says:

    bus stops r meant for getting in and out of the bus, so u cannot say d bus driver/conductor were wrong to not allow you. If ppl like us d passengers r hurt while runing around at signals getting in and off d bus then d BEST will hav to pay way more than ur Rs25 ticket. I, myself get in buses waiting at the signal n have been reprimanded by the drvers a lot of times, d fact tat d same guys allow others to do so (u knw wat i mean) does not make my wrong a write.

  22. bivash Says:

    i find it strange — and a little sad — that the so-called “spirirt of Mumbai” only comes to the fore during grave crisis in the city or some tragedies. not much support for the common man BY THE COMMON MAN, probably because it is an everyday occurence and they all have families to worry — the usual excuses….
    as tho nowhere else people have families..

    having sad that, i know for sure, if it was a non-AC bus u wld have got in w/o any hassles. but in a lot of countries, namit, they wouldn’t open the door for u. Unfortunately, thats true…

    about your rights and the reasons why BEST is making losses is an altogether different issue.

    but i wld personally think if the bus was not packed and if it could accomodate 2 people at no extra cost to them, then why not? that would have made Mumbai unique, no..? but following the trend is the norm. for that u cant blame the driver. but i wld have liked u to take it all the way — to the authorities and see what they had to say. that wld have been interesting. can we expect that in your next post?

  23. Ashraf Says:

    This story is so typical of how the BEST works. It would have cost the driver nothing to allow two more paying customers on board, but he didn’t. The problem, really, is that BEST staffers don’t think they’re providing a service. For them, it’s a chore they have to complete in order to take home their inflated paychecks. Guaranteed government employment — the unions make it impossible to sack such employees — has made civic staffers feel they are answerable to nobody. And, indeed, they do get away with anything.

  24. radha Says:

    namit, you have succinctly captured the working style of a monolith organisation that thrives on the fact that there isn’t any competition which is compounded further by lack of regulation and an unruly public (sorry no offence meant to you and your experience!). In Singapore where the public transport system is virtually their lifeline can you imagine that a bus’s (air conditioned, TV fitted, low-step) doors will NOT open at any place other than the pre designated stop. so inspite of vigorously hailing the bus or signalling it to halt even if the bus driver does stop (which he won’t, he will only look at you distastefully and call you a moron) the bus doors won’t open. that is another matter that singaporeans are law abiding and peaceful and will never dream of doing anything that is not by the rule book, so the system works there. India obviously is another story altogether.

  25. Nitin Thakor Says:

    Thats a nice write up of the common man’s woes. The first criminal is ofcourse the driver, next the passengers and then the conductor who ought to look towards revenues.

  26. Anindita Says:

    Namit,I agree with u at the first place that by halting the bus u r not breaking rules since the bus is said to be at total stationery position with vacant seats available fr commuters… n if still bus services want to follow strict rules then they shud better concentrate on that part of the regulation where the bus driver is advised to focus over the way he drives(as they are most of the rash drivers, ex:blue line buses in del or so called ‘killer buses’) n that highly concerns the security n safety of passengers…these are public services then why there is a tendency to show that they are obliging us by dropping us to our destinations…r we nt paying them??don we pay taxes out of our hard earned money to the govt on time??as a citizen of a civilized country don we possess the right to have an organized n systematic public transport system??… the govt ought to pay attention on the behaviour of these callous people otherwise they will go on making losses…secondly we as citizens also need to unite against the evils of the state…we are also no less guilty n equally responsible fr the occurrence of such circumstances…wen smbdy fr instance in this case, u raised the voice against the injustice of the driver, people in the bus shud hv come forward n have pressurised the driver to open the door for u, that wud have served as a lesson for that driver in the future bt instead they chose the silence as an option n enjoyed being a mute spectator never realising that they could also be the next victim of such harassment n agony…so by blaming govt,political parties n searching evils in democracy cannot gv us a permanent solution…if in true sense we wish our system to be efficient n pro people then we hv to change our attitude n support the rite cause…as together we can bring huge changes in our way of living in a society n drive our society towards greater accountability.

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