BEST bus private operators’ strike ends, all buses back in action


Mumbai: Most employees of private operators of BEST, Mumbai’s civic transport body, re-joined duty by Wednesday evening, a day after their weeklong strike was called off, a senior official said.

Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) spokesperson Sunil Vaidya told PTI that 100 per cent wet leased buses were operated with the drivers of private bus operators in the evening.

In the morning, however, many contractual staffers were yet to return to duty, he said.

At 10 am, the public transporter operated 97.5 per cent of the 3,040 buses in its fleet including the wet-leased ones and BEST-owned buses, Vaidya said.

“However, 100 percent wet leased buses were operated with the drivers of private bus operators on Wednesday evening,” he said.

A BEST official said that some employees of the private bus operators did not re-join duty in the morning due to some confusion over fulfilment of their demands, but most of them rejoined duty in the evening session.

So this is the first time since August 2 that the turnout of wet leased buses was 100 per cent as the employees of the private bus operators went on a strike for salary hike and other demands.

Some commuters, however, complained that operations of BEST buses was affected till late evening and the frequency of the vehicles on most of the routes was not normalised.

The BEST undertaking, which provides public bus services in Mumbai and neighbouring areas, has hired more than 1,600 buses from some contractors on a wet lease model, under which the vehicle ownership, maintenance, fuel and driver costs are the responsibility of the private operator.

The employees, including drivers, of the private bus operators had been agitating since last Wednesday over demands, including salary hikes and pay parity with BEST employees. During the strike, BEST ran more than 600 wet-leased buses using its own drivers.

On Tuesday afternoon, those representing the agitating contractual employees announced that their strike, which started on August 2, had been called off after a meeting with Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde on Monday night.

In a press statement issued later, they also claimed that Shinde had accepted their demands, including salary hikes, and promised to fulfil them.

Vikas Kharmale, a coordinator of one of the groups of employees of private bus operators, told PTI that in the absence of a written assurance from the government, many staffers are reluctant to resume duty.

According to BEST spokesperson Vaidya, the undertaking also operated 212 buses of the state-owned Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) for the convenience of the commuters.

MSRTC has been operating its 100 to 225 buses daily on various routes of BEST, on request of the municipal transport body after the employees of private bus operators intensified their strike.

Amid the strike last week, the state government permitted all public service vehicles including taxis, rickshaws, and school buses, to carry out stage carriage operations. It means they could pick and drop passengers multiple times.

BEST ferries more than 30 lakh commuters on its buses in Mumbai and neighbouring Thane, Navi Mumbai and Mira-Bhayander cities with its fleet of more than 3,100 buses, of which it owns less than 1,400 buses.

Lakhs of bus users had a harrowing time during the strike. They faced long serpentine queues at depots and bus stops and braved overcrowding on buses.

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