Saturday, November 24, 2007

Toy bus by BEST

I welcome any legal and legible competition to the black and yellow (BY) taxis of Mumbai. Though there are honest and sincere taxi-drivers still left in this profession, I'm afraid they are now dwarfed by those who are corrupt, rude and insist on ferrying only long-distance passengers. The BY taxis that stand at Nariman Point are a classic example. They do not mind standing in the queue for hours, but would not take any passengers before Worli, on an average.

Enter the mini-bus from BEST. This is the latest innovation from BEST. These mini buses have been popular so far in suburbs around crowded station areas otherwise inhospitable for regular BEST buses to turn and maneuver. But now BEST is keen to bring them to downtown; they recently started one such service (route No 100) between Nariman Point and Churchgate. Thanks to all illegal encroachments like food stalls and BY taxis that are parked throughout the day there in numbers exceeding the permissible limit, only mini BEST buses can go there.

Historically, this turf was monopolised by the BY share-a-taxis that ply between these two areas ferrying hundreds of working professionals from Churchgate railway station and the business district of Nariman Point. This is a very good and useful service and I have used it several times.

You get inside the taxi, four passengers per a Fiat Padmini that is such bad condition that you literally sink in the cab the moment you are in, the lady passenger always sits in the front especially if there is one lady passenger and others are gentlemen, you don't talk to the driver and he doesn't talk to you, you are always in a hurry to handover your fare (Rs 4.50) that you can't even wait till you arrive at your destination - you just stretch out your hand with the money in your palm whenever the taxi slows down or stops at the signal, on reaching Churchgate you quickly get off, slam the taxi door and rush to the station to catch the 6.57 back home.

There's only one problem. The drivers are very rash. The taxis may look to be in poor condition, but they are made to run like a Ferrari. That is why the BEST mini bus is a welcome change. The bus comes from Churchgate onto FPJ marg, goes all the way to the end then takes a U-Turn and goes back to Churchgate.

The best part is that, in Nariman Point, it stops at anywhere someone stops it and wishes to get in. The conductor calls out to potential passengers; "Churchgate", "Churchgate". Like how Delhi bus conductors who yell and call out to people at the bus stops, even those who are walking past the bus-stop who do not remotely look like they want to catch a bus, to hop on! The BY share-a-cabs start only at the starting point. Though they drop you wherever you like, provided your destination falls in their path.

The mini bus looks like a toy. Actually, it looks like a child. It looks like the father double-decker bus and the mother single-decker bus gave birth to a child bus. On account of the same height and small size, the ride is a little bumpy because of the aerodynamics. The child bus seems to be taking its first steps out of its home!

Another benefit of this bus is the lower and standardised fare of Rs 4, as against the BY share-a-taxi that charges Rs 4.50 from nariman point to churchgate and Rs 5.50 from churchgate to nariman point. I am happy to see BEST innovating. As they say, Mumbai's transport system compares to the best in the world.

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