When BEST left Mumbai in the lurch

Satyanarayan Iyer Mumbai | Updated on April 03, 2014

It was a torrid Tuesday for Mumbaikars when the BEST buses went off the roads.

The all-too-familiar lifeline of the city was missing on April 1, the day people pull fast ones on one another. This one was, however, for real and the timing could not have been worse with students in the midst of their exams. The strike continued on Wednesday, leaving the city static and furious.

Trigger for the strike

Amid the chaos, not many people gave a thought to the 26,000-odd striking drivers and conductors. Their one-point demand was to do away with the computerised scheduling system, which was introduced on April 1. They feared that it would prolong their work hours.

The software developed by the Canadian transport solutions provider Trapeze group automates the duty schedules of bus drivers and conductors, leaving little room for manual intervention.

Automated scheduling

According to the BEST management, the software had been tested in 12 of the 25 bus depots in the city. It provides for a duty shift where the conductor and driver work for four hours, return and rest for another four hours. They then resume work to wrap up the last four-hour lap.

According to BEST, at any point in time, it will apply to only 350 of the 9,600 schedules daily. Also, the route allotment will be done automatically to maximise employee productivity, a move BEST claims will save ₹32 crore for the loss-making enterprise.

“If routes change frequently, how many routes will we remember?” wondered a conductor. BEST says that since ticketing is automated, this should not pose a problem.

“To spread an eight hour shift over 12 hours is perfectly legal under the Motor Vehicles Act,” an official said. “The industrial court ruled in favour of the management’s decision.”

Valid grievance

However, it has not gone down well with the employees. As a driver put it, “We start work at 7 am and get done 12 hours later. The late shift means that I finally get back home at 10 pm. When do I get to spend time with my family?”

This is a valid grievance in a city like Mumbai where it takes hours for people to reach their destinations.

According to a conductor, many employees were forced to sign up for the automated shift allotment system.

“Everybody says the employees are holding the city to ransom. Why are they not asking why the administration is holding the city to ransom by not consulting the employees?” another conductor asked.

BEST has assured the employees that their concerns will be sorted out before bringing it up again for implementation on June 1.

For the disgruntled drivers and conductors grappling with poor working conditions and bad roads, it could well be the proverbial last straw.

Published on April 03, 2014

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