Mumbai‘s iconic red double-decker buses, which have been an integral part of the city’s public transport system for more than eight decades, will go off the streets this week, an official from the Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) Undertaking said on Tuesday. The open-deck double-decker buses, which have served as sightseeing buses for tourists since the 1990s, will also disappear from the city streets in the first week of October, he said.
As these buses are going off the roads forever, commuter groups and bus enthusiasts have urged BEST to preserve at least two of these iconic vehicles at its Anik depot-based museum and have written to the Maharashtra chief minister, tourism minister and the BEST administration.
“Currently, just seven double-decker buses, including three open-deck buses are left in the BEST’s fleet. As these vehicles are completing 15 years of their codal life, the double-decker buses will forever go off roads from September 15, while the open-deck buses will be pulled out on October 5,” a BEST spokesperson said.
Red double-decker buses were introduced in the city’s public transport system in 1937, and they have since become symbolic of the city itself and interestingly, have also featured in songs of Bollywood movies sin Mumbai.
In the beginning of the 1990s, the BEST had a fleet of around 900 double-decker buses, but the number gradually declined after the mid-90s.
Citing the high operating cost, the BEST administration stopped inducting double-decker buses after 2008. The BEST since February this year started replacing these iconic buses with leased battery-run red and black double-decker buses and so far, about 25 such buses have been introduced.
The BEST, in a release last week, said it is going to procure open-deck buses for sighting-seeing and it has already started the process of acquiring them. Until then, the new battery-run double-decker e-buses will be operated for tourists.
Some commuters, however, argue that though the battery-run buses are comfortable, they lack the charm of their older counterparts.
“As the new double-decker e-buses are air-conditioned, we will miss sitting in the front in the old buses and travelling with the breeze from the open windows on our faces,” said Harshad Joshi, a bus enthusiast.
To prevent the double-decker buses from going under the hammer, a commuters’ body “Aapli BEST Aaplyasathi” has written to Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, BMC chief Iqbal Singh Chahal and Deputy Chief Ministers Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar and the BEST’s general manager urging them to stop these buses from meeting the same fate as trams, which were the first mode of public transport in the city.
“We have requested them to preserve the last two red double-decker buses and put them on display at the BEST’s museum for tourists and future generations,” said Rupesh Shelatkar, president of the commuters group, claiming that so far, no politician or bureaucrat has responded to their letters.
He further said the group wishes to bid adieu to the legacy buses with a lot of fanfare in south Mumbai, but despite repeated attempts, the BEST administration has not responded to the request.
Siddhesh Mhatre, the working president of “Aapli BEST Aaplyasathi”, said that in 1964, trams disappeared from the city roads forever. The city had both single and double-decker trams, but not one of them was saved. Later, a tram was brought here from Kolkata for display purposes, but it corroded. Finally, it was repaired a few years ago and displayed at Boribandar.”
Mumbai is the only city in the county with so many double-decker buses in public service. Hence, these legacy buses must be preserved, Mhatre said, adding that every metro city in the world has a transport museum, but Mumbai doesn’t have one and preserving these buses will be a step towards this.