The iconic Mumbai double-decker buses will be making a comeback in electric form with the official Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport Undertaking (BEST) stating that their numbers will surpass the 1990s highs by next year.
Officials said that the financial capital is where these double-deckers are no longer operating, although they were once present in large numbers in Kolkata, Bengaluru, Thiruvananthapuram, Delhi, and Chennai.
Officials claim that BEST had the largest number of double-decker bus fleets in 1990, just before figures began to fall after 1995. The city’s most important road transport service had 225 double-deckers by 2006. As losses started to mount, operating costs went up,
Mumbai has about 50 remaining. Most of them are located in the south and others are used for heritage tours. Officials said that the current batch, which was introduced in 2007, would soon be removed from the roads after their operational life.
Last week, India’s first electric double-decker air-conditioned bus was launched. Lokesh Chandra, general manager at BEST, told that it would be on the roads by September.
Two bus contractors will provide the BEST 900 electric double-deckers by 2023 end. Chandra stated that in the 1990s we had more than 900 double-decker buses. She said that they will soon return to the same situation at the end of next year.
He said that the new buses will offer a more comfortable ride than the 33 lakh passengers currently using BEST.
Mumbai is a city that sees heavy traffic. Double-deckers can transport 100 passengers at 10.5m, compared to 50 for normal buses. The BEST GM stated that double-deckers will allow us to regain 1.5 lakh seats per day, which were lost because of the introduction of smaller buses.
The electric AC double-decker bus features a twin-door-stairway arrangement, larger windows, bucket seats and CCTVs. There are also charging points for smartphones and laptops.
In 1937, double-decker buses were created to better handle the increasing traffic. A single-deck vehicle could carry 36 passengers, while a double-decker can hold up to 58. The double-decker’s size and appearance combined with its unique look made it popular right away.
Over the years, double-deckers underwent many design changes. The first was one with a single blink cabin. Later models had a sloping engine cover and an engine cover that looked almost identical to London’s Routemaster.
Sunil Ganacharya (a former member, of BEST Committee, the policy-making body under the Undertaking), commented on the decrease in these iconic vehicles by saying that operating costs are a major reason for the lower number. This is due to the need to deploy two conductors as well as higher diesel consumption.
The new electric buses will be available as part of a contract-based wet lease model. This means that contractors pay for crew and maintenance. BEST GM Chandra announced this at the launch event of the double-decker.
He stated that the cost of operating their buses is Rs 150 per km, but the cost of single-decker and double-decker electric buses on a wet-lease model is Rs 56 and Rs 46 respectively. This is one-third of the total.
Officials state that double-decker buses can carry 78 passengers while single-deck electric buses can hold 54 passengers.
A double-decker bus generates revenue of Rs. 79 per kilometre. This is much more than single-decker buses which earn Rs 43.
It may have given double-deckers a new lease on life, but it’s not clear that the model can be sustained. The former BEST Committee member stated that we have seen strikes by operators of wet-leased busses and their maintenance is also poor.