Mumbai, once adorned with its iconic red double-decker buses, is now bidding a heartfelt adieu to these historic symbols of public transport.
The Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) has announced that the last of these diesel-fueled buses will roll down the city’s streets this week, marking the end of a nearly nine-decade-long relationship.
A Journey Back In Time: Mumbai’s Love Affair With Double-Decker Buses
In 1937, the British introduced double-decker buses to Mumbai, inspired by London’s iconic transport. These buses quickly became a solution to the city’s growing transportation needs. Over the decades, their numbers multiplied, with as many as 900 double-decker buses gracing the streets of Mumbai in the 1990s.
By the 1960s, they were serving commuters on 26 different routes across the city, and their distinctive presence made them an inseparable part of Mumbai’s identity. These buses weren’t just a mode of transport; they provided a scenic view of the city, with routes like Santacruz station to Juhu Church becoming sought-after experiences.
As Anant Dhabolkar, a 70-year-old retired professional shared, “It is a good way to remember this iconic mode of public transport. I am grateful that I got to travel in one of the last remaining buses from the old lot.”
The Decline And Phasing Out: Factors Behind The Farewell
Sadly, over time, the number of double-decker buses dwindled. BEST ceased introducing new ones after 2008, citing various challenges. The buses’ spare parts were cumbersome to transport and expensive, leading to higher operational costs.
Additionally, they consumed more fuel, further straining resources. One significant factor in the phase-out was the need for an extra conductor on the top deck. By August 2022, only 48 non-AC double-decker buses remained on Mumbai’s roads.
Aapli BEST Aaplyasathi, a commuters’ body, has taken steps to preserve this cultural heritage. They have written to Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, his deputies Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar, BMC chief Iqbal Singh Chahal, and BEST general manager to prevent two double-deckers from going under the vehicle crusher.
According to Rupesh Shelatkar, president of the commuters group, “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.”
Embracing Modernity: Electric Double-Decker Buses For A Greener Future
BEST has made a significant shift toward a greener and more modern approach to public transport. Last August, they introduced the city’s first electric air-conditioned double-decker bus, equipped with amenities like automatic doors and CCTV cameras.
These environmentally friendly vehicles are replacing the old ones as part of a phased transition. Currently, only seven double-decker buses remain in the BEST’s fleet, and they will be retired permanently by September 15, with open-deck buses following suit on October 5.
BEST plans to procure 900 electric buses, including 25 AC double-decker e-buses, aiming to reduce its carbon footprint substantially.
For those who have experienced both the old and new buses, Harshad Joshi, a bus enthusiast, aptly points out, “As the new double-decker e-buses are air-conditioned, we will miss sitting in the front in the old buses and traveling with the breeze from the open windows on our faces.”
The departure of Mumbai’s beloved double-decker buses evokes nostalgia for many residents. These buses hold cherished memories, and their unique charm cannot be easily replaced by their modern, air-conditioned counterparts.
While progress is essential, the echoes of laughter and scenic views from the top deck will forever remain etched in the hearts of Mumbaikars. Efforts are underway to preserve two of these iconic buses in a museum, ensuring that future generations can also appreciate the legacy of Mumbai’s red double-decker buses.
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