On 2 August, bus drivers on wet lease went on strike at the Vikroli, Mulund, and Ghatkopar bus depots in Mumbai, impacting the bus services of Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) on multiple routes. The strike was called by employees of the private bus operator SMT, also known as the Daga Group, who demanded a salary hike. As a result, services on several bus routes were disrupted.
BEST, which operates the bus services in Mumbai and neighboring areas, has hired buses from various contractors, including the Daga Group, on a wet lease model. Under this model, private operators own the vehicles and are responsible for maintenance, fuel, and drivers’ salaries.
This is not the first time such a strike has occurred. On 18 July, 30 drivers of wet lease buses at the Wadala bus depot had also gone on a flash strike, according to a report by Hindustan Times.
BEST is a crucial transportation lifeline in Mumbai, ferrying approximately 30 lakh passengers per day in various parts of the city and its neighboring regions like Thane, Mira-Bhayander, and Navi Mumbai.
In contrast, on 28 July, BEST took a positive step towards improving its fleet by adding 10 new double-decker electric buses to its existing fleet of 24. These electric buses arrived at the undertaking’s Colaba depot after a gap of two months and are set to be deployed for public service once they complete RTO registration and other formalities, as reported by PTI.
The addition of these electric buses brings the total number of double-decker electric buses to 24, surpassing the count of conventional double-decker buses, which has fallen below 20 due to the scrapping of older vehicles. As of now, BEST’s fleet size stands at 3,100, with several buses being taken on a wet lease, a mechanism where private contractors handle fuel, maintenance, and driver salaries.
The ongoing strike by bus drivers on wet lease highlights the challenges and issues faced by public transport services in Mumbai. The demands of the striking drivers and the response of the authorities will be crucial in resolving the situation and ensuring the smooth functioning of the city’s bus services, which are vital for daily commuters.