MUMBAI: Most social distancing rules were flouted at bus stands and inside BEST buses on Day One of reopening of workplaces with 10% staff. On Monday, BEST operated 2,200 buses-63% of its fleet – across the Mumbai metropolitan region to ferry more than five lakh office-goers, workers in small establishments and self-employed persons and yet fell short in the face of the huge demand.
There were long queues at several bus stops, people jostling and pushing one another to get into a bus with zero signs of social distancing. Some buses had people occupying all the seats and more standees than allowed. A maximum of five standees are allowed in a bus and one passenger for every two seats. Conductors too did not wear face shields in a few buses.
“On normal days, BEST caters to 35 lakh riders daily and local trains ferry 75 lakh commuters. On Monday, BEST catered to 10% of office-goers who use both trains and buses. There was a huge load on buses,” said BEST senior officer Victor Nagaonkar.
Offices must stagger timings to enable social distancing: BEST
Day One of reopening of workplaces saw huge crowds in BEST buses and at stops during peak hours.
There was discipline after 11am, though, when a maximum of 25 people travelled in a bus, including five standees.
BEST officials have demanded staggered timings in private offices to maintain social distancing in buses.
Citizens complained of buses not arriving on time, poor frequency and a long wait. “We want BEST to deploy more buses as they have a fleet of 3,500. There should be bus inspectors counting passengers as they board to reduce crowding,” said Mulund’s Ashish Mehrotra.
The Vasai-Virar region depends entirely on trains for commute to Mumbai. “I have been waiting for more than an hour for a bus to Borivli. I have to report to work at Andheri,” said Mandar Malusare, who was standing at a stop outside Nalasopara station. Vasai’s Ronald Dsouza gave up after waiting an hour. “We cannot get to work unless trains resume,” he said. Long queues at Bhayander West went viral on social media.
In Dombivli, commuters stood in a 1km-long line from Indira Chowk to Phadke Road to board buses. Ramesh Jadhav, who works in CST, said, “I reached a stop at 8.30am but got a bus after two hours.”
BEST general manager Surendrakumar Bagde said, “It was a busy day for our staffers who were fearlessly out there serving citizens.”
BEST spokesperson Manoj Varade said, “We appeal to commuters social distancing is for their own safety and to prevent spread of the virus.”
BEST Workers Union leader Shashank Rao said several conductors did not have face shields. “In Kurla, Shivaji Nagar and Pratiksha Nagar, there was no social distancing in buses.”
Meanwhile, NMMT started plying 215 buses from Monday. NMMT general manager Shirish Aradwad said, “From June 8, Navi Mumbai Municipal Transport is providing 215 buses with daily 858 trips, including 398 trips by 112 buses already plying around 10,000 essential service passengers since the lockdown. A total of 103 additional buses on 22 routes have started.”
(With George Mendonca, Sandhya Nair & Pradeep Gupta)

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