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Bombay Electric Supply and Transport

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Title: Bombay Electric Supply and Transport  
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Bombay Electric Supply and Transport

BEST Undertaking
Autonomous State-owned enterprise
Industry Public transport,
Founded Mumbai (1873)
Headquarters Electric House, Colaba, Mumbai, India
Key people O.P.Gupta, general manager
Products Bus, Electricity
Revenue IncreaseRs. 2,353.4 million ($538.7m USD) (2004)
Employees 44,000 (2005)

The Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) Undertaking is the world largest[1] civic transport and electricity provider public body based in Mumbai, India. Originally set up in 1873 as a tramway company: Bombay Electric Supply & Tramways Company, the BEST set up a captive Thermal power station at Wadi bunder, Mumbai in November 1905 to generate electricity for its trams that positioned it to also supply electricity to the city of Mumbai. Since 1926, the BEST has been an operator of motor buses. In 1947, a week prior to India gaining independence, the BEST became an undertaking of the Bombay Municipal Corporation. It now operates as an autonomous body under the Municipal Corporation.

The Undertaking operates one of India's largest fleets of buses. The bus transport service covers the entire city and also extends its operations outside city limits into neighbouring Navi Mumbai, Thane and Mira-Bhayandar. In addition to buses, it also operates a ferry service in the northern reaches of the city. The electricity division of the organisation is also one of the few electricity departments in India to garner an annual gross profit.



The idea of a mass public transport system for Mumbai was first put forward in 1865 by an American company, which applied for a licence to operate a horse-drawn tramway system. Although a licence was granted, the project was never realised, owing to the prevailing economic depression in the city. The end of the American Civil War, during which Mumbai had made vast strides in its economy by supplying cotton and textiles to the world market, was the reason for the economic downturn.

Later, on 27 November 1871, a notice in the Times of India newspaper put by the Bombay Omnibus Service, proposed to set up a bus service between Malabar Hill and Fort. However, the proposed monthly pass fare of thirty pounds proved to be too expensive, and the tender was promptly abandoned.

Before 1920

The Bombay Tramway Company Limited was formally set up in 1873. After a contract was entered into between the Bombay Tramway Company and the municipality, the Bombay Presidency enacted the Bombay Tramways Act, 1874, under which the Company was licensed to run a tramway service in the city. The tram-cars were of two kinds; those drawn by one horse and those drawn by two. In 1905, a newly formed concern, The Bombay Electric Supply & Tramways Company Limited, bought the Bombay Tramway Company and the first electrically operated tram-car appeared on Bombay's roads in 1907. The passing years aggravated the problem of rush-hour traffic and to ease the situation, double decker trams were introduced in September 1920.

The B.E.S.T. Company

The birth of the BEST dates back to 1873, with the setting-up of the Bombay Tramway Company Limited, which was given the licence to operate trams in the city. The Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) was given the right to purchase the company after twenty-five years, or after seven years thereafter. In 1874, the Bombay Tramways Act was enacted after the contract was formally signed between the Municipality and the Company to start such a transport system.[2]

On 9 May 1874, the first horse-drawn carriage made its début in the city, plying on the ColabaPydhone via Crawford Market, and Bori Bunder to Pydhonie via Kalbadevi routes. The initial fare was three annas (15 paise), and no tickets were issued. As the service became increasingly popular, the fare was reduced to two annas (10 paise). Later that year, tickets were issued for the first time, to curb the increasing ticketless travel.[3]

In 1882 the municipality entered into an agreement with the Eastern Electric Light and Power Company to provide electric lighting in the Crawford Market and on some of the roads. But the company went into liquidation the following year, and the Market reverted to gas lighting.

In 1899, Bombay Tramway Company applied to the BMC, for operation of electrically operated trams. Due to the high investment required, the company suggested that the BMC should waive its right to take over the tramways, which was to take place in 1901 according to the contract signed in 1874. However, the BMC decided to take over the company, but was met with several legal problems.

In 1904 British Electric Traction Company (England) applied for a license to supply electricity to the city. The Brush Electrical Engineering Company was its agent. It got The Bombay Electric License on 31 July 1905 signed by Bombay Tramways Company, the Bombay Municipality, the Brush Electrical Company and the B.E.S.T. Company. In 1905 Bombay Electric Supply & Tramways Company Limited (B.E.S.T. Company) came into existence. The B.E.S.T. Company was granted the monopoly for electric supply and the running of an electric tram service in the city. The B.E.S.T. Company bought the assets of the Tramway Company for Rs.9,850,000.[4] Two years later, the first electric tram debuted in the city. Later that year, a 4,300 kilowatts (5,800 hp) steam power generator was commissioned at Wari Bunder. In 1916, power purchase from the Tata Power group, a privately owned company, was started and by 1925, all power generation was outsourced from Tata.[5]


Bombay saw its first bus run on 15 July 1926 between Afghan Church and Crawford Market. The people of Bombay received the bus with enthusiasm, but it took quite some time before this means of conveyance really established itself. For several years, it was looked upon as transport for the upper middle class. Those were the days when the tram was the poor man's transport; it carried one all the way from Sassoon Dock to Dadar. The bus fare for the same journey was 25 paise.

In response to the pleas made by the Government and the Bombay Municipal Corporation, the company extended its services to the northern part of the city in 1934. Double decker buses were introduced in 1937 in order to cope better with the growing traffic. The first limited bus service in Bombay, and probably the first in the country as well, started running in 1940 between Colaba and Mahim.

Advent of buses

Since 1913, the company had been pondering over starting a motorised bus service. The main factor against its introduction was the high accident rate for a similar service in London. Finally, after years of debate, the company came to a decision on 10 February 1926, to start a bus service later that year. On 15 July 1926, the first bus service in India was started on three routes. Despite stiff opposition and protests by taxi-drivers, the service ran without a hitch, transporting 600,000 passengers by the end of that year. The following year the number had increased to 3.8 million. The trams meanwhile, due to their lower fares, were relegated to being a poor man's transport.

The Indian independence movement's call for mass non-violent strikes and general civil disobedience, led to regular service disruptions, leading to the company incurring huge losses in 1929. The next year was a particular bad year for the company in the wake of the Great Depression. To remain solvent, the company decided to introduce discounted fares for short routes, and increase its coverage to the northern portions of the city. In 1937, the introduction of double-decker buses proved to be extremely popular.

Post 1940

Pursuant to the option given to it under the deed of concession granted to the Bombay Electric Supply and Tramways Co. Ltd, the Bombay Municipal Corporation acquired on 7 August 1947, the assets of the combined undertaking, namely the operation of tramways and distribution of electricity in the city of Bombay as a going concern. By mutual agreement, the corporation also took over the operation of the bus services, which was run by the Bombay Electric Supply & Transport Company.

Thus, the Bombay Electric Supply & Transport Company was municipalised and came to be known as Bombay Electric Supply & Transport.

World War II brought with it the rationing of fuel and a shortage of tires. The increasing costs of owning a car forced many to switch to using the bus service. Despite huge losses, the company diligently plied its buses and trams to cater to the residents of Bombay.[6]

The BEST Undertaking

After World War II, and India's independence, the management of the company was taken over by the BMC in 7 August 1947, and the company was renamed 'The BEST Undertaking'.[7]

When the corporation took over the company in 1947, there were 242 buses in operation on 23 routes and these buses carried 238,000 passengers per day. At present, there are 4680 buses carrying 4,800,000 passengers daily on over 400 routes. With the change in the name of the city from Bombay to Mumbai, the organisation is now known as Brihanmumbai Electric Supply & Transport (BEST).

As the company grew post-independence, it increased its fleet from 242 to 582 buses over the next decade. In 1949, it took over the Bandra Bus Company, which used to ply buses in the suburbs.[8] In 1951, the electricity division switched over from direct current (DC) to the more efficient alternating current (AC). The company launched its services in the eastern suburbs in 1955. That year, the Undertaking and private operators went to court, with the BEST asking for a complete closure of the private companies. The case dragged on for four years before the Supreme Court of India granted the organisation a complete monopoly over bus services in the Greater Bombay area. In 1964, due to high operational costs and poor public support, its long-running tram services were terminated.[9]

The company achieved the status of being the first company in the country to issue computerised billing in 1974. In 1994, the company introduced electronic meters, in a move to replace the less accurate electric meters. Following a Supreme Court directive, the company has been gradually phasing out old buses and introducing new buses which comply with the Euro III pollution control standards.[10]

Some interesting facts of present-day BEST buses:

  • BEST has introduced A/C Kinglong services on certain routes.
  • From 19 November 2004, route SPL-8 travelling from Churchgate to World Trade Centre has started accepting cashless smart cards for automatic fare collection in BEST buses.
  • BEST currently has over 1500 environmentally friendly Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) buses on its fleet and plans to increase the number of buses.
  • Due to the 9/11 bombings, BEST has installed an audio-visual surveillance system (CCTV) on each of its buses to monitor suspicious behaviour on board its vehicles.
  • Almost all buses have two LCD TVs per bus. BEST buses are well maintained buses.
  • Air conditioned buses are very popular with office goers. The A/C bus "AS-4" from Oshiwara Depot to Backbay Depot, is the route with the highest revenue for BEST. The "AS-4" is most popular bus with morning office goers, as it covers a distance of about 30 km from Andheri to Mantralaya in only one and half hours.


Main article: BEST Bus

As of 2013, the BEST runs a total of 4,680 buses,[11][12] ferrying 5 million passengers[13] over 365 routes, and has a workforce strength of 38,000, which includes 22,000 bus drivers and conductors (this comes to an average of 11.2 employees per bus). Single decker buses (currently Mercedes-Benz Citaro C2 and Old, King Long, Higer and Youngman) make up the bulk of the fleet, followed by the double-decker buses (Volvo B9TL/Wright Eclipse Gemini 2 3-axle), which ply on select routes. Following court directives, the company launched limited 'disabled friendly' buses on exclusive routes in 2005 that have low ramps and space for wheelchairs.[14] The company also plies vestibule buses on the city's two highways. These buses have a capacity of 110, and were introduced in 1997. These buses were scrapped some time in 2008.[15] All buses are tagged with a route number and its corresponding destination. They are displayed in the front (in Marathi), and on the side (in English).

Route Description
Ordinary Ordinary routes are the most common, with buses on these routes stopping at all stops. Buses plying on these routes are identified by a white route number on a black background.
Limited Buses on these routes stop only at important places and skip all the minor stops in between on high volume routes. They used to have a marginally higher fare and are identified by the route number in red on a white background. In 2008, the fares of Limited and ordinary buses were brought at the same level. The route number ends with LTD.
Special These buses ply on select routes covering railway termini and the central business districts. These routes have a fare marginally higher than the 'Limited' routes and are identified by the route number in white on a red background.
Express/Corridor These buses service long distance intra-city routes, and have fares that are the same as the Special routes, but with lesser number of stops. They have route numbers indicated in red on a yellow background. These buses do not skip the flyovers, like other buses.
BSEP These buses ply on the new BRTS routes, which is now under Bus Services Enhancement Programme worldwide.

In June 2005, in order to cut costs, BEST decided to hire buses from private operators instead of procuring new buses. These buses would look the same as a regular bus, but the maintenance and salaries would be taken care of by the private operators. But, till 2009, no buses have been hired by them.[16] The BEST also plans to install GPS systems on all its buses, to monitor them in realtime. It also plans to reintroduce pre-paid smart cards along selected routes. This service was installed in 1998, but was terminated in 2000.[17] The BEST bus service has suffered two bombings on 6 December 2002 and 28 July 2003 killing six people. In August 2006, BEST buses also introduced pay-phone system and CCTVs on its buses.[18] This was done in response to terror attacks on the city’s buses and trains. BEST entered into a barter deal with M/s Amnet in 2007 to install three CCTVs in each bus. Amnet also received the rights to advertise in the buses using two LCD screens.[19]

The Mumbai BRTS is a Bus Rapid Transit System taken up in 2008 by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, B.E.S.T Undertaking, and Government of Maharashtra to ease the traffic conditions of the city of Mumbai, and to make public transport systems in the city safer. The BRTS fleet consists of the BEST Undertaking's CNG powered King Long buses, Tata Starbuses, and Tata Marcopolo Buses. There are currently seven routes.[20]

Besides buses, BEST also operates a ferry service since 1981 in northern Mumbai, across the Manori Creek. The barges operate at regular intervals across the shallow creek linking Manori to Malad.

Electric department

Since 1926, the BEST has been sourcing its power from Tata Power, part of the Tata Group conglomerate. The power cables are laid underground, which reduces pilferage and other losses that plague most other parts of India. The nominal rating of power supplied by BEST is 3-phase, 50 Hz, 220/110 kV. Unlike the transport company, the electricity department services only the Mumbai City area, and not the suburbs. It provides power to 5 million residential and commercial establishments[21] and over 33,000 street lights within the city limits. As of 2000, BEST supplies a total of 700 MW (938,715 hp), with a consumption of 3,216 GWh (11,578 TJ).[22]

The electricity department has 6,000 employees. The city has three 110-kV, twenty-two 33-kV and 22-kV substations. BEST has a distribution loss of around 10% (2001), among the lowest in India.

In 2006, the RPS (Renewable purchase specificaiton)[23] framework came into force, which has made it mandatory for electricity providers to generate or purchase fixed percentage (6% for FY 2009–10) of their power through renewable sources. To comply with this act, BEST plans to install photovoltaic cells in each of its 25 depots. They also plan to use solar power in gardens and street lighting where the demand is low. Another option being considered is the possibility of using the 7,000 tonnes (6,889 long tons; 7,716 short tons) of garbage disposed by the city on a daily basis, which can be potentially used to generate 350 megawatts (469,358 hp) of electricity.[24]


The company is headed by a general manager, currently O.P.GUPTA. The traffic department is overseen by an 'assistant general manager (Traffic Operations)', and assisted by the 'Chief Traffic Manager (Sr.)'. The 'Chief Traffic Manager' oversees the five BEST zones, each headed by a 'Traffic Manager'. Each zone consists of 5 to 6 depots, whose operations are overseen by an 'assistant general manager (Traffic Operation)'. A 'Traffic Superintendent' or 'Assistant Traffic Superintendent' heads each depot.[25]

The electricity department is headed by a 'Deputy general manager (Electric Supply)' (DGM (ES)). Assisting him is an 'assistant general manager (Electric Supply)' (AGM (ES)), in charge of planning, new projects, construction, street lighting, computer applications and the generation cell. The 'Chief Engineer – Electric Supply (CEES)' is in-charge of material testing and the Standards, Meters and Relays and the Review departments. Two 'Chief Engineer – Distribution' (CED) officials manage the two administrative zones.[26]

The BEST enjoys a high degree of autonomy under the BMC; the latter approves its yearly budget and permits increases in bus fares when required. A body of 17 municipal corporators from the ruling party in the BMC form the BEST committee. The committee, headed by a chairman, keeps a tab on the undertaking's daily operations.[27] The committee has a staggered two-year term.

Among its future plans is the "digitisation project", wherein all underground cables, sub-stations, street lights and bus-stops would be tracked digitally through the geographical information system. It also plans to connect all its electricity meters through a network, so that the readings can be taken remotely, and in realtime, thus obviating the need for monthly manual door-to-door inspection.


In the financial year 2004–05, the company earned Rs. 15142.2 million[28] from its electricity department, and 839.18 crore from its transport department. Profits from its electricity department totalled Rs. 152.82 crore (US$35m), and losses in its transport department totalled Rs 212.86 crore ($48.8m), giving the company a net loss of Rs. 62.04 crore ($14.2m).

For the financial year 2005–06, BEST is expected to earn Rs. 15401.3 million ($352.92m) with a profit of 1408 million ($32.3m) from the electricity department alone. However, its transport department is expected to earn 9486.8 million ($217.39m), with a loss of 1403.0 million ($32.26m). This gives it an estimated net loss of Rs. 5 million ($114,575).[29][30] Newer management techniques, such as retrenching of excess staff (494 till date),[27] and the closure of less patronised routes, have reduced the losses in recent years, from a high of Rs. 1.75 billion ($40.1m) in 2001.[31]

Daily earnings from its transport system is Rs. 20 million ($458,450). It collects Rs. 7 million ($160,450) worth of five rupee coins daily, Rs. 4.8 million ($110,000) worth of ten and twenty rupee notes, and Rs. 6 million ($137,535) worth of fifty rupee notes, through its fare collection system. This has led a unique situation wherein it has accumulated a surplus of short change. In July 2005, the company floated tender inquiries to 54 banks to exchange the loose change, which totalled 46.7 million ($1.07m). However, none of the banks sent in a single bid, some citing that their vaults are full, and others saying it would be unprofitable for low denominations, given security considerations.[32]

Though the BEST is a government-owned company, it does not receive any financial assistance from the BMC, or the state government.[27] BEST also earns revenues by way of advertisements on its buses and bus-stops, and through rent from offices on owned properties. The BEST, being a public utility company, cannot increase electricity and bus fares to maximise its profits. An increase, when effected, is usually carried out to curb losses due to inflation. BMC approval is needed before such an increase goes into effect.

Culture and awards

BEST has been a quintessential part of life in Mumbai. The red double decker buses, modelled on the Routemaster buses of London, are one of the defining characteristics of the city. When BEST decided to do away with the double-deckers for operational reasons recently, public protests and sentiment forced it to continue with the service. A move to colour all its buses saffron from red in 1997 also drew in criticism, resulting in the red colour being retained. Bus drivers and conductors have come in for praise in the media for their service during the 2005 Mumbai floods, when they ensured that all the stranded passengers were dropped safely to their respective destinations. A total of 900 buses were damaged.[33]

The organisation has received the following awards for safety and management:[34]

  • The prize for the second best production achievement by an urban transport body in the country for the year 1982.
  • The second prize for production achievement in Urban Transport during the year 1984.
  • A memento for the Administrative Report and Statement of Accounts of the Undertaking for the year 1983–84 awarded by the selection committee nominated by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India.
  • The first place and the Best production achievement award in the category of urban transport for the year 1986–87.
  • National Productivity Award for the year 1991–92.
  • Award for the best passenger-safety record for the year 1994.
  • The award for the Best Passenger-Safety performance in Urban Transport in the whole country instituted by the Association of State Road Transport Undertaking (ASRTU) for the year 1995–96.
  • International Road Safety Award for the year 2003.

See also



Web references
  • May the Best Man Win; Manu Joseph; Times of India, Mumbai; p. 3; 21 August 2005
  • BEST will have to wait to become smart; Ashley D'Mello/Times News Network; p. 3;Times of India; 2 July 2005.
  • Short of funds, BEST looks to solar power; Olav Albuquerque; Times of India; p. 3; 8 July 2005.
  • Exit clause introduced in BEST-TPC pact; Times News Network; p. 4; Times of India; 7 July 2005.
  • BEST to hire buses from private operators; Olav Albuquerque; Times of India; p. 7; 4 June 2005.
  • You could now approach BEST for some loose change; Olav Albuquerque/TNN; Times of India; p. 3; 2005-07-06.

External links

  • BEST Undertaking – Official site of the BEST.

Template:Power Plants of Maharashtra

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