Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray must increase the city bus fleet to enable safe, frequent and affordable commutes.

The importance of mobility in cities cannot be overstated. Not only is mobility essential for people to access livelihoods, education, and services – and thus critical to improving people’s lives – but it is also a necessary element to drive the city’s economy. Buses are the main mode of commute for college students, office staff, factory workers, domestic help, school children, housewives, caregivers . . . the list goes on.

For an industrialized State with 50% of its population living in cities, Maharashtra has only 11 buses per lakh urban population. Many Municipal Corporations do not have a city bus service at all. Excluding Mumbai and Pune, the number of buses per lakh people in cities is less than 5!

Inadequate bus services mean that people who depend on them suffer long wait times, crowded and uncomfortable rides and often resort to expensive and unsafe options like shared autos and taxis. Women, children, and senior citizens either have limited mobility or must depend on someone else. People are forced to use personal vehicles, leading to an increase in two-wheelers and cars; in turn leading to increased congestion and pollution.

There is a new challenge because of COVID-19. Crowding on public transport will have to be reduced to make it safer. This will require more buses and financial support from the State. If that does not happen, there could be a further increase in private vehicles, worsening congestion, pollution; in turn possibly increasing COVID-19 mortality.

As Maharashtra reopens, the need of the workers and students to go back to work and educational institutions, requires a coordinated and large-scale response by the state government to reduce the disproportionate risk faced by them.

WE, THE UNDERSIGNED, CALL ON THE CHIEF MINISTER to formulate a comprehensive urban bus-based public transport policy that:

1. Makes provision of public transport mandatory for Municipal Corporations
2. Sets a target for cities to have 50 buses per lakh population (“Lakh ko 50”) in 5 years
3. Announces Viability Gap Funding (VGF) and removal of taxation on public buses to ensure sustainable financing for bus services
4. Creates a State Public Transport Authority to monitor quality and safety and
5. Sets up a Technical Assistance Program to help cities plan and implement bus services

The measures suggested will go a long way in ensuring that the state gets back to the new normal with ease and safety. In our estimation, these measures can be met with a mere Rs 1200 crore per annum financial outlay and in 5 years result in 22,000 buses plying in cities catering to 1.6 crore daily trips.

We urge the Chief Minister to strengthen public transport as a part of Mission Begin Again – making bus commutes comfortable, convenient, affordable, and safe for all – and creating economically vibrant, healthy, and resilient cities.