On September 15, 2023, Mumbai bid farewell to the last remaining diesel-run double-decker bus of the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) enterprise, evoking a wave of nostalgia among the city's residents. These red giants on wheels have long been synonymous with South Mumbai, serving as cultural landmarks that have witnessed countless conversations, dramas, and the evolving city and its people. Through personal memories, Bollywood songs, artwork, and symbols, the red double-decker buses have become an integral part of Mumbai's collective cultural consciousness.
Anand Mahindra, industrialist on X (formerly Twitter), captioning the collective loss
The origins of double-decker buses in India have sparked some debate. Some claim that Raja Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, the ruler of Trivandrum (now Thiruvananthapuram), hired Englishman EG Salter to revamp their public transport, leading to the introduction of double-decker buses. However, many agree that these buses were first introduced in the Bombay Presidency in 1937, inspired by the iconic double-decker London buses.
By the 1960s, around 900 double-decker buses were traversing the streets of Bombay, covering popular routes like the iconic 123, which passed through Colaba Causeway, Regal Cinema, Flora Fountain, Marine Drive, and Girgaun Chowpatty. These routes carved a path through historically and culturally significant areas of South Mumbai, making the red, two-storeyed transport capsules an inseparable part of the city's heritage. Not only did the red double-deckers offer passengers a picturesque vantage point, but they also bridged the last mile of connectivity in the suburbs until the arrival of auto-rickshaws in the 1970s. However, their numbers dwindled after the mid-'90s due to rising operational costs, logistical challenges, and fuel inefficiency.
Last week marked the end of an era for Mumbai's iconic red double-decker buses, but it also ushered in a new era of eco-friendly and technologically advanced public transportation for the city's future. The newly introduced buses, known as Switch EiV22, are battery-run e-buses, providing an environmentally friendly alternative. These buses have a capacity to accommodate approximately ninety passengers, roughly double the capacity of the previous buses. The city plans to acquire nine hundred such buses. Additionally, BEST has announced the acquisition of two open-deck buses for sightseeing, reminiscent of the vehicles we are bidding farewell to.
Time can sometimes be a cruel mistress that can make even a red Goliath disappear from the streets of Mumbai. While there is no shadow of a doubt, that implementing the Switch EiV22 as a success is a judicious choice, for several Mumbaikars the iconic predecessor will continue to hold rich nostalgic value. Mahesh Kambale, a 42-year-old resident of Vikhroli, in a statement to the Free Press Journal, expressed nostalgia for the old buses and how the feeling of basking in the breeze from its open windows won't be the same with the new double-decker e-buses that are air-conditioned.
While bidding adieu to these iconic double-decker buses evokes a sense of collective loss, its unique charm and identity will not slip into oblivion. BEST has chosen to preserve one of these iconic buses, ensuring that a piece of Mumbai's history lives on. This preserved bus will find its new home in the museum at the Anik bus depot, serving as a living testament to the bygone days when these red giants were a familiar sight for Mumbai's residents and visitors alike.
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