Mumbai’s iconic double-decker buses retire after eight decades of service

The double-decker buses, which have served as sightseeing buses for tourists for over eight decades, bid adieu to the streets of Mumbai

September 15, 2023 08:09 pm | Updated September 16, 2023 05:55 pm IST - Mumbai

Commuters ride on the iconic double decker bus on the last day of its service in Mumbai.

Commuters ride on the iconic double decker bus on the last day of its service in Mumbai. | Photo Credit: Emmanual Yogini

Chala sagle jana juna style wala ticket ghya. Aaj ha bus cha shevatcha diwas aahe. Apla pravas smarniy kara (everyone take the old-style ticket. Today is this bus’s last day. Make your travel memorable),” said the Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) bus conductor, Gopal Sukte, while issuing vintage bus tickets to the passengers on the upper deck of the iconic red double-decker bus after it started from Seepz Bus depot.

His colleague, Santosh Sawant, responsible for issuing tickets on the lower deck, sat idle, as commuters and enthusiasts flocked to the upper deck of the bus for one last glimpse of Mumbai’s skyline and to make their journey memorable.

After 86 years of serving various routes across Mumbai, these non-air-conditioned double-decker buses bid adieu to daily commuters and tourists on Friday night as the BEST authorities decided to phase out the buses as part of ‘modernisation’ and operational cost. The last service of these non-AC double-decker buses left Marol Depot on Friday morning.

Commuters inside the iconic non-air-conditioned (AC) double decker bus on the last day of its service in Mumbai.

Commuters inside the iconic non-air-conditioned (AC) double decker bus on the last day of its service in Mumbai. | Photo Credit: Emmanual Yogini

Introduced in 1937, the red double-decker buses have become synonymous with the city itself, etching themselves into the collective memory of its residents and tourists, apart from being featured in Indian and Hollywood movies in the vibrant metropolis.

The BEST started replacing these iconic buses with leased battery-run red and black double-decker buses and so far, about 25 such buses have been introduced.

As the bus reached Seepz depot for a brief five-minute half around 2 p.m., passengers thronged the premises to take photos with the bus, while some directly boarded the red metal moving machine hoping to secure a front seat on the upper deck.

They reminisced about the special place these buses held in their hearts. “People have fond memories of this bus. They boarded it whether they were happy or sad. It had space for everyone. I love sitting on the upper deck, feeling the breeze and enjoying the view. The government should reconsider its decision to phase out the Symbol of Mumbai,” said Gajanan Khambadi (71), who had been travelling in these double-decker buses for the past six decades.

He lamented the decline in numbers stating, “There were over 900 such buses in the past, and now we are left with only one.”

In the early 1990s, the BEST had a fleet of around 900 double-decker buses, but the changing times and high operating costs, apart from layovers across the city, led to the gradual decline after the mid-90s.

Commuters click photos in front of  the iconic double decker bus on the last day of its service in Mumbai.

Commuters click photos in front of the iconic double decker bus on the last day of its service in Mumbai. | Photo Credit: Emmanual Yogini

Enthusiasts like Arindam Mahapatra, a law graduate, rushed to partake in this historic journey. “I have been travelling on these buses since 2006. They hold a special place in my heart, and I never thought of this day. As soon as I got to know about the last trip, I rushed here to take more memories,” he shared.

While some passengers sang songs and serenaded the famous ‘Mumbai Meri Jaan’ tune on the flute, others experienced their first and last ride on the double-decker.

Pradeep Shivaji Bhosle, a driver with the BEST who had previously driven the double-decker, joined the experience with his two children – Mayuri and Sarthak – who were boarding for the first time. For them, it was a blend of happiness and sorrow, knowing they would not have the chance to board again.

Passengers take a selfie in the bus.

Passengers take a selfie in the bus. | Photo Credit: Emmanual Yogini

“They never got an opportunity to travel in this iconic bus. They are travelling for the first time and are very happy and equally sad that in future they won’t have a chance to board this,” he said while taking photographs of his children inside the bus.

Tejas Bura, a teenager from Thane, also seized the opportunity. “I never got a chance to travel in these bus, and heard that it was being phased out, so I came here to have first-hand experience,” he said.

As the bus reached Andheri Bus Depot, Mr. Sukte announced, “Chala sagle jana khali ya. Last stop aahe Andheri depot. (Everyone alight the bus. Andheri depot is the last stop).”

Officials of the BEST said that Mumbai city’s ‘prestigious double-decker buses’ will not be closed under any circumstances, and a total of 900 air-conditioned double-decker bus service will be provided to the people of Mumbai by the end of July 2024 by the BEST.

“The service of 900 air-conditioned double-decker buses will be operated from various 12 bus depots in Mumbai. So that the maximum people can avail of the service of these buses. The BEST has also modernised the bus operation by always taking into consideration the preferences of passengers in Mumbai,” the BEST officials had stated.

“At every stage, an attempt has been made to provide up-to-date bus services to the passengers by changing the bus operation as per the times. Regarding the non air conditioned double-decker buses we would also like to mention that the existing non-air-conditioned double-decker buses are being phased out due to end-of-life and new air-conditioned electric double-decker buses are being introduced in place of said buses. It is being appealed on behalf of the BEST that the passengers should make use of maximum new air-conditioned double-decker buses,” they added.

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