Tracing the history of transport in Mumbai – A visit to the transport Museum

For those who live in Mumbai or are on a visit to the city, one of the first thing that they would notice is how easy it is to move around from one place to another within and outside the city limits. For starters, we have the lifeline of the city – the local trains which not only connects various parts of the city and beyond.

Inside the city limits (From Mumbai CST to Mulund on the Central Line, Mumbai CST to Mankhurd on the Harbour line and Churchgate to Dahisar on the western line), apart from the trains, you can also avail a rickshaw or a taxi to get around. And since 8th June 2014, we have the Line 1 of the Mumbai Metro (connecting Ghatkopar on the Central Line to Versova on the Western side), taking care of the east west connectivity.

But in this post, I’m going to talk about the most popular form of transport in Mumbai. This is one mode of transport that connects the interiors of the city to the main centers. Today I’m going to write about the BEST Buses and how they came in to existence.

History

Everything has a small beginning and Bombay Electric Supply and Transport undertaking (BEST, as it is popularly known as) was no exception. From being setup as a tramway company in 1873 to becoming the first company to operate motor buses in 1926 and expanding to the transport and the electricity supplier that we know of, BEST has come a long way. There’s a lot to read about the history of BEST and how it was formed and how it grew to its current size. I am not getting in to the details. If you want to know more, you can visit Wikipedia or the BEST website.

A chance encounter

I was always surprised as how an organisation like BEST with its rich and glorious past, does not have any mechanism showcasing the past. Then a chance encounter with a bus conductor changed that perception.

Travelling by roads in Mumbai can be a tedious affair. With the construction work of metro line going on in full swing in different parts of the city, traffic snarls are common. During one such travel from my office in Vikhroli to my home in Bhandup (construction work of the Ghodbunder Wadala metro line is going on in fulling swing on the main road which leads to heavy peak hour traffic post 6 pm), our bus was hopelessly stuck at Gandhi Nagar. The conductor was a nice and friendly guy who had some spare time. We got chatting and the topic of BEST’s history came up. It was during this chat, that I came to know that BEST does have a transport museum in one of its depots and it is open to public on all days, except National Holidays. This aroused my interest and I was ready to explore it at the next available opportunity.

Getting There

It was a Sunday (23.02.2020) and after a heavy breakfast, I set off to my destination which is around 35 mins by bus from my home.

This is place is quite near by to Sion and Kurla stations on the central line. If you are planning to take a train, then get off at either of these stations and take a rickshaw or a cab to Anik Depot. Buses are also available directly to the depot. You can find detailed bus routes from your area to any part of the city on their website. I took bus no 27 from Bhandup and got down at Everad Nagar in Sion. From here, I took a cab to the Depot.

A word of Caution

Not many people including the cab and the rickshaw drivers are aware of the location of the Anik Depot. My cabbie took me for a ride to almost all part of Sion and Wadala before a friendly officer from the Mumbai Traffic Police put us back on the right track. What should have been a 10 mins ride took an hour and cost me Rs 150/-. The funniest part was that when I was returning after the visit, I realised that the actual location of the depot was just 15 mins walk from Everad Nagar Bus stop on the Eastern Express Highway.

If the word “Anik Depot” does not ring a bell with your cabbie, then ask him to take you to the Pratiksha Nagar Depot which is more famous. Both these depot share space with each other.

Again, not many people (including the workers at the Depot) are aware of the museum. If you land on on the Pratiksha Nagar side of the Depot, ask them for Anik Depot. Once you spot the entrance to Anik Depot, ask the security guard at the entrance, who will guide you to the exact location.

Transport Museum @ Anik Depot Wadala East

After an adventure (or a misadventure) with the cab ride, I was dropped at the entrance to the Anik Depot. A quick registration at the security gate and I was in.

The museum is on the third floor of the depot. Once you enter, meet Mr Sanjay Chaulkar, who is the supervisor of the museum and will guide you through the different displays inside the museum. The museum is open on all days except public holidays. It would be better if you would call in advance and confirm the timings.

The museum was founded by P D Paranjape, the BEST officer who religiously collected bus tickets, engines, ticket-issuing machines from depots across the city. The museum was set up in 1984 at BEST’s Kurla depot and was shifted to Anik depot in 1993. The museum traces the evolution of BEST. It houses mini models of charming old BEST buses and ancient trams. Hand-written placards in Marathi and photographs are on display for the public. Entry to the museum is free

Inside the Museum

The museum chronicles the history of the BEST’s 144 years of glorious past. There are several exhibits ranging from the street lights (remember BEST is also the electricity supplier) to the various miniature models of buses and their history). Several photographs, paper cuttings, the old paper tickets, tram tickets etc adorn the walls. There is a description of these below the cuttings. There are live models of the tram and the first motor bus that ran in Mumbai in 1926.

The entire place takes you back to the good old days. People born in the 70’s and 80’s can relate to most of these exhibits. Some glimpses from inside the museum.

Streetlights and Meters

Various officials of the BEST so far

Some miniature models of the horse drawn trams and the electricity one.

The first conductor of Bombay Tramway Company

The first tram conductor Mr Fakir Mehmood Baba joined on 10 November 1885 and became the conductor and was later the conductor of the first motor bus that ran on 15 July 1926. The first motor bus ran between Crawford Market and Afghan Church. The bus started from Afghan Church at 6.15 am.

Logos of the various firms which manufactured buses for BEST or from which the earlier buses were imported along with the year.

Logos of firms whose buses were used along with the year they were used.

Horse Drawn Trams – 1874 to 1909.

Different trams of BEST transport corporation from 1927 to 1964.

First Motor Bus – 1926

First motor buses of BEST
From horse drawn trams to motor operated buses, BEST gradually changed according to times. The first motor bus of BEST made its appearance in 1926. On 15 July 1926, first motor bus ran from Afghan Church in Colaba to Crawford Market. Made by Thronicroft Company, England, this bus was imported at a princely sum of Rs 12000/-. Compared to the trams, the tickets were priced at 2 – 6 aanas, making it a costly mode of travel. Due to this, the bus initially received poor response from the customers. The single deck bus had many facilities like half tickets for children, return tickets, transfer tickets and also a newspaper stand. This bus could accommodate 3 standing passengers and 24 sitting passengers. This bus retired from service in 1935.

Buses that ran in the city between 1926 to 1960.

Electric Powered Trolley Buses – 1926 to 1961.

Single Decker Royal Tiger Trolley Buses – Two buses connected like a train compartment.

BEST Single Decker Royal Tiger Trolley Buses
In order to beat the rising fuel costs and population of the city BEST introduced these trolley buses. Two buses were joined to each other via a coupling (as in railway compartments). The second bus on the rear had no engines. Since these buses did not a common pathway connecting each other, these buses had two different entries and there were two conductors taking care of the distribution of tickets. These buses soon became unpopular because of the efforts that it took to drive them through the city. During this period, Bombay was a growing metropolis with ever increasing vehicle count. Driving these buses through traffic required experts. Reversing was equally difficult. Soon these were discontinued.

Semi articulated double decker trolley bus – 1967 to 1986

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