Mumbai: A flash strike called by drivers and conductors of the city’s largest bus service — the BEST bus service — left commuters in Mumbai stranded in the morning and rushing for the already crowded trains during evening peak hours.

Most commuters who spent an unusually long time waiting to catch a bus in the morning were caught by surprise when they learnt of the strike. Whilst most arrived late at their work places the worst hit were school children appearing for annual exams, who had to frantically look for autorickshaws, taxis or friends with vehicles to help them reach school on time.

With no sign of workers returning to duty despite a meeting on Tuesday morning, the strike continued through the day even as autorickshaws and taxis made the best of this windfall as people had no choice but to use the more expensive mode of transport.

What caused the strike was introduction of the new duty computerized scheduling system of longer hours which according to the BEST management is reasonable and “is part of our plan to reduce losses and simultaneously offer more frequency and better services to our passengers,” said Manoj Varade, deputy public relations officer of BEST to Gulf News. “The duty hours are less than 6-10 hours and all are not on a 12-hour schedule,” he said.

“In fact, union workers refused to attend a discussion on this matter at 11 am and now the court has asked them to return to duty,” he said. “No one has gone through the duty schedule properly and rumours are being spread,” he added. The Bombay High Court has called the BEST bus strike illegal and asked workers to join immediately this evening.

Departmental action is likely if workers do not report for duty, warned the management.

Sharad Rao, BEST workers union leader, who held a press conference this afternoon, said that the strike will continue and that even other unions, including those in the civic body and the autorickshaw union, may back the agitation on Wednesday.

Rao alleged that the BEST general manager had taken advantage of the poll code of conduct to implement the new scheme without any political interference. Moreover, he denied that he had called the strike and that it was a result of workers being harassed by their superiors at 25 bus depots since March 29 when the court gave the go ahead to implement the new duty schedule. “When one of the workers was threatened that he may lose his new job if he did not sign the new schedule card, he suffered a heart attack and some have gone under trauma,” said Rao. This is what prompted the workers to go on strike.

The BEST runs a fleet of 4200 buses carrying four million passengers in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Thane and Mira Road daily. It has around 22,000 drivers who ply more than 500 routes daily.