Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Here comes the B9R

More than 5 months after the 'new-age-monster' was official launched in India, the Volvo B9R (Marketed as Volvo 9400 6x2) makes its appearance in the Kerala market now. The Volvo B9R is longer than the Volvo B7R at 13.7 meters in length (the B7R is only 12 meters long), powerful than any other bus in India (with a 9-litre, 340hp rear mount engine) and perhaps the most expensive on the road too (at Eight-five lakh rupees). 

One reason that I can think for the B9R have such a delayed debut (considering the fact that the Bangalore-Ernakulam route was one where the B7R was initially introduced) is narrow roads, and sharp curves in the towns of Kerala. The B9R is now finally in Kerala! 

Two operators are operating these mega monsters to God's Own Country, from the Garden City. One bus is operated to Trivandrum and the other to Alappuzha. One more service is to be launched to Trivandrum very soon.

The current services are:

1. Sofiya Lines (Bangalore agent: Friends Travels) to Trivandrum. These buses depart from Madivala every evening at 1830 hours. The end-to-end fare is Rs. 1050.


This is the bus operated by Sofiya Lines on the Bangalore-Trivandrum route

2. Kallada Travels (Suresh Kallada Group) operates B9R buses to Alappuzha. The bus starts from Kalasipalayam at 2030 (Madivala at 2115). The end-to-end fare is Rs. 850. 

Kallada Travels (Suresh Kallada) has announced new services to Thiruvananthapuram. The date of introduction of these services are unknown!

Hope to have a B9R very soon :) 

[Others who have experienced a B9R ride, please do share your experience]

Monday, March 30, 2009

Where are the Volvos?

When the first Volvo B7RLE rolled on to the streets of Bangalore in January 2006, the city - and the local transport provider, Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation - took pride in being the premiers in providing such advanced modes of transportation. Today, the city leads in the number of Volvo buses being used for urban transportation, with over 340 Volvo buses on the roads.

While this passenger friendly move of BMTC has to be appreciated, the corporation falls flat when it comes to complete - and proper - implementation. Most of these volvo buses begin their first trips from the city not before 0700~0800, and invariably finish their last trips by 1800~2000. And, to add salt to the injury, the buses run opposite to the direction of passenger density on many routes. 

Take for example the case of Route number 365. About 11 buses are operated on this route (and its sub-routes 365B and 365J). This route originates at Kempegowda Bus Station and terminates at Bannerghatta National Park (Gottigere in case of 365B, and Jigani in case of 365J). The main crowd density is from Corporation Circle/Shanti Nagar Bus Station to BTM Check Post/Bilekahalli/Arakere/Hulimavu. The first bus on this route runs from Jigani to KBS (on 365J). This bus is infamous for its pathetic punctuality - the bus could land up upto 15 minutes late during its very first trip. 

The service on this route is even pathetic during evening hours. One bus crosses Shanti Nagar Bus Station (henceforth referred to as SNBS) between 1755~1810. If one misses this bus, the next one comes only at 1905~1915. And the one after that is at 1930 and the last one somewhere around 1945~2000. The last two buses are unreliable, and on many occasions they never turn up.  The frequency of other buses heading towards Bannerghatta Road, from SNBS during evening hours is even more pathetic.

Take for example, the case today. I was at the bus station right from 1810 till this particular volvo came (today at 1915). The bus today was KA01-FA-1744 of Depot 13 (Kathriguppe). During the 65 minutes I remained at the bus station, just two Suvarnas (on 365J), one Parisara Vahini (on 365D) and one Ordinary (on 369D) went through the bus station heading towards Bannerghatta Road - that is just 4 buses in a span of about 65 minutes! 

The passenger density towards Bannerghatta Road is predominantly the working class - Office goers and daily wage workers - and their main mode of transport is BMTC buses. Running just 4 buses in a span of 65 minutes at the peak of evening traffic is absolutely unacceptable. Even more horrible is the fact that there were NO buses towards Bannerghatta Road between 1840 and 1915. Two buses came together at 1915 - one empty bus from the Depot (this one worked 366E to Jigani) and one Volvo towards Bannerghatta (the one mentioned earlier in this post). The Volvo bus had atleast 120 passengers in it (Against its official capacity of only 70 passengers). There was absolutely no space to move around, and the conductor immediately asked the driver not to open the door for more passengers - I could understand his helplessness. The door couldn't close if all passengers were in, and there was little space for more pax to join us.

What was the condition inside the bus, could well be imagined:



During my 65 minute wait for this bus at the bus station, three Volvos headed off to Narayana Hrudalaya (Route #356N), two to Electronic City (Route #356C), one to HSR Layout (Returning to depot), and two working "Blue" line service. 

This was not my first experience waiting this long for a bus - the evening peak hour service leaves a lot to be desired. Its high time the BMTC pulls up its socks and get into serious business. 90 percent of BMTC buses are timed to the convenience of its operating staff - with buses coming out of the depot only by 0700~0800, and returning back to the depot by 1700~1900. This is absolutely unacceptable - these buses are intended for passengers to use them for their daily commute. It is no wonder that the number of cars on Bangalore's roads are raising by the day, and the number of passenger shunning these inefficient buses are also increasing by the day.

Not an isolated case: The number of Volvos reduce exponentially on Sundays and other Holidays. The BMTC on one hand announced concession fares for passengers on holidays, and on the other hand it reduced the number of services! What kind of logic is this? I feel it is unfair to take for granted that the number of passengers on sundays are less - with MNCs and BPOs working on all the seven days of the week, there are bound to be as much passengers on Sundays as other days. The number of people going out for some shopping or some sightseeing is very high on Sundays - these population should be incentivised to travel by bus, rather than forcing them to pull out their own vehicles. When is the BMTC waking up?

I am a fan of public transport, please don't force me to turn to the other side :(

Friday, March 27, 2009

HoHo goes Ho Ho....!!!!

The HoHo (Hop On-Hop Off) service launched by the BMTC with huge fanfare has finally been redrawn! The initial routes made sure that all important points were skipped, and had ensured that passengers had to depend on other buses for their journeys around the CBD, while these fuel-guzzling monsters ran across without any passengers.

Six Volvo buses were used on these service (branded as Kendra Saarige) and almost all the trip went empty. One couldn't ever see more than a couple of passengers in these buses at any point of time. However, sometime early last week, these services were completely revamped. 

Now these buses touch all the three major transit points - KBS (Majestic), Shantinagar and Shivajinagar.



The revised routes are as under:

Orange Line: Kempegowda Bus Station (KBS/Majestic) - Corporation Circle - Lalbagh Main Gate - Shanti Nagar Bus Station - Richmond Circle - Mayo Hall - Trinity Circle - Begum Mahal Junction - Commercial Street - Cauvery Emporium - Anil Kumble Circle - Shivaji Nagar Bus Station - Vidhana Soudha - KR Circle - State Bank of Mysore - KBS

Blue Line: Kempegowda Bus Station (KBS/Majestic) - KR Circle - Vidhana Soudha - Indian Express Junction - Mahatma Gandhi Park/Chinnaswamy Stadium - Cauvery Emporium - Commercial Street - Manipal Centre - Trinity Circle - Police Housing Corporation - Vellara Junction - Richmond Circle - Shantinagar Bus Station - Lalbagh Main Gate - Minerva Circle - Corporation Circle - KBS

The revised routes follow a new path altogether, as compared to what these buses used to take earlier. The fare remains the same - Rs. 10 (flat charge). Currently four buses each do the circuit on either routes - reliable information point that the number of buses are to go up to 8 on each route. However, public awareness about these services are poor. The BMTC website is yet to be updated.

Given the fact that these buses connect places which were hitherto not connected directly, I am sure these buses would now succeed. Just a little bit more of publicity should do the trick!

An appeal to all: Leave your cars at home, and take a bus when you are around the city centre...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Back in town...

The 3895 kilometre, Central Indian adventure concluded yesterday. While the first day of the trip had a few updates on the blog, the other days couldn't be updated due to certain connectivity issues over my GPRS connection. The connection refused to work after I crossed over into Maharashtra, and the stale mate continued all the way till I was back in town.

The trip was nice and the weather was pleasant. It drizzled slightly through Saturday, and this helped the weather remain cool. The MG ride was amazing, and the puny locos confounded us to no end. The train did comfortable 70-75 kmph, and the ride was really smooth - unlike my previous experience on the Palakkad-Kollengode section.

The Rajdhani journey (from Bangalore to Nagpur) is one forgettable journey, barring the fact that it was my first WAP7 ride. The coach was maintained poorly, the airconditioners refused to work most of the time, the sways were bad and the overall cleanliness did not live up to the aura associated with a Rajdhani Express. However, the speed was good and we stuck more or less to the timetable.

The Garib Rath journey from Nagpur to Akola was far better than the Rajdhani. The meal service on the train was far better and cleaner than the Rajdhani. The coach was new, and was well kept. This train too ran on time, and we were before time at most places. We had the honour of meeting IRFCAn Zubin Dotivala at Badnera. Coincidentally, it was his birthday. The stay at Akola was nice.

The rest of the journey is worth a seperate post of its own.... a more detailed post with more snippets, some photographs, etc are on its way.....

Friday, March 13, 2009

Mahoo... in Nagpur

Here we are finally at Nagpur. WAP7 30239 of Lallaguda did a real nice job of bringing us here. We made it to Nagpur by 1533. Had some light loco spotting here, and of course the Narrow Guage service to Chhindwara. The train had 9 coaches, and looked cool. Post our arrival here, about 5 trains arrived or departed. Pretty high traffic, and very high crowd too....

More updates coming as the journey progresses :)

Mahooo... On...

We are finally in Secundrabad. The loco changed, and 18897R gave charge to WAP7 30239 of Lallaguda. My first ever sighting of a 3 phase loco! Hoping for a blast now.. More updates on the way.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The journey has begun!

The journey has finally begun! 18897R of Kazipet is doing the honors! We left slightly late now. By the way, the dinner has been served.. Yummm! So let me dig into it. Meet you tomorrow.

Mahoooooo.......

The longest railfanning journey in my life is all set to begin. The 3895 kilometre trip will be done 5 days - with about 66 hours of travel. This is the route map of what we are upto:



The following is our journey plan: 

March 12, 2009
-------
2429 Rajdhani Express (3A) = 1371 km
Bangalore (Dep): 20:20
Nagpur (Arr): 15:40

March 13, 2009
-------
2114 Pune Garib Rath (3A) = 253 km
Nagpur (Dep): 18:35
Akola (Arr): 22:25

March 14, 2009
-------
458B Akola Ratlam Fast Passenger (SL) = 313 km
Akola (Dep): 08:00
Indore (Arr): 17:55

9310 Indore Gandhinagar Shanti Exp = 438 km
Indore (Dep): 22:05
Vadodara (Arr): 06:25

March 15, 2009
-------
6613 Rajkot Coimbatore Exp = 1520 km
Rajkot (Dep): 12:15
Krishnarajapuram (Arr): 16:20

About the journey: The desire to travel on the long-winding Metre Gauge section get the much needed spark at the recently concluded IRFCA Convention. A marvellous video presentation of the entire section was shown, igniting each mind to make a trip. The final spark, which lit up the lamp, was a mail proposing the trip from the Mumbai gang. The spark quickly swept through us, and the trip was finalised in less than 5 days. The tickets were booked, and the journey is being awaited by all of us! 

By the time you read this post, I would already be on my way to Bangalore City Junction for the marvellous journey... stay tuned at this place for live updates on the trip.....

Friday, March 06, 2009

Of Kendra Sariges and Big10s....

The ways of BMTC never fails to amaze me. They come up with very innovative idea, but fail miserably when it comes to implementation. On recomendations the Agenda for Bengaluru Infrastructure Development (ABIDe), the BMTC introduced a couple of new branded services. These services are called Kendra Sarige and Big10.

Kendra Sarige (KS) is a ring-route that runs along the periphery of the city's central business district. Although most of the city's workforce are now employed by the IT companies in Electronic City or at ITPL, this particular area - which constitute the CBD - is strategically and commercially important. The motive behind the idea was to reduce vehicular population, and thereby reduce pollution. KS is operated using Volvo buses. These buses charge a flat fare of Rs. 10 and one can travel between any two points.

The major points covered by the KS service are: Richmond Circle, Brigade Road, Mayo Hall, Trinity Circle, Residency Road, Cubbon Road, Chinnaswamy Stadium and Anil Kumble Circle (the locations are not in order). One service runs in clock-wise direction, while another goes in the anti-clockwise direction. There are three buses each in each direction, and run at an approximate frequency of 20 minutes. The entire run of 9 kilometres consume close to 30 minutes. 

The clockwise service is called "Blue Line":


These services begin from Hudson Circle, and go via Kasturba Road, Musuem, Cubbon Road, Trinity Circle, Hosmat Hospital and Richmond Circle. 

The anticlockwise service is called "Orange Line":


These services originate from Richmond Circle, and go via Mayo Hall, Ulsoor Road, Commercial Street, Chinnaswamy Stadium and Mallya Hospital. 

The first bus in both cases leave at 0745, and the last bus at 2150. As said early, the fare charged is Rs. 10. However, since these buses are fed with one stop as their last stop, and you journey happens to be traveling through this stop, then you might have to pay twice the fare. 

Big10 are dedicated shuttle services run along ten major roads identified for this purpose. These services terminate at a point where it could connect to Kendra Sarige. The roads identified for Big10 are: HAL Airport Road, Sarjapur Road, Hosur Road, Bannerghatta Road, Kanakapura Road, Mysore Road, Magadi Road, Tumkur Road, Bellary Road and Old Madras Road. 


As of today, these services have begun operating on HAL Airport Road (Route: Police Housing Corporation to Kadugodi), Hosur Road (St Patricks Church to Electronic City) and Bannerghatta Road (St Patricks Church to Bannerghatta/Jigani). Services are run with a frequency of 10-15 minutes, and supervisors are appointed at their terminuses. These buses charge Rs 5, 10 or 15 according to the distance traveled. 

Daily Passes, and Monthly Passes worth Rs 600 or above are vaild on these buses. Low awareness are working against the success of these beautiful services.

Big10 services are expected to commence very soon on Mysore Road.

Some flaws in the Service: The end points in most cases are not determined properly. The KS services skip most important and traffic dense points in the city. The Big10 services do not properly integrate to KS services, and often results in passengers being left in the middle of nowhere. However, these are, hopefully, only the initial glitches. The appropriate departments should modify these routes (especially KS) to include major transit points too.

Monday, March 02, 2009

The return journey from Thrissur to Bangalore

For some obscure reason, the number of buses running between Kodungallur and Thrissur. This meant that I had to leave a pretty long buffer time for my connection. My bus back to Bangalore was to depart from Thrissur at 2000. I left home at 1800, and took a bus to Kodungallur. From there took a Limited Stop bus heading to Thrissur. The bus left at 1820. The driver stepped the gas pedal pretty hard, and we were flying through the way. 

Run through most of the way was pleasant, except for a bad traffic block as we neared Thrissur. A temple festival was underway, and people had jammed the roads. It took quite some time to cover a short 1.5km stretch. The bus dropped me near the KSRTC bus station - Chettiyangadi - bus stop at 1940. I tugged my baggage and walked towards the bus station. On the way, got some local snacks and packed them into my bag. 

I reached the bus stop at 1945. I noticed that my bus was already at the platform, and the engine was on. I got a bottle of cold drink and got into my bus. One huge disadvantage of a Globus is that it is badly underlit. I had a tough time locating my seat. I settled on the seat. On the adjacent platform, a Super Deluxe to Bangalore (from Kottarakkara) was preparing to depart. That bus left soon later.

That vacancy was filled by a Karnataka SRTC Rajahamsa, heading to Bangalore. My bus started backing from the platform at 2003 - late by about 3 minutes. One Superdeluxe (heading to Bangalore, via Gudalur) was preparing to take up the spot, while the next AC bus was being prepared for the run. 

My bus was KL15-6408 (RR210) of Thrissur Depot. The bus pulled out of the bus station, and the driver picked speed like crazy. The conductor came around and gave tickets to a couple of passengers who hadn't reserved earlier. Tickets of reserved passengers were checked while boarding itself. All the 45 seats in the bus were taken and we were running a load factor of 100% right from the starting point! We overtook the Kottarakara-Bangalore Super Deluxe at Pattikad (just after Thrissur Bye-pass). The driver kept a real good pace. On the way, he also overtook the Kottayam-Bangalore AC Bus. With that overtake, my bus was now the "first" AC bus heading to Bangalore. 

The bus did not enter Palakkad town and we just zipped through the Bye-pass at 2122. The driver picked up more speed after the bye-pass. I had a short nap. I woke up as the bus hit a pothole at the TN border. The ride on the first few kilometres of road after Walayar (Tamil Nadu Border) was patchy. There was slight traffic congestion near check-posts. But being a government vehicle, we could run through. The driver picked up speed once again afterwards, and he kept going at high speeds. We took the Coimbatore bye-pass too. 

The entire run through the bye-pass took 25 minutes, and we joined the crowd from Coimbatore. The road got slightly congested now. I took another short nap. I woke up as we approached Avinashi. We stopped for a break just after Avinashi. The place was "Perumanallur". The bus was parked at a fuel station, and there was a small tea stall-cum-bakery nearby. Almost every one in the bus got down to stretch their legs and a short refreshment at the bakery.


My bus, KL15-6408, RR210, at Avinashi - working 2000 TSR-BGLR AC

The break was from 2308, to 2326. While we were waiting, two more KSRTC Super Deluxes came around - they were the Thiruvalla-Bangalore and the Palakkad-Bangalore services. Those buses went ahead of us, but my driver did not spare them! He did another stalwart performance, and we were zipping through Erode. I had a nap after Erode, and woke up as the bus was running through Omalur. We had already entered NH7 (To Bangalore) by now. 

I started timing the run now. He was comfortably doing a kilometre every minute. He kept overtaking buses, and never gave a chance for anyone to come even close to him! We crossed into Karnataka at 0400. Made a brief halt at Electronic city to drop a couple of passengers. After this, my bus raced with the Ernakulam-Bangalore Superfast, beating him hands down. We made another brief halt to drop a passenger near Kudlu Gate. Finally he dropped me at Bommanahallu at 0429 - He did the entire run from Thrissur to Bangalore in just Eight hours and 26 minutes! A really impressive show, considering the fact that Volvos of Karnataka SRTC too take around the same running time.

Some points about the bus:

The first bus that I took (in May 2008) was a disappointment. That bus was KL15-6411 (RR213) of Thrissur Depot. The bus had a malfunctioning AC, poor pickup and a very noisy ride. The second journey was by KL15-6412 (RR214), again of Thrissur Depot. This bus was pretty well maintained. The AC was powerful and kept cool through the trip. The ride was rough and vibration levels were too high. The last bus - KL15-6408 (RR210) - took me by surprise. The bus did 100kmph easily, without much vibrations. The AC was too powerful. The ride was rough - the suspension seems to have gone for a toss. Markings on the bus claimed that the tyres at Nitrogen, and not air. 

The braking was really confidence inspiring - the Voith Retarders did a really nice job. The ride was overall good. The bus however lacks punch to tide over gradients. This is one department that needs attention - otherwise an average package given the cost of the bus. 

Back in the Garden City...

Am back in the garden city after the quick week-end rush to my home town. Reached home at around 0445 this morning... more details, and a detailed report very soon...

Till that happens, enjoy these little glimpses of the big festival happening at my hometown (unfortunately I could attend only a day's event out of the three days of extravaganza).





So, stay tuned for more images from the festival, and of course the trip report of the return journey...