Friday, November 27, 2009

On NMMT's new Volvo

Prelude: This incident being narrated happened on August 07, 2009. I was on a very urgent - but satisfactory - visit to Mumbai. The day surprised me to the core, given the fact that I reached Mumbai just that morning, and was all set to return home at evening, after finishing truck loads of work. I just finished my work at Mumbai University around 1600, when this idea to try out NMMT's new Volvo struck me. I headed straight from Kalina to Santacruz in a supercrowded BEST bus. After reaching Santacruz station, I pushed myself into a WR Suburban Train, to Bandra.

Heading out of the station, and finding where my bus would depart from was not easy. Unaware of the tiff between BEST and NMMT, I headed straight to the BEST bus station. A BEST Traffic Inspector posted at the bus station coerced me to use a non-AC BEST bus instead. Determined not to fall to his encouragement, I decided to check out with a couple of road-side vendors. The vendors said that the NMMT bus would be parked near the railway FOB. I headed to the spot, and was joyed seeing an NMMT supervisor standing.

There were lots of passengers standing around the area - I wasn't sure if they were for the bus, or just waiting for someone else. There was no sign of the bus anywhere - just went and casually enquired with the supervisor if a bus was expected soon - he replied in affirmative. Not much after I had this talk, a red-coloured monster appeared at a distance. The bus was pretty crowded - the driver briskly moved the whale through a sea of auto-rickshaws, and parked the bus on the side of the road, close to the footpath. I admired the way the new driver handled the bus at a tight parking.

The bus that took me on the first NMMT Volvo experience.

The bus was MH-43-H-5118. The crowd inside was admirable - the bus emptied in under a minute, and filled in another minute. I walked around clicking pics of the bus - with a traffic constable looking at me with a similing face. The bus crew weren't able to hide their amazement at seeing someone photograph their beast. After mandatory photographs, I decided to head inside. Sad! All seats were taken!

I enquired if the next bus would turn up soon - the reply came "40 minutes later". Forty minutes was too long a time, and my return train would start at 2230 - I need to reach Vashi fast, and carry my baggage to the station. I decided to take a chance - and got into the bus. I was all prepared to travel standing for the next hour to Vashi - after all, its a Volvo! But wait - did I see an empty seat at the middle? Yes! There was one empty seat - the one perpendicular to the direction of movement. I grabbed it in no time. The bus started from Bandra at around 1730.

There were quite some standees inside when we started. The driver stopped outside the BEST bus station, and picked more passengers - much to the anger of the BEST inspector posted there. The driver slowly glided through the badly crowded roads, controlling the beast well. The AC wasn't appearing very powerful - but that was because the vent right above my head was closed. It was too high, and I had no option but to let it be. The bus was pretty crowded by now - atleast 20 standees. The conductor came around selling tickets - he did have an electronic ticket vending machine, but not the smart uniforms that the conductors in Bangalore or Chennai wear. This guy was clad in the drab Khakhi uniform.

The ticket to Vashi set me poorer by Rs. 28 - a price worth it. The driver appeared desperate to get an empty stretch, to let the beast loose. We were crawling through heavy traffic around Sion in about 20 minutes from start of the journey. The music system was playing out a popular radio station, dishing out latest chartbusters. Quite a lot of passengers alighted at Sion and Chembur - signifying the need for an AC intra-city travel in more routes in Mumbai. The NMMT Volvo just got its route and timing right. The bus never got empty through the journey, and we had standing passengers all the way.

Another look at the bus, as it leaves Vashi Bus Station...

The bus entered the more-or-less empty stretch after Anushakti Nagar very soon. The driver let the beast loose, and we were doing no less than 80-90 kmph in most stretches. We slowed down as we reached Vashi. The bus dropped me at Vashi, exactly at 1829 - exactly 59 minutes after we set off from Bandra. The travel time was absolutely amazing, given the fact that the journey was right at the peak hour. The number of passengers inside the bus was amazing - truly amazing for a new service.

Recent newspaper reports suggest that the service is indeed a hit, so good that it forced BEST to start its own version - albeit costlier - using their new King Longs. NMMT operates 11 Volvos on this route alone - giving a clue of the popularity of this route. These buses, on route 105, takes 80-90 minutes to the cover the 34 km distance from Bandra Railway Station (West) to CBD Belapur, via Sion, Mankhurd and Vashi. The end-to-end fare is Rs. 45.

Such services are the only way out for cities with heavy vehicular traffic like Mumbai. Get more of these buses, and incentivise car owners to leave their fuel guzzlers at home. Save Mother Earth, start using public transport.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

KSRTC's fleet number: Demystified

Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) is perhaps the only transport corporation in India to have a very unique system of fleet numbering. Not just fleet number, the corporation has its own RTO mark as well. All KSRTC buses are registered with the mark KL-15 - which is exclusive for KSRTC buses. In Tamil Nadu, the buses are registered at the district headquarters, with the series "TN-XX-N-nnnn". In Karnataka, its KA-xx-F-nnnn, its AP-xx-Z-nnnn in Andhra Pradesh, GA-yy-X-nnnn in Goa, and so on.

Very little state corporations assign an internal number to their buses. Tamil Nadu's SETC has a numbering system, while Mumbai's BEST also has a system. However, the most unique is perhaps of Kerala SRTC. The image below shows a sample of KSRTC's numbering system:

The number in the image above reads "RRC411". This number is divided into three parts as show below:
RR C 411

In the breakup above, RR is a "series", "C" indicates the workshop which built this bus, and "411" is the serial number. That is, this is 441st bus in RR series.

How did KSRTC derive "RR" series: To get series, KSRTC uses the alphabets in the word "TRANSPORT". Initial buses were numbered "T nnn", then "R nnn", and so on till "P nnn". After "P", they started "TR". This went on till "TP". After TP came, RT, then RR. The current series is "RA".

The workshops that build bodies for KSRTC are:
C - Central Workshop, Pappanamcode, Thiruvananthapuram
M - Regional Workshop, Mavelikkara
A - Regional Workshop, Aluva
E - Regional Workshop, Edappal
K - Regional Workshop, Kozhikode

KSRTC numbers its buses between 001 and 999 in each series. Currently, one can see buses in the TN, TS, TP, RT, RR and RA series on the road. Buses build by companies other than KSRTC would not have the third alphabet in the numbering system. For example, the volvos currently owned by KSRTC are RA100, RA101 and RA102.

The series used till date are: T, R, A, N, S, P, TR, TA, TN, TS, TP, RT, RR, RA and RN. In addition, a TE series existed for a short time (these were buses built by Regional Workshop, Edappal). Their depot vehicles are numbered in "D" series, while the Oil Tankers are numbered in "TT" series. After the 999th bus in each series, the 1000th bus is numbered as such - in case of RR series, the last bus is numbered 15000 - this bus marks the 15000th bus for KSRTC.
The bus in this image is the 13000th bus owned by KSRTC. This bus was between the RT and RR series.
Some examples: RAM540 - this is the 540th bus in the RA series of KSRTC, with the body built by Regional Workshop, Mavelikkara. Similarly, RAA427 - this is the 427th bus of RA series, built by Regional Workshop, Aluva.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Another let down by KSRTC...

KSRTC is often lauded for its reliable service - even during days of strikes and hartals. Today was one such day - but the corporation proved me wrong. A local political outfit declared a hartal in Kodungallur today - the reason was the death of their leader. The leader reportedly died at some protest, and outfit wants everyone to mourn the death of an unknown person. The incident happened on Saturday, and the mourning was scheduled for Monday.

I was determined to not sit at home mourning someone's death who is irrelevant to the place. I started from home at 0615 today, much earlier than my normal 0650 timing. There is one bus from my place to my college at 0630. I was determined not to leave it. This bus being run by KSRTC - and this made me confident of its arrival. The clock ticked past 0635, and there was no sign of this bus appearing. Finally, I called off my wait at 0640 and got into a private bus that arrived.

This bus was operated by one of the most established operators in the region - MS Menon Transports. They operate some 7-8 buses on this route, and I had seen as many as 5 of their buses during by 25 minutes of wait at the bus stop. The driver was cautious for most of the time, and he checked with each oncoming bus about the scenario at Kodungallur. Although he received one negative reply, the driver decided to go ahead. The bus dropped me at Kodungallur, and I began my next wait.

At the end of about 5 minutes, there was no sign of a KSRTC bus. The period between 0630 and 0715 sees a bus to Ernakulam, almost every 3-5 minutes. I checked up with a person waiting at the bus stop - he said no KSRTC buses came in the past 15 minutes. Just then a private bus heading to Ernakulam came at the bus stop. The bus was crowded to the core, but had no choice but get in. I took a ticket to Moothakunnam, the place where Kodungallur taluk ends.

I was aghast at seeing KSRTC buses lined up at this place - all KSRTC buses were avoiding Kodungallur on the day. The reliability image of KSRTC goes there to the thrash can. The same story repeated at evening. While Private buses were operating to Kodungallur town, KSRTC decided to support the hartal and skip the town. I was seriously disappointed by the way KSRTC reacted on the particular day - instead of supporting the traveling public, they decided to support the hartal, which was nothing but an unwarranted disturbance to normal life.

Private buses are always slammed for being unreliable - since they usually keep away from towns afflicted by the hartal fever. This was one helluva eye-opener for me. The unreliable turned reliable. Hope KSRTC gets its act together, and gets to the habit of not stopping services at the behest of mischief mongers.