The two-decked fantasy...

People looked in awe as this gleaming tall structure crawled through the crowded highway stretch between Vyttila and Kalamassery (both in Kochi, Kerala). Crew of private buses that over took this structure smiled, and mocked at the driver. Some people hesistated to even board the bus, when we screeched into bus stops. The bus stopped when ever somebody waved his hand - but very little people did so! At just Rs. 5.50, I made a 50 minute journey of fantasy!

Still wondering what am I talking about? The Kerala Road Transport Corporation launched a brand new Ashok Leyland Titan Double Decker bus in Kochi city. The bus was a matter of prestige for the incumbent Transport Minister, and he ensured that he got one bus for his constituency. The corporation purchased two of these Rs. 36 lakh monsters, one each for Kochi and Trivandrum. The buses were built by Antony Garage, Mumbai. The bus for Kochi was flagged off during the inauguration of Phase-I of Vyttila Mobility Hub - and was a surprise for the people who assembled at the venue.

The bus remained in the garage for another week, while the authorities hunted for a route where they could run this monster. Finally, they zeroed in on 'Thoppumpady - Angamaly' route. The bus was based at Angamaly - for the simple reason that the bus cannot enter Ernakulam or Aluva depots. Ernakulam was ruled out due to the numerous criss-crossing wires and low lying trees, while Aluva was ruled out since the garage has a "fort" like entrance, which is just about adequate for normal buses. The funniest part here is that Angamaly depot now functions out of a small corner inside Aluva garage - the maintenance of the double decker has already gone into a tizzy - more on this later...

One fine hot Saturday afternoon, I was battling myself from the hot sun, sitting at a dusty bus stop along the "Ernakulam Bypass", at Vyttila. It was damn hot and dusty.. the seats in the bus stop were hot enough to use them as hot plates for cooking. The clock was ticking past 15:15. The double decker would have started from Thoppumpady now - I was just hoping that the bus was running on that day. In the meantime, a Volvo glided in to the stop - heading to the airport. Two passengers joined in here, almost all seats were taken! The old routes are now doing really well.

15:30... still hot and dusty. No sign of the double decker, any where in sight. I though, 10 more minutes... if it doesn't turn up, I am on my way back. Another Volvo glided in to the stop now... this one was also crowded. No standees though.

15:33... a tall bus enters the overbridge (Thycoodam Underpass), I can see at a distance. I jumped up in excitement.

15:35.. the bus rolls into the stop. I merrily jump into the bus. Another passenger joins me. I set foot on the staircase to go to the upper deck, when the conductor interrupts me. He said.. "take a ticket and go up".. no worries. I replied.. "One Kalamassery" and gave a Rs. 10 note. He printed a ticket, and asked for change. The fare was just Rs. 5.50. I gave him change, got the ticket and walked up. The front seat on the upper deck was empty... i literally grabbed on. But, Ouch! It was hot!

15:40... We are still standing at Vyttila signal.. just turned green, and the bus crawled forward. We stopped at the main bus stop for Vyttila - quite a lot of youngsters got in.. and all of them came to the upper deck. The bus stopped here for over 5 minutes.. while a lot of other buses overtook us. Passengers and crew in these buses were "looking up" to our bus.. some were looking with awe, while some others gave out a sarcastic smile.

15:47... we crawl out of Vyttila bus stop. I am using the word crawl every time, since the bus actually runs only at around 35kmph, and sitting on the top feels like the bus is crawling at single digit speeds. The sun was too harsh, and it was getting hot up there. The crawl continued.. we stopped at every single bus stop, and not more than a person or two got in at each place.

15:59... we reach Edappally bypass junction. The bus literally emptied out. The upper deck now had only around 3 passengers (including me) now. I moved seats and checked comfort levels at different places in the upper deck.

16:08.. we are approaching Kalamassery. I decide to head to the lower deck. I took a seat neat the conductor, and struck some conversation with him. The bus, according to him, is running near empty on almost all trips. The timings and route is poor it seems. The collection is very bad - hope some sense prevails on KSRTC soon, and the route is revised. The conductor revealed some interesting stuff about how the bus is parked and maintained - the bus is parked inside Angamaly shopping complex (it seems, it is the only place where this bus can be parked currently). Diesel is taken in cans from Aluva, and poured into the fuel tank!

16:13.. we roll past Kalamassery Premier junction, and screech to a complete halt. The bus is parked on the road side, and the engine is shut. There ends my 37 minute long 'dream run' in the Double Decker bus. It was after about three years that I got into a double decker.. this was indeed a ride I'd remember forever.

Coming to my experience of the ride.. To begin with, the seats are of horrible quality. They were very flimsy, and made a crackling noise every time a passenger moved - even the normal moves people do while seated. The cushioning was on the harder side, but was adequate for a City bus.The front seats on the upper deck are poorly ventilated - there front glass is fixed, and hence restricted air circulation. Noise levels are very low on the upper deck. The ride is a bit choppy at the front seat, but was very relaxed towards the rear. Down in the lower deck, the engine noise was on the higher side - it might settle once the bus turns older. The ride comfort is far better in the lower deck than on the upper deck.

The driver was very cautious, and never over-sped. He negotiated trees very calmly, and we did not rub against tree branches anywhere - but with the monsoons around, I am sure the bus will 'record' some scratches on its head. The route is uninspiring. The bypass route gets a lot of collection, but people hesitate getting into this bus since it goes only upto Kalamassery. KSRTC should consider running it upto Angamaly itself, or atleast to the Airport or Aluva bypass. The bus reached Kalamassery at 16:13, and the return departure was only at 17:00. It isn't a brilliant idea to let the bus remain parked for 47 minutes on the road side. They should reschedule the trips, and run more trips per day - the bus will not earn recall value unless passengers see it running on the road.

Newspapers reported that Kochi had double deckers from 1969 to 1975. Interestingly, my dad just said that he had traveled in them back in 1973~74, while he was employed in Kochi. He still remembers that the bus ran from Palarivattom to Wellingdon Island - wow! What a prime route that was! Sadly, the city roads are out-of-bounds for the new double decker! If only the KSEB accomplishes the task of converting overhead electric lines to underground ones, will the double decker ever run in the city. BEST (Mumbai) manages to run double deckers in Mumbai city (Thanks to the underground electric cables)... I wish the KSRTC too accomplishes that fact. Until then, city dwellers need to go out to the bypass road to enjoy a ride on the mammoth. Kids are certainly gonna love them. Many of them have never seen one in their lifetime - so dads and moms, take some time to get your kids on the double decker!


Sunup said…
Sarcasm and mockery directed at the deckers -- so typical of Indians. I say Indians and not malayalees, coz I have seen this typical attitude even in Durgapur, West Bengal, where I spent my childhood. There too some people would act up on seeing a double-decked bus as if it were some joke. Some of the double deckers that belonged to the South Bengal State Transport Corporation were different from the ones we see in Mumbai and now on Kerala. They were double decked bus bodies towed by tractor-trailers. And people would mock them by referring to them as bandar-trailers (monkeys). In reality double-decked buses are so regal and elegant. And given proper infrastructure, they actually are a good value for money and environmentally greener than their single-deck cousins.