I was busy looking tickets for a journey from Thrissur to Trivandrum. I had a waitlisted ticket in Jan Shatabdi Express that day, but the way the ticket was progressing did not seem encouraging. Not wanting to get stranded, I was looking for tickets in buses. I did not want to break my back sitting that long in a KSRTC bus – thankfully, the government is hell-bent on not allowing KSRTC improve. Very few premium services are offered by KSRTC, and those services hardly meet the requirements of passengers. I checked various options on RedBus, and found Kallada and Viji listed. I checked the website of KTC Tours, and found availability in their buses.
KTC Tours is a part of the celebrated Kerala Transport Corporation (KTC) Group. KTC Tours had launched their inter-city luxury bus service sometime in June 2012. KTC Group is one of the oldest transport companies in India, and is also among the top 5 transport companies in India. KTC Group was founded in 1958, and since then has been a reputed name in every industry they ventured into. They created a lot of buzz among bus fans with the news of being the first operator to introduce Volvo 9100s (the fact is disputed). KTC currently operates on two routes, both out of Malabar.
This was an opportunity for me to try KTC. The KTC Tours website is simple and easy to use. The pick-up time for Thrissur was 0030hrs – I thought of travelling to Kozhikode only to try this bus, but due to certain other commitments, I decided to book my ticket ex-Thrissur itself. KTC was the most expensive option for a Thrissur-Trivandrum ticket. The other operators provided the option of taking a multi-axle at much lower rates. KTC charges Kozhikode-Trivandrum rates for the ticket ex-Thrissur also. Anyways, I booked my seat in the bus.
November 12, 2012. 2000hrs:
My bus was more than 4 hours away. I decided to call up the KTC office to find out the exact pick-up location, since my ticket mentioned the location vaguely. I tried calling both the numbers mentioned on the ticket – calls to both the numbers went unanswered. I retried again after some time – but no response. Sometime around 2100hrs, I and my dad set off to Thrissur in an autorickshaw – it was a 38 kms long journey in an auto. The ride was a bit tiresome, especially since leg space was tight, and it was somewhat cold outside. We were dropped at Thrissur around 2200hrs. My dad was taking a Kallada G4 bus that night to Bangalore – his bus came late, and left only around 2305hrs.
I called KTC again at 2310hrs – this time, a person picked up the call. He gave me the mobile number of the driver, and requested me to call up the driver to find out the exact pick-up point. After sending off dad, I headed straight to the KSRTC bus station, and found out a good seat to relax. I called up the driver – the person who picked up the call said that the bus had just left Kozhikode – we discussed the pick-up point and I told that I’d call him at 0030hrs to confirm the location. I relaxed at the KSRTC bus station – which was bustling with activity all the time. Buses kept coming in at a frequency of about 30 minutes – in all directions. I called the driver again at 0030hrs – they were still an hour away. He promised to call me once they cross Kunnamkulam – I was elated by his offer. I thanked him and continued my wait.
I got a call from the driver at 0104hrs – he informed me that they just crossed Kunnamkulam. I took an auto from KSRTC bus station to the pickup point – Poonkunnam junction! The auto driver was a bit puzzled when I asked him to drop me at the junction – there was nothing around, except some closed shops and a huge ground! I waited there under a tree. Two KSRTC Airavats to Trivandrum went by (both were from Mysore) – one them were in fairly good shape, while the other one was run down. My bus came in at 0125hrs.
The bus stopped by the road side as soon as he spotted me. I got in as soon as the bus stopped. The second driver (the person with whom I had talked on phone) asked me to take a seat on the first row itself – to avoid disturbing passengers in the other seats (+1 to the crew for this). They switched on the cabin light to give me enough light to settled down. The second driver came and confirmed that I had a ticket. He asked if I wanted a blanket – and one was provided. A 500ml water bottle too was provided. The blanket was fairly big, with the KTC logo imprinted on it. The bus had two drivers – no attendants. None of the drivers had a uniform.
This was my first journey in a 9100 – the coach was cool inside. The seats had lesser recline than those in 9400s. The seats were thinner, but gave good support. The seat covers were of rexin/fake leather. The guy at the wheels meant business as he picked speed through the narrow road from Thrissur town to the highway. After Paliekara toll, the driver picked up adequate speed. Sometime after the toll gate, a passenger asked the driver to stop for a bio-break – the driver quickly asked back if a lady wanted to go to a toilet – in that case, they would stop at a fuel station. The request was indeed for a lady passenger. I really liked the way the crew handled the situation – they were very polite in their dealings with the passenger.
|The bus: KL-11-AN-225. This was my first trip in KTC, and also by a Volvo 9100|
The bus stopped at a fuel station near Aluva – that gave me some time to take some photographs. Interestingly, the second driver saw me taking a photograph and asked the first driver to park the bus closer a light, so that I could get a good photo! The break was around 10 minutes. They took off soon after the passengers returned to the bus. The bus stopped again at Vyttila – 0241hrs – for a tea break. There was one Galaxy Express AC bus, the newly started Priyadarsini AC bus and also a Kallada B9R. We started off after break at around 0251hrs. The drivers now changed – the second guy was now in charge. This driver was fast from the word go.
The bus did not exceed 100kmph any time (I had a clear view of the speedo from my seat). The bus did not have curtains separating the driver cabin and the passenger section. The bus only had the standard drop down screens for the first row. The second driver was a bit rash as he entered two-lane roads after Cherthala. He was on the wrong side for most of the time – some overtakes were downright rash, pushing off quite some vehicles in the opposite direction. We crossed Alappuzha Medical College junction at 0334hrs – that was just 43 minutes! I dozed off after seeing some heroics for some time. The road was in bad shape and hence the ride was a bit bouncy.
I woke up just as the bus was passing Kollam railway station! The time was 0438hrs – that was 64 minutes from Alappuzha to Kollam (around 82kms according to Google maps!). Now this driver surely meant business. Sometime after Kollam, the drivers changed again. The bus slowed down now – the traffic in the opposite direction was heavy at this time. I dozed off for some more time. We stopped at Attingal to drop off a passenger (0514hrs). I slept off again, and woke up just as the bus stopped at Kazhakoottam (0531hrs) to drop some passengers. The driver at the wheels was driving to Trivandrum for the first time (in fact, it was his first trip with KTC). He took a left at Kazhakoottam and drove towards Ulloor. The second driver rushed to the front seeing this, since the bus usually goes via Chakka bypass and this driver too had no idea of the route through Ulloor!
Now the drivers changed again, and they kept following sign boards. The bus finally stopped outside Megha Travels at Thampanoor, Trivandrum, at 0551hrs. Now that was 4hours and 26 minutes for 284kms from Thrissur to Trivandrum! The last 60-odd kms took over an hour and a half – that was because the crew wanted to reach Trivandrum only around day break.
Concluding remarks: The Volvo 9100 is a typical STU product – it’s a low cost “Volvo”. Cost cutting is evident in this product – el cheapo rear view mirrors, normal halogen headlamps, smaller glass area, etc – it has all that a government operator would want. The ride quality is decent. The bus is reportedly less than 12M long (according to the people I spoke to) – but still has 45 seats. They achieved the number of seats by making the seats thinner, and reducing the leg space for seats (especially the first row seats). The bus has a 240hp engine, with a 6-speed gearbox (6F+1R). Sound dampening is fairly good – being a busfan, I tend to hear the engine wherever I sit in the bus – so cannot really say about sound dampening. The seat recline is less – but is comfortable enough.
About the service – KTC did an excellent job. The crew behaviour was top-class. They behaved really decently to the passengers. The driving was mixed – one driver was really good, while the second driver was rash. They played music throughout the night – the volume was really low. One had a concentrate for some time to hear the songs. I enjoyed hearing the songs – might not be the case with other passengers. I was really shocked to see the bus rolling into Trivandrum before 6 AM, especially after a 0125hrs departure from Thrissur. The blanket was really clean. The crew did not switch on the lights when the bus stopped for tea break – so passengers were not disturbed during the break.The bus had run around 80K kms. There were a few rattles here and there - the bus runs through the awful roads of Kerala, and its a low cost product. But the overall maintenance was good.
Staff Behaviour: 5/5
Will I take this service again: Why not? I am in love with KTC. They are a big company – big enough to challenge many established players in the industry (the references are obvious). I am waiting for them to begin services to Bangalore – so that I can use them more frequently.