Ernakulam to Bangalore by Kerala RTC Garuda Multi-Axle Inaugural Trip

This was perhaps the first time I embarked on a journey without a return ticket. I was a bit worried as I began my journey from Bangalore - somehow made myself calm looking at two late afternoon buses which had tickets, and assigned them as my backup option. The first thing I did not reaching my destination was to see if Kerala RTC had some surprises for me - on opening the online reservation portal 'Saarathy', I did find a surprise - "18.30 ERNAKULAM -BANGALORE (ACM562)". I quickly opened the chart and found plenty of seats available. I was a bit worried about booking through the phone - the network was very patchy. The booking was finally done through a broadband connection. The ticket output in PDF was saved on my phone, and I decided to try out the "m-ticket" option for the first time.

May 11, 2014:
I decided to leave home very early - it was a Sunday, and buses to Ernakulam are hard to find during evening hours on Holidays. I reached Kodungallur around 1530hrs - I left a couple of private buses, and waited for that elusive Kerala RTC bus. Some minutes short of 1600hrs, RAM281 of Irinjalakkuda rolled in. The bus was fairly crowded, but I managed to find a seat in the three-seater at the back of the bus. The driver was quite fast, and being a Sunday, crowd on the road was light. He managed to reach Ernakulam Jetty bus station at 1715hrs. I initially thought of doing some bus hopping to reach the KSRTC bus station, but then decided to take an Auto. I was dropped at the bus station in about 5 minutes. 
The buses lined up for inauguration. The garlanded one will work the first trip.
As I entered the bus station, I noticed a Multi-axle bus of Kerala RTC getting decorated - so that was my bus. I roamed around for a while taking some snaps. In the meantime, its pairing bus was also brought to the bus station. The crew were known, and we spent some time talking. One of them was driving the inaugural trip - he surely was excited to be part of such a trip. In the meantime some of bus mates joined in, as the crowd of onlookers built up. A lot of Kerala RTC officials were present as the buses were being prepped up. 

Ernakulam MLA, Shri Hibi Eden, was the chief guest. The inaugural trip was symbolically flagged off at 1822hrs. The MLA then took a look at the bus, and finally passengers got on board. The bus was running a fully reserved trip - being a Sunday, especially after a Second-Saturday - majority of the passengers were to Bangalore. I had to struggle a bit to get on board - media crew and the crowd of onlookers were making things very difficult. The conductor checked my ticket after I got to my seat (it was so crowded that he couldn't check my ticket as I got in). The bus started moving at 1835hrs - late by 5 minutes. 
The service getting flagged off by Shri Hibi Eden at Ernakulam.
They started playing a movie (a very recent Malayalam movie) as soon as the bus exited the bus station. With the recent traffic arrangements, buses now take the AL Jacob Flyover to reach Kadavanthra and then proceed via Vyttila. Things were good till we reached the Co-operative Hospital in Kadavanthra - a 90* left turn was the first shock for the drivers - they struggled a lot, did a lot of trials and finally managed to complete the turn - we lost about 10 minutes here itself. As we neared Vyttila, the next confusion began - Is the pick-up on the highway or in the hub. It seems some passengers were asked to wait at the bus stop on the highway, and some were told to wait in Vyttila Mobility Hub. The driver did not stop at the highway bus stop, but headed straight towards the traffic signal to turn a right turn - a couple of passengers came running behind the bus - they were the passengers who were told to get in at the highway bus stop. 

After picking them, we proceeded to the mobility hub. We reached VMH at 1857 -  about 23 minutes late now. Another two passengers got in at the Hub, and we got moving at 1902hrs. As the bus got moving, the drivers felt something amiss with the front door. The were seen trying to adjust it at every stop. The bus took another stop at Palarivattom - where the drivers kept trying to reset the door. The main door opening knob wasn't working, it seems. All that, plus the traffic mean we lost time. In the meantime, the conductor finished issuing tickets to a lot of passengers - majority of them (not less than 20) were to Thrissur. We passed Aluva at 1958hrs. There was no pick-up here as well. We pulled into Ankamaly bus station at 2016hrs - Initially I thought it was a pick-up. But that was not the case - we directly headed to the garage. Mechanics came in to repair the front door. Now they isolated the door opening valve, and instructed the crew to use the cut-off valve instead. When using the cut-off valve, they need to open the door manually after cutting off the air supply. After closing, they need to recharge the air-supply again to keep it locked. 
The bus: RS782 a while before flag off.
We started off from Ankamaly at 2038hrs. By now the short distance passengers were cribbing - it was over 2 hours since we started from Ernakulam, and we were just at Ankamaly. I was now expecting the bus to pull in to a hotel for dinner - but we simply rushed past the regular dinner stops. We rushed through, and turned left at Thalore to head to Thrissur. We reached Thrissur bus station at 2125 - about 1 hour and 35 minutes later than the scheduled time. For some reason, Kerala RTC always puts unreal pick-up times for its wayside points. The bus filled up here and we started off at 2138hrs. The bus was the cynosure of all eyes - people around were curious to find what this bus was, and a lot of people went shutter happy as well. The driver took the route through Sakthan Round and entered Palakkad road. 

I had brought my dinner from home, and by now had my food in the meantime. The driver showed his expertise as he hit the two lane road. With a speed lock at 80kmph, the driver once again proved that it was the style of driving that makes a difference and not speed. His overtakes were well calculated and well timed. I was expecting him to stop at Vadakkenchery for dinner - but that did not happen as well! After running for some more time, we stopped at an absolutely awful place in Alathur for dinner (2231hrs). The bus was parked on the right side of the road, on an under-construction lane. The break took much longer than expected. We started moving only at 2306hrs. 

The bus entered Palakkad town and stopped for refueling near the bus station - at 2343hrs. The fuel station had a dispenser reserved for KSRTC - this one had a longer fuel pipe. The bus took in 157 liters of diesel, and we got moving at 2350hrs. Our next halt was at Palakkad bus station (2355hrs). Palakkad bus station is actually a small place - with all the buses parked around, maneuvering the bus through the bus station itself was interesting. Our driver showed his skill as he handled the whale through the bus station, and parked it near the old fuel station. Both the drivers were originally from Palakkad - they used this time to meet their old colleagues, and get their belongings. Two passengers got in from here, as well. We started off at 0000hrs.

By now most passengers were asleep. I too joined the crowd. I was half asleep by the time the bus got on to the highway. The driver had changed at Palakkad (there were two drivers on board when we left from Ernakulam). The second guy too was good at the wheels - he was quite stable on the road. No harsh brakes or lane-changes. I had a nice sleep - a good undisturbed sleep. I did not notice the bus stopping anywhere for a break afterwards. I got up just as the bus was passing Attibele. We stopped at Narayana Hrudayala at 0625 to drop a passenger and then continued. We passed Electronic City at 0630hrs. I was a bit confused if the bus would take BETL or go below the flyover. The bus did not take BETL - they went below the flyover. I always felt its unwarranted to take BETL at that hour - traffic below is light and one can also help a lot of passengers who need to get off at the places below the flyover. I was dropped at Bommanahalli at 0643hrs. 

End notes: The bus, KL-15-A-280, Fleet number RS782, of Ernakulam had about 5k kms on the odo. The bus was earlier with Trivandrum depot, and later transferred to Ernakulam depot for this service. The bus was in good shape inside and outside. The crew were well behaved - they were a bit nervous since they were on the first trip. The conductor made an announcement asking for apologies for any goof-up since they were all on the first trip. I appreciate that gesture. Both the drivers drove really well - They gave me no room for complaints, except the excessive honking between Ernakulam and Thrissur. Once passengers started sleeping, they stopped honking. KSRTC needs to have driver-cum-conductors on such services - it is a waste to have a conductor on board such services. Overall, the running time was on the higher side - but then it is understandable for an inaugural trip. The bus has a scheduled arrival time of 0445hrs, but it was already 0643 when it dropped me at Bommanahalli. But over the coming days, the timings will surely get adjusted.

Amenities:
Blanket: No
Water: No
Charging Point: Yes (ON throughout the journey)
Entertainment: Available, a movie played

Ratings:
Maintenance: 5/5
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 5/5
Crew behaviour: 5/5
Punctuality: 3.5/5

Overall: 4.5/5

Will I take this service again? Absolutely!

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