Monday, December 28, 2015

Palakkad to Bangalore: Orange Travels new Volvo B9R iShift

I had always been fascinated by Orange Travels. Reviews about them remained consistent all the time. I had once booked a ticket by Orange, but couldn't travel by them due to some reason. Years went by. One fine day towards the end of October 2015, I get to know that Orange Travels is entering the super-competitive Hyderabad-Cochin Route. While the competition bought newer Scania buses, Orange came to the route with two brand new Volvo B9R iShift buses. While I was looking for an opportunity to travel by them, came the marriage of a very close friend and fellow busfan Sankar! I did not make a second thought as I went ahead and booked a ticket to travel from Palakkad to Bangalore on Orange Travels. I was eager to see how the new iShift performs and hence booked a seat towards the middle of the bus.

December 07, 2015:
The marriage was in the morning. I left late from home, and reached late for the marriage. After lunch, I left from the marriage venue. The scheduled pick-up time was only at 1710hrs - so, decided to spend some time at the KSRTC bus station. While at the bus station, my phone switched off due to low battery. I headed to a restaurant to have some refreshment, and in the mean time managed to get the phone charged to remain on till I get into the bus. After food, I took an auto from the KSRTC bus station to Chandranagar bypass, where my bus would pick-me up. While on the way, I received a call from the bus driver, asking my whereabouts. I was quite shocked since the time was just 1630 then. I thought he was just trying to find where I would stand - but later realised that the bus was already waiting for me! He said we cannot stop there for long, and hence would park a little away from the pick-up point.
The bus: KA-01-AE-8895
I reached the bus sometime around 1640hrs, and the bus was neatly parked on the road side, a little away from the pick-up point. One more passenger was yet to turn-up - the driver wasn't complaining, since he was quite early. We started moving from there at 1655hrs - 15 minutes before time. The bus was clean inside out, and a very nice air freshener was used inside. The engine was silent and seemed very refined as compared to the old version. A telugu movie was being played on TV. A fresh blanket, packed in a plastic pouch was kept at my seat. A small cardboard box containing snacks (a slice of cake, a packet each of cookies and namkeen) and a 500-ml bottle of water was also kept at the seat. The attendant did make it a point to come and check if I needed something else. Driving was calm and composed - he did not make rash cuts or any hard braking even after we entered the two lane section after Walayar. I really loved his driving.
Amenities!
Inside the snack box!
We had to make a short break at the incoming RTO checkpost at Chavadi for paper checking - we lost about two minutes here. We started moving from there at 1732hrs. The second driver was fast asleep at the last row during this time. Both the drivers were in proper uniform, including an identity card. The attendant also had a uniform. They appeared very professional in looks, and they behaved professionally as well. We reached Neelambur toll at 1813hrs - the bus stopped outside a bakery after the toll gate, and the crew announced a 10 minute break. The break got longer as the pick-up van from Coimbatore got delayed. We started off from there at 1833 after picking up passengers from Coimbatore.
Inside - a new partition has come up.
Another view of the interiors
The bus was almost full by now - with just a few seats empty here and there, including the one next to me. They kept playing a movie one after the other. The bus pulled into a fuel station near Chitode sometime around 1933 - but we did not refuel, and got moving immediately. The driver maintained speeds in the range of 85-90kmph throughout the ride. I tried dozing off for some time, since the movie was too loud for my liking - but couldn't and finally tuned to some songs on my phone. There was heavy traffic as we neared Salem - traffic came to a standstill as we exited the flyover and entered town limits. We reached the Salem pick-up point at 2048hrs - it was a short stop, a very quick pick-up and we were off. The attendant came around with blankets, snack box and water bottle every time a new passenger came in.

We stopped at Hotel Saravana Bhavan near Omalur Toll, at 2106hrs, for dinner. The hotel is small, and isn't a great choice if multiple buses were to stop there. The food was great and not very pricey. The crew did not rush with the passengers or keep honking - they just asked every passenger they saw there to get into the bus. We were off finally by 2139. The movie was switched off, and the night lamps were left on. I had a nice sleep after dinner. The bus had stopped somewhere to pickup fuel en route. I woke up briefly, and then continued sleeping. I finally got up when the bus stopped near Electronic city for a pickup - the time was 0015hrs then. The passenger hadn't turned up, and we had to wait. The bus finally got moving from there at 0022hrs. I moved to the front a little later and finally got off at Silkboard flyover at 0028hrs.

Notes: The bus was KA-01-AE-8895, and she had around 25000kms on the odo. The bus was clean inside out, and it was very fresh inside. The packed blanket and well-stuffed snack box gave a very professional touch. The snack box is a great idea - and helps save some time of a tea break. The crew were properly uniformed and very well behaved as well. I really loved every bit of their service - except the movie part. They played no less than three movies one behind the other, and all telugu. I'd have been happier if they played one movie less and perhaps replaced one with a hindi movie. Overall great service from Orange.

Amenities:
Blanket: Yes
Water: Yes
Snacks: Yes - a well stocked snack box
Charging Point: Available, ON throughout
Entertainment: Available, three movies played

Ratings:
Maintenance: Irrelevant (New Bus)
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 5/5
Crew behaviour: 5/5
Punctuality: 4.5/5 (Left early, but reached more than 30 minutes behind schedule)

Overall: 4.95/5

Will I take this service again? Absolutely Yes! Why wouldn't I travel with Orange again??

Monday, December 21, 2015

Bangalore to Thrissur: On Kerala Lines' new Scania 13.7M

I had to attend a very close friend's marriage in Palakkad, which was to happen on a Monday. I was leaving from Bangalore on a Saturday, and that meant I had plenty of options to think of. I was heading to my home in Thrissur to spend a day with parents before heading to Palakkad on Monday morning. I booked my return ticket from Palakkad in a Hyderabad bound bus, so that I could be at home by midnight and go to work the next day without getting late. I was confused about which bus to take while going home. The regular options from both the KSRTCs were available, or I could opt from one of the many private operators. It was around this time that Kerala Lines was introducing their brand new Scania Metrolink 13.7M coach on their age-old Bangalore-Pathanamthitta route, which they consider their home route. Being good friends, I confirmed the availability of the coach in advance, and even got a seat blocked for Saturday evening. The buses were delivered late on Wednesday night, and was put into service from Friday evening. I was travelling on the first trip of one of the coaches.

December 05, 2015:
I checked with the Kerala Lines office while heading home from office. The bus had gone out to Chennai to bring a set of employees from an IT Major there, who were being evacuated to Bangalore. The bus was on its way back, and hence the trip to Pathanamthitta was rescheduled. The revised departure time was 2230hrs (from the earlier time of 2145hrs). I reached their office in Madiwala around 2100hrs - the office was packed with passengers waiting for the bus. Being the first trip for the bus, a lot of work had to be done on it. It took some time for cleaning, and then furnishing of the bus. Finally after garlanding, the bus was brought to the pick-up point sometime around 2250hrs - over 20 minutes delayed already. Boarding commenced immediately - and it was over very soon. I checked my seat number just before boarding - I was given H4, somewhere around the middle of the bus, on the right side.
The bus - KA-51-C-9156 - right after garlanding, before boarding started..
Boarding was completed, and we started off at 2307hrs after one more round of headcount. We had 100% load. The attendant came around distributing water bottles and blankets. I was too tired and badly wanted to sleep. The driver put all the 360 horses to task as we entered the elevated tollway on Hosur road. We had a pick-up at the toll gate, at 2332hrs. I dozed off soon afterwards, and woke up just as we were starting off from Hosur (2359hrs). I had another nice round of sleep afterwards - one of the best I had in a bus in a long time, perhaps. I do not remember waking up anytime in between.

I woke up when I heard some commotion inside - the lights were on, and people were walking through the aisle. And the bus started moving at the same time - the time was around 0600 - and we were starting off from Walayar Checkpost. I tried sleeping again. The bus stopped again, after about 10 minutes at the first toll gate in Kerala - sometime around 0610hrs. This was a toilet break for ladies - a lot of people got off. The break took longer than expected since the toilet was situated on the other side of the toll gate and people had to walkover. We started off from the break at around 0623hrs. The bus was quite delayed already, and the sense of hurry was evident with the crew. I dozed off again for some time - waking up just when the bus was passing Palakkad bypass (0635hrs), and continued sleeping for some more time. I woke up only when the bus exited the four-laned section at Vadakkenchery and entered the underconstruction section - roads weren't smooth here, and a few undulations on the road made for a rough ride. I pulled up the backrest and prepared to get off as we passed Pattikad. I was finally dropped at Mannuthy (Thrissur bypass) at 0735 hrs - 8 hours and 28 minutes after we started from Bangalore.
The bus after I alighted at Mannuthy
Notes: The bus, KA-51-C-9156, was on its first revenue trip. The bus had to stop at Walayar Checkpost for payment of road tax, plus the couple of toilet breaks, coupled to a delayed departure made it for longer run times. The crew had the sense of hurry, and ensured that they did not waste time at places. Driving was great - the driver maintained speed throughout the journey, and considering the fact that the bus was speedlocked at 80kmph, the driver did a great job. Delays on the first trip is always inevitable - the fear factor associated with the first trip, plus technical delays of payment of road taxes delay such trips. The service was overall no-nonsense. I felt they could've avoided switching on lights at break points - the interior lights are really bright and wakes up every single passenger - the night lamps are bright enough to allow people walk through without falling down. I guess that change can be made.

Amenities:
Blanket: Yes
Water: Yes
Snacks: No
Charging Point: Available, did not use.
Entertainment: Available, not used

Ratings:
Maintenance: Irrelevant (New Bus)
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 5/5
Crew behaviour: 5/5
Punctuality: 4.5/5 (Bus left behind schedule - rating based on running time)

Overall: 4.95/5

Will I take this service again? Surely. I find no reasons to avoid them.