Club Class'd.. finally!

Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) is a pioneer in introducing newer age technologies among the Government run Transport Corporations. KSRTC was the first to bring out Volvo buses, way back in 2002. From then, KSRTC built up a strong fleet of those white swedish beauties, naming them after the Mythical character, Airavat. KSRTC increased their presence on many routes, and became the preferred premium operator on every route they ran on. About 8 years after they created history, they repeated history again with the introduction of Multi-Axle buses - the first for any state transport undertaking.
The Multi-Axle buses of KSRTC are called "Airavat Club Class" - the buses are a notch above their regular Airavat services. The buses come with 49 seats - 44 of them with calf-support, and the rest are regular limited-recline seats. Airavat Club Class was initially Volvo B9Rs. The Multi-Axles were flagged off on 27th November 2010. These buses have replaced regular Airavats on many routes and are an instant hit with passengers. On the trail of success, KSRTC introduced Multi-Axle Mercedes Benz buses this year - on 29th September 2011. Unlike the two-axle Mercedes Benz buses, the Multi-Axle buses get the same name and livery as the Volvos.

Almost a year after the "Club Class" came into being, I managed a chance to travel in an Airavat Club Class bus this month. I traveled in a KSRTC Airavat Club Class Mercedes Benz bus on October 27, 2011 from Bangalore to Thrissur. This was also my second ride in a Mercedes Benz Multi-Axle bus. To begin with, I was never a fan of the boxy looks of the Merc buses sold in India - I love the curvy design of the Volvo. I was at the Shanti Nagar bus station around 2040 for a 2120 departure. Roamed around the bus station for some time, clicking a couple of buses. The conductor came in around 2105 and started boarding.
I left my baggage in the undercarriage and they stood outside for some time. Although I didn't have much baggage, I preferred leaving them in the luggage hold since the overhead racks in Merc buses are too small for even medium sized bags. The racks are best for backpacks or small bags - nothing more than that. I roamed around the bus until about 2110 - later headed too my seat: #36. It was a Left-Window seat on the 9th row - my glass was partially obscured by the sticker on the glass. The Airavat Club Class buses have a huge sticker of a baby sleeping on a pram, along with a couple of toys lying around. This sticker obscures the glass of the window right above the rear axles.
The AC was not yet switched on, and it was getting somewhat hot inside. The conductor came in to check tickets and also switched on the entertainment system - a bollywood movie was played. I love this attitude of playing a neutral movie. The bus was switched on around 2115, and the AC too was started. The bus was very noisy - the growl of the engine was heard clearly inside the bus. I discounted the noise since the door was open. The clock in the bus was about 4 minutes ahead of my watch - the driver got in sharp at 2120, but we didn't start. Around 2124, the driver slots the bus to the first gear and prepares to move - but the bus doesn't budge. Smelling something wrong, the driver gets off and rushes to the back. He opens the engine door, plays around something and closes the engine door. The engine shuts down on itself!
The driver comes back, switches off all lights and the TV - turns the ignition switch - but no response from the engine! After a couple of tries more, the driver gets off the bus. Other Volvo drivers too join in - the trace the problem to a "loose AC Alternator". They call up the depot and get hold of a mechanic. The driver informs the mechanic of the problem and ask him to rush immediately. Around 2140, the mechanic turns up. Around 2155, the bus was fit to depart. They switched off the engine and restarted it a couple of times, started the AC, and so on to test if things were all right. Finally at 2158, the conductor signals the driver to start. The bus finally crawls out of Shantinagar bus station, takes a right and heads towards Lalbagh. From there the bus turned left and headed straight towards Dairy Circle.

We had about 37 passengers on board as we started from Shantinagar. We picked up another 3 passengers from Dairy Circle and one more from Madivala - we finally had 41 passengers on board in the 49 seater bus. The seats were of Harita make - the Fabric had red and beige colours. The fabric was soft, and the upholstery was well done. The seats also had calf support. We took the route below the elevated highway - thankfully traffic was really light since the time was already past 2215. Since the windows were partially obscured, I had nothing much to see outside, and kept the curtains closed. I watched the movie for some time, and later fell asleep. We pulled into the food plaza at Shoolagiri, at 2303. While the crew and majority of the passengers headed to the hotel Krishna Inn, I headed straight to McDonalds. Grabbed a cold Coke and a McVeggie and returned back to the bus.
We started off from there at 2322. The movie was stopped, and the screens were folded up. Sadly, there is no curtain between the driver cabin and the passenger cabin, other than the two small drop down screen - light from the oncoming vehicles were a disturbance. My co-passenger moved to an empty row behind, leaving me the two seats for my self. The cold air coming out of the open vents between the rack and the windows were annoying - there was no way I could close them. (May be I'll have to carry packing tapes for my next journey). You can see those vents in the image above. Thankfully, the AC was left at 23~24, and the blower speed was low. I slept soon after we started off from the break - I vaguely remember crossing the first toll gate.

The engine noise was penetrating heavily into the cabin - even the retarders could be heard loud and clear. The engine grunt was annoying at times - and it felt as if the bus was crawling. I woke sometime around 0300, when the bus hit a blunt pothole - that was perhaps at the point where a new surface met the old one. While the engine noise deceived me into thinking that the bus was very slow, but in reality we were almost close to Coimbatore already! That was just 5 hours! I slept soon after we entered Coimbatore bypass. Woke up again when the bus ran through a rough patch and stopped somewhere on the road side - just as I opened my eyes, the lights in the coach came up. The conductor shouted "5 nimisha idhe.." (We have 5 minutes) - that was another break! The time was 0356.

I got off the bus - we were at Ettimadai. Right outside Amrita University campus - on the highway. There was a small teastall. A lot of buses were crawling in from Kerala - and almost all of them stopped at Ettimadai, for passengers getting off. While we were just preparing to leave, another KSRTC bus - an Airavat heading to Thrissur, came in. We started off at 0408. I vaguely remember running through Walayar. We made a brief halt at Palakkad to drop off a passenger (0440). The road was in poor shape, and the suspension did not help much - the bus was swaying side to side and each pothole was felt inside - despite all these, I managed to sleep again. I woke up just when the bus stopped somewhere - I thought that to be Mannuthy, but we were already at Thrissur - somewhere near the Round. I hastily packed up my luggage - just while the conductor switched on the light and shouted "Thrissur"... the bus passed Sakthan Stand and headed straight to the KSRTC bus station.

I headed to the front to see how the bus manages the road - the long creature had no troubles getting in to the bus station. So finally a multi-axle calls on at Thrissur bus station!! I was dropped inside the bus station at 0558 - exactly 8 hours after we started from Bangalore! I was terribly impressed with the speed of the bus - the ride quality wasn't great. The engine noise added to the misery. Merc buses have a very narrow aisle - its almost impossible to walk through with baggage, especially if the seats are full. The awfully placed air vents facing the windows are a pain for passengers - it'll freeze passengers.

A few tips: If you need to travel in a Mercedes Multi-Axle: Make sure you get a seat towards the middle of the bus - those awful air vents pointed at the windows aren't present here. If its a Club class, the rear rows have a completely obscured window - so a seat around the middle of the bus would give a clear window as well. I'll try out the Mercedes once again to see how the sound levels are, when sitting at the seats towards the front.The aisle is an absolute pain to walk through - so sitting towards the front would save you the trouble of having to walk through the aisle.

My ratings: 9 on 10 for the service and 6 on 10 for the bus.


Sunup said…
Last month I too got to experience an impressive ride -- 7.5 hrs from Madiwala St. John's to Thrissur, with a 25 mins dinner break and a 10 min tea/loo break thrown in between. And the ride was on our Kerala RTC's TVM B7R Volvo.
Sunup said…
Binai, thought of clarifying this with you, considering your thorough knowledge and source of info in these matters -- who actually introduced the B7R in South India -- KeSRTC or KaSRTC? I guess KeSRTC introduced its 2 'Garuda's sometime in mid 2002. There was a debate concerning this in the comments section of the latest post in a blog named ksrtcblog too. Can you please confirm?


Binai K Sankar said…
@Sunup, KaSRTC was the first to try the B7R - the had a trial run of the imported B7R. However, KeSRTC was the first to commercially introduce the B7R. (The information is contested though).
Krishnaprasad said…
I had a very nice journey in 2005 EKM BNG Benz last week. My seat was 1, and that airholes in the top was not too chilling to me. Windows didn't fog also. I think travelling towards the front in these buses would not create much problems. Took 11hrs from Ekm to Silk Board due to heavy downpour.
Bejoy said…
@Binai, regarding Sunup's question, isn't the private players that ran the B7Rs first? Because, I remember boarding a Volvo in 2001 from Puzhakadavil. I was lucky that day. I had booked a regular bus and when I reached their office, saw this mighty Volvo with banners on the sides - "Volvo on Trial Run" (or similar). They collected extra Rs.50 from us for the travel (The ticket price was Rs. 250 or so). I was out of the world that night and hardly slept!
Binai K Sankar said…
@Bejoy.. the question is not who ran a volvo first.. but was it KeSRTC or KaSRTC first. I.e., among the KSRTC's, who was the first is the question.

AFAIK, KaSRTC got the trial bus first, but the regular bus was first run by KeSRTC.
Aparna C K said…
Hi Binai,
Thanks for this blog post.
I need a favor from you. Wanna take my 2 months old daughter to mangalore, from Bangalore. Volvos reach in shortest time and they offer comfort. But the issue is AC.
Coul you please let me know if we can control/switch off just for our seat? I have not travelled in club class before. Will it be suitable for my purpose?
Train takes too long and flight is not worth, as it takes 3 hrs from airport to my village through a bad road.
Thanks in advance
Binai K Sankar said…
Hello Aparna,

The AC in any Volvo bus can be turned off by turning the ring on the blower in anti-clockwise direction. Please take the help of the conductor in case you are unable to close the vent.