KSRTC SWIFT Garuda AC Seater - First Experience!

I used to be eager to try a new service as soon as it launches - but as I got older, and my profession demanded more out me, the eagerness slowly reduced. I was quite often quite surprised that I was yet to try the new KSRTC-SWIFT AC services! Ever since I shifted from Bangalore to Kerala, the total number of bus journeys nosedived - its mostly train these days, thanks to the pathetic road infrastructure in Kerala. Years of protests ensured that highway development took a back seat - it was only recently that highway development got to the front, and is now going at a great pace. Roadways would have a great future in Kerala once the highways are fully developed to 6-lane highways!

Coming back to KSRTC SWIFT - SWIFT was started as an independent operating company, a 'private' limited company owned by the Government of Kerala. This company was established to operate 'super' class services of Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC). KSRTC is infamous for its operational inefficiency - and has quite often marred the profitability of premium services. KSRTC had been at the forefront in introducing premium buses - but could never offer a consistent service. Hare-brained decisions like operating all premium buses only from Trivandrum ensured that most of the services ran hours behind schedule and finally ended up being ignored by passengers.

KSRTC-SWIFT came has a wave of fresh air - professionally trained crew who had well-defined Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and strict mandates about how they behaved with passengers ensured that passengers had a great travel experience. My experiences with KSRTC SWIFT has been only their non-AC Deluxe buses (I intent to write about those experiences, may be later!). The crew were the highlight of these services - even when people complained about poor leg room in the non-AC buses, every single person (except the intentional negative spreaders) was generally happy about the crew. The crew ensure that they call up passengers in advance, inform if there is a delay, co-ordinate the pick-up and most importantly, speak very patiently and politely with passengers. 

I had generally heard very good opinions about the premium AC seaters operated by KSRTC-SWIFT. Branded as "Garuda", SWIFT owns 20 of these buses built on Ashok Leyland chassis. These 12-metre buses have full air-suspension (most private operators opt for air-suspension only on the rear axle, and use waveller suspension for the front axle) as well. The coaches were built by South India's favorite body builder, SM Kannappa Automobiles - well known as "Prakash". These buses have a 2x2 seating layout with push-back seats that have a premium faux leather upholstery. For some reason, I've never had the luck with these buses (mainly since they operated very limited routes within the state). My first opportunity to travel by these came up recently. I had to travel to Trivandrum to attend a Railway event - and I couldn't secure a train ticket for the journey. I was quite excited to find a Palakkad-Trivandrum SWIFT Garuda bus timed very appropriately for me! I booked a ticket on this bus - and this was to be the first overnight bus journey with my kid!!

April 24, 2023:

I had a hurried evening - got a little late to leave from work, and then had to rush with my vehicle to the nearest railway station. I had to travel by train to get to Thrissur, from where I'd board this bus to continue my journey. I was late and barely managed to board the train - but the rest of the journey went quite well. I got to Thrissur by around 1845hrs - and walked to the KSRTC bus station located nearby. I was at the bus station by 1900hrs - the bus was to leave only at 1925hrs. TW & TD were yet to arrive. A lot of people had asked what is TW & TD in the past - TW is "The Wife" and TD is "The Daughter". TW & TD arrived at around 1905hrs - we had to pick up some refreshments and water before boarding the bus - so headed to buy them, and then also use the rest rooms. I received a call from the conductor as I returned from the rest room - roughly around 1920hrs, asking if I had reached the bus station. I replied in affirmative - to which he updated that they'd be reaching in 5 minutes and I should wait around platform 7-9. That was impressive - the usual KSRTC crew would call only after reaching the bus station and on finding that a passenger is missing! This advance call ensured that they didn't have to waste time searching for a reserved passenger!

The bus turned up a little past 1925hrs - and boarding started immediately. Interestingly, the bus had just ONE empty seat, which was also duly filled by the conductor before starting. There were no less than 20 people to board from Thrissur - the entire process happened very efficiently. We were good to go by 1935hrs - but the bus waited for a while more for unknown reasons. The first impression was - the bus was clean - very clean. Curtains were closed. The interiors were cool - the AC was set at a very comfortable temperature - not too cold either. The seats were clean and appeared quite well kept - signs of ageing were certainly present. I found the leg room to be quite comfortable - but didn't really like the design of the seat. (I am not a fan of these Prakash Fainsa Seats - never felt very comfortable in them). 

A SWIFT Garuda bus - representative image - not the bus I travelled in!

We started off into traffic - it was slow moving traffic till the point we entered the highway. The driver was a little aggressive inside the town - but very calm once on the highway. The use of horn was moderate - a little more than required, IMO. The engine sounded quite calm - noise levels inside the coach was minimal. The ride comfort was much better than I had expected - I did feel a bit of body roll though. The AC unit was noisy - but I'd give it the benefit of doubt since I was seated right below the blower unit. The journey from Thrissur to Ernakulam was largely uneventful - I was quite tired and tried hard to sleep, but couldn't find that comfortable position to sleep. The bus made a stop at Aluva for a passenger to deboard and then rushed towards Vyttila. The crew were calling out stops well in advance - lights were turned on just before the stop, though. The night lamps were left on through the run. 

I didn't notice the timings at way side points - but I think we had arrived Vyttila hub around 2045~2100hrs. A good number of people deboarded here - and all the seats were filled up again by reserved passengers. A couple of seats were empty - which were sold to unreserved passengers. I dozed off a little after Vyttila - slept quite well actually. I woke up only as the bus stopped for dinner - at a restaurant near Cherthala. The time was around 2230hrs - a little late for Dinner, IMO. The restaurant was quite busy - and seemed to be a regular spot of KSRTC buses. Two Low-Floor AC buses joined us a while after we stopped - a super express also joined as we were about to depart. The restaurant was a little slow - and most items were over as well! We started from there a little before 2300hrs - the crew were very patient and spoke very politely to passengers who took a little extra time. The usual hurry and honking thing was avoided as well! 

SWIFT Garuda AC Seater (Representative Image)

I slept soon after we started from the dinner break. I was quite tired, and hence the position really didn't matter. I am not sure if the bus stopped at Alappuzha - this bus was a "bypass rider" - and hence had stops only on the bypass at Alappuzha and Kollam. I woke up just as the bus stopped at Kollam bypass (Ayathil) - I spotted a bypass feeder bus, and the waiting area (old low-floor non-ac bus converted to a waiting hall) there. The time was around 0115hrs or so then. I continued sleeping after that - I vaguely remember spotting Attingal bus station. The crew ensured that all lights in the coach weren't turned on at stops - they turned on only 1 or 2 lamps so that other passengers weren't disturbed. I remember the stop at Kazhakkuttam - I didn't sleep after that. The bus stopped at Anayara and Enchakkal as well - before getting to Thampanoor (Trivandrum Central) by around 0230hrs - roughly 1:30hrs behind schedule. I felt that the schedule allotted to this bus was largely impractical, since the bus passengers through Ernakulam at a fairly busy hour - and the dinner break needs to be factored in as well. 

Remarks: The bus, Kl-15-A-2477 (KS 28), was maintained fairly well inside. The exteriors bore a lot of scars and the paint peeled off at places. Some the FRP fittings were broken as well. The bus was very well kept inside - it was clean and the seats were in good shape. The amenities inside worked as well - reading lamps were function, and so were the mobile charging points. Blankets or shawls aren't provided - but it wasn't too cold inside either. Do carry one if you think it might be very cold. I found the back rest very unimpressive - it didn't give the level of back support I wanted. I felt the backrest was a little short, as well. The bottle holder was in good shape - but the magazine pouch below that is practically useless. The crew were great - very friendly, polite and patient! They spoke very politely to passengers - called up reserved passengers well in advance and made sure they were at the pickup point before the bus reached as well. The driving was very good - not very rash or didn't overspeed. With a run time of roughly 6 hours and 45 minutes, the service is actually quite fast! Overall, a very good service. I'll reserve my opinions about Garuda services till I try them on another route, though!

Blanket: No
Pillow: No
Water: No
Snacks: No
Charging Point: Available, Worked.
Entertainment: Not Available.

Maintenance: 4/5 [Interiors were in great shape - exteriors had dents and scratches)
Cleanliness: 5/5
Driving: 5/5 [Fast but not aggressive]
Crew behaviour: 5/5 [Fabulous!]
Punctuality: 4/5 [Over an hour behind schedule - but the schedule isn't practical either!]

Overall: 3.5/5

Pros: Excellent Crew, Good Driving
Cons: Not many options to choose from!!

Will I take this service again? I'll surely choose this one if another need arises!!