Tuesday, May 05, 2009

There are buses and then there is the Volvo

One big reason people prefer trains over buses is that bus travel in India has generally been (and continues to be) a very disorganized industry. You could book a ticket, but that was no guarantee of you getting into the bus. Seat numbers were liable to be swapped, buses were liable to be swapped, entire routes were liable to be changed, even luxury buses would magically become ordinary rattletrap buses at the time of travel (always due to extenuating circumstances), pick up points would disappear and what not. Also, people would pack the aisles sitting on small stools (Omar - and others on the Mum Hyd route immediately pop to mind), sleep on the aisles. Buses also transport a fair amount of luggage - see the tops of any of the private operators - apparently it is a ruse to avoid octroi - the passengers are incidental.

Overall, a thoroughly off putting experience, apart from the bad roads, sub standard restaurants, dirty toilets and other associated discomforts of bus travel in India.

Yet, in this messy space, one name has managed to create a name for itself. The Volvo.

No, it has not changed many of the other things listed above, indeed, it has created a few. (Though in general, overbooking has come down in Volvos since chances of operators denting their image is high and people pay a premium price). Now, you book a ticket for a "airconditioned" bus or a Volvo bus. There are chances that your Volvo is not a Volvo at all, just a look alike (and this is big business by the way, more on this some other time). Or, the Volvo got "replaced" at the last minute.

But these shenanigans apart, mostly created by dubious "travel agents", it doesn't happen with the reputed operators (or KSTRC or APSRTC), but remember that all buses are not Volvos. And stick to the reputed travel chaps - my favourite, at all times are the government transport corporations.

Jottings, after yet another trip to Mumbai by KSRTC Airavath Volvo, a 24 hour journey by train, 18 hours by Volvo. Thoroughly professional, rest stops are far more decent than any I have seen on any bus trip in India and the bus takes care of the bad roads neglected by our current government. Once those roads are made, the trip can be cut down easily by a few more hours. Oh yes and you can give Laloo the accolades for rail travel, but unless train travel becomes faster, the race is lost.

As for city travel, nothing beats the Volvos of Bangalore - they are probably the best public transport in India in terms of coverage, usage and comfort. See the crowds to ITPL each day in the Volvos and it is heartening to see people use public transport enthusiastically. And as it happens on these routes it is a positive cycle. People use buses, corporation increases frequency, increases coverage and still more people use them...Way to go.


serendipity said...

I had a real bad experience with Omar travels. I wanted to travel from Hyderabad to Pune, my ticket was booked through redbus. My bus was changed in the last moment and I had to change three buses before I sat down in 'the bus'. And the wooden stool was a sordid saga. A whole family was given the wooden range which was the last seat. Somewhere before pune the bus driver went more berserk than he was and bumped a lady out of the wooden chair. The ladies and gents in the family were screaming profanities in Hindi which I thought was good because that hardly happens. Finally the bus driver mended his ways also Pune arrived !!

Nikhil Narayanan said...

People use buses, corporation increases frequency, increases coverage and still more people use them...Way to go.Very optimistic outlook.Recently,I saw the BMTC Volvos being used by the aam aadmitypes (very very different from the ECity types.If such people are ready to buy comfort at a premium,it is good news.


Anonymous said...

Chennai now has air conditioned buses plying under a few intra city routes. i'm not sure if these buses r Volvo... but i wouldn't be surprised. i only hope they include more routes in the a/c variant... would make things better for a lot of us.

Kavi said...

The ITPL route is such a heart warming situation to see these buses ply.

the public transport adoption is really cool in Bangalore ! And the credit must rest at the Volvo's doorstep.

Jam said...

Let me give you yet another reason why people are willing to pay for public transport nowadays. In cities like Hyderabad and Bangalore where the new airports are well... for lack of a better term, in neighboring cities, most people including CEOs of SMEs end up using the AeroExpress buses or Vayu Vajra buses, depending on which city they are in.

Now if this isn't tribute to the image makeover that Volvos have brought to road travel in the country, ask the thousands or probably lakhs of IT Sector employees who religiously use the Hyderabad-Bangalore or Chennai-Bangalore routes almost every weekend.

In fact, believe it or not, today it is easier to book a Tatkal train ticket to Bangalore from Hyderabad, than getting a seat in one of the thirty odd Volvos which ply that route every night. Now if that ain't good news for Volvo, what is.


Prats said...

I always ask for a AC Volvo.
But still I would say the bus services are still better as compared to North. ( I wonder if bus services are better or simply roads are better).

I happen to travel from Indore to Kanpur by Bus. The thing took 18 which is a 12 hr jrny by train.
Seeing that Bus services bet Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai seem to be far better :-)

Anonymous said...

Hi !

You have great post there. Thanks for it, it's very informative. Just wondering if you might want to view the site i found that has a reviews about Bus Travel. If you have time, hope you could check it out and might find it interesting as well as resourceful.