After an episode of having some deadly beach sundal at the marina beach followed by a session of pav bhaji, onion rava and some filter coffee at hot chips in broadway, i felt like treating myself to a little luxury on the way back home. The new air-conditioned volvo buses launched by the mtc in chennai was attracting a lot of public interest within 2 days of their inception and as a die hard public transport traveller, was keen to try it out.
The Chennai MTC have inducted 10 volvos (B7RLE) into their fast expanding fleet, to become only the third city in the country, after Bangalore and Pune to do so. Since tuesday i spotted the volvos around 8 times on the 19G 21G E18 and 70 routes. The buses look awesome with their clean white livery, though not as appealing as the red bangalore scheme. But after countless trips on dirty crowded sweaty buses, travelling by AC was a refreshing thought.
I go to broadway bus stand and after querying four clueless officials on the 19G 21G volvo timings, i finally find someone who tells me that there are no more services for the day. I make a beeline for the high court terminus across the road hoping to catch the E18 to SIET. I enter the busy terminus and the volvo is parked there in all its glory, A scrolling digital display and bright white interior lights for all to admire. There was quite a crowd around the bus and i run towards it, hoping its not full yet.
The bus is packed with lungi clad people, slum dwellers and naked kids who have decided that the 50 lakh bus is more fun than their corporation playground. Theres a line of slum people outside, coming into the bus in batches of 5, inspecting the vehicle, to check if it meets their standards. The kids try out the soft seats while the women admire their reflection on the shiny windows.
10 minutes later, a smartly dressed gentleman in a cream suit arrives and ushers the unwelcome visitors outside the bus. His badge identifies him as “Rajagopalan – MTC Coach Conductor”. He announces “Minimum fare is Rs 15 and upto 33 to tambaram”. Theres a sudden exodus from the bus and its left with just three passengers.
The doors are shut and the ac is switched on insulating us from the busy outside. Old tamil melodies are played and put us in a trance. The ride is as smooth as silk and so silent, its like being in a dream, to watch the usual sight of chennai zoom past through those huge windows. After being used to the regular buses for maybe a bit too long, the volvo was an absolute delight to travel. You feel like royalty, especially when you see the awe in the eyes of people outside.
The conductor comes by, holding a ticket dispensing machine, and i get a printed reciept for my journey. The 10 km ride set me back by 20 bucks, compared to Rs4 by a regular bus and 8 in a deluxe bus. After a few stops, all the seats are occupied and eager travellers resort to standing. The bus has around 35 seats and plenty of room to stand, and the super smooth ride makes standing a viable option. The airconditioning was so effective i had to shift my seat to relieve my numb hands.
The stop arrives in 25 minutes, and i relentfuly make my way to the door. The driver steers the vehicle with ease, his console a dizzying array of lights and digital information. Theres even an lcd display on his side, with feeds from cameras located at the exit and the rear. The bus comes to a halt and at the doors open without a sound. I get down and even before i realise it, its gone.
Bottom line - The volvos are great and well worth the fare. The AC and the smooth ride are reasons enough to use it if it happens to be travelling on your route. The new buses should hopefully shake off that image of buses associated with the lower class. If only more people used public transport, there wouldnt be a traffic problem on our roads. So if comfort was what you were waiting for, these buses score full points.
I’m going to be following the developments of the volvo fleet closely, so look forward to more volvo and mtc related info.
Update: I found some more dinakaran photos thanks to the southern railway forum
UPDATE: Two more routes spotted, A51(High Court- Tambaram East) and 588 (Adyar – Mahabs /ECR)