Friday, June 08, 2007

Volvo - Mass Transit Made (Un)Comfortable

About 5 years ago, two things happened to road travel in India. The first was the massive pan-India highway reconstruction project, heralded by Atal Behari Vajpayee as "The Golden Quadrilateral". The aim was to connect major metros by 6 lane, secured toll highways. Spanning the country, they provided comfortable connectivity to smaller towns along the way as well. This project has largely been a success, even though the momentum has slowed since the last elections.

The second was introduction of so-called "Volvo buses". Initially started on popular routes such as Bombay-Pune, Goa-Bombay, Delhi-Jaipur and Chennai-Bangalore, soon every small and big operator had a fleet of Volvo buses, thanks to the canny operation cost and huge demand. These were the B7R model buses made by Volvo of Sweden, with a dreamy suspension, comfortable reclining seats, low-step access, space-age driver's cockpit and bump-free rides at greater speed.

It was even said that Volvo would ensure maintenance as per stringent Volvo standards, failing which the warranty would be void, and also train the drivers for a smart international experience. Road travel in India had leaped from the era of hard wooden seats in over-crowded, rickety metal heaps spewing black smoke.

Five years later, Volvo has sold whatever it can. The warranties are all long expired. Volvo doesn't care anymore. The owners never cared.

On a recent trip from Bombay to Pune on "Shivneri" (branding for Volvo buses owned by the State Government), the air conditioning was broke and helpless passengers sat sheltering their babies from water dripping through the AC vent above. Indian ingenuity made up for government apathy (once again!) as this picture shows.

Even on the streets of Bangalore, attractive red Volvos ply intra-city, routinely spewing thick black smoke and change lanes suddenly. Add, of course, my pet grouse of regional script on number plates. The designers never imagined that the maneuverability of these monsters in the hands of KSTRC drivers was like an AK-47 in the hands of an infant!

In case of these buses, despite the huge initial costs, we scrimp on maintenance costs. As a nation we destroy the environment for future generations and continue to remain backwards despite the prosperity!

Why do we as a nation pay such low premium on "maintenance"? Can a penny-wise pound-foolish nation really aspire to become the next super-power?

1 comment:

Sandeep said...

Yes ..this is exactly my experience was with 'Shivneri' as well !! ..they know how to drive slow on Mumbai-Pune Expressway & take 45 mins break in between for snacks :)...