Even before I start my review, I can tell you that I slept like a baby through the night on my Chennai – Cochin travel in the Scania Multiaxle Metrolink. The result: I woke up fresh and ready for a busy working day ahead! That’s not usual for someone like me who struggles to get sound sleep during the many bus travels I have done in the Chennai-Bangalore sector over the last many years. With Scania being a late entrant in this space in India, and trying to catch up with Volvo and Mercedes Benz it certainly had to do many things to ensure it made a mark. Let’s find out if Scania has really managed to impress.
As soon as I got into the bus I knew there was something different about this offering. To start with, the driver’s cabin seemed unusually spacious and roomy! I can say the driver seemed very comfortable in his position and the view he got of the road and sides was very clear without any obstructions. The driver seemed easily accessible to all the controls needed by him for a safe drive.
Upon entering the bus, the Wi-Fi signage very clearly pointing out the username and password. For once, I did not have to ask anyone for help to get connected to a Wi-Fi network! I thought in my mind, “Well Done, Scania!” It was assurance that you can stay engaged and connected through out the journey. Yes, there were times when the Wi-Fi did not work but I guess we are limited to the telecom operators coverage in the interstate routes. The bus was neatly arranged with the seats looking very well appointed with clear white backrest covers and bright bottom portions with pillow and blanket placed on each seat. The blankets provided were of better than we are used to in other buses and plays a part in the overall sound sleep a person can expect. The conductors seemed to be aware that this is a premium service and that they would have to provide a better overall experience to the passengers. They seemed geared up with most information like time of next halt, time of journey, location of next halt, duration of halt etc. They even promised to stop on request for toilets at various intervals! Since it was a weekday, the bus was not running full capacity and I was able to choose a seat as per my choice. I chose the aisle seat.
Immediately upon seating, I noticed the aircraft like light and air vent controls. The air vents especially were a delight to see, since you could control the direction of the airflow and it ensured that you did not have to burry yourself into the blanket. The windows of the Scania Metrolink were really large providing a landscape view to every passenger on board. What I also noticed was that there was certainly something different about the seats. It was not as bulky as many other seats that I have seen. It was slimmer but provided a much better position for the back and shoulders. While turns, the seats felt that it was supporting me better and hence I felt a bit more secure and confortable. I immediately compared it to the bulky Air India seats to the Functional and Light Indigo Airline seats in aircrafts these days! Due to the sleek seats, the legroom and overall roominess obviously seemed more. While the space in the Scania when compared to peers in its class is the same, the feeling of roominess is quite noticeable. Even when the front passenger reclines his seat fully, it does not cramp the passenger behind fully. For the passenger, the recline seemed to be a bit more than traditional recline seats and the comfort provided to the passenger due to the way the backrest has been modified slightly was the highlight of the seating system. 230v Plug points were available below every seat which were a bit difficult to access but I was personally disappointed not to see a USB charger at every seat. The luggage space was of the space specifications of an aircraft and it fir my cabin baggage specification travel bag perfectly. We were served a juice at the beginning and water at a reasonable interval.
My sleep is the most important to me. While a movie played on a large screen, I decided to get rest almost immediately. The breaks and suspension certainly played a major role in ensuring that there were no sudden jerks and ensured undisturbed sleep. All the Scania buses are fitted with devices that would centrally monitor (in real time) and control the speed limit ensuring the comfort and of course safety of the passengers. The entire journey was a very steady speed without much reason to complain about. Scania’s electronic braking system ensures immediate response and maximum stability. Passengers quite easily feel this. We could feel that the driver is able to handle a bus as effortlessly as a car. They score over competition on this account. The EBS provides instantaneous brake response with immediate application and release in direct proportion to pedal pressure. The fast and simultaneous brake release helps to overcome ‘brake drag’. Brake drag occurs when the brake release on some axles is momentarily delayed (a traditional pneumatic braking system reacts more slowly than electronic actuation). Talking about the suspension, The Scania Metrolink bus is installed with Banana Suspension, which controls the body sway (sideways) of the passenger. The stability of banana type suspension helps in achieving better passenger comfort. The other reason why the experience was seamless and less tiring was the automatic gear changing mechanism. This has removed most of the jerk that you feel in traditional luxury buses during gear change, acceleration and start/stop. Just leading to more comfort and hence better sleep! The concept of a standard mechanical gearbox also remains, but even the manual system has been extensively revised with improved mechanical components and entirely new software.
Taking about the safety aspects, a lot happens behind the scenes to ensure a safe, comfortable and enjoyable experience for the passenger. The first and most impressive feature called ‘Alcolock’ which is an integrated Breath analyzer, into which the driver has to blow to detect alcohol levels. In case the driver has crossed a certain level of alcohol content in his/her breath, the bus would not start!
Most of the advanced car technologies are now being implemented on buses and one of them is the Scania TPM (tyre pressure monitoring) that alerts the driver if the tyre pressure drops in any of the vehicle’s tyres. It continues to work while the vehicle is in motion, so you can act to prevent accidents and body damage. Scania ESP (electronic stability program) is the next car technology, which greatly increases driving safety by monitoring key stability parameters and automatically triggering appropriate controls on vehicles equipped with electronically controlled disc brakes. It is designed to work on wet or slippery roads, where under- or oversteering often occurs, and on dry roads, where the main risk is a roll-over resulting from excessive speed or driver negligence on bends.
While most of the engine technology is focused on getting most out of every drop of diesel, the transmission technology provides the required control over the high car like torque that bus is capable of producing. Scania is clearly seeking to actively handle passenger safety by implementing better technology and instrument positioning, it is also handling safety passively in case of an accident to minimize the consequences that affect the driver, the passengers and the occupants of other vehicles. This includes essentials (and car like technologies) like structural integrity and dispersion of impact forces.
For someone like me who also cares a little bit about the impact of performance improvements on the environment, there are plenty of reasons to cheer! The transmission, breaking and speed controls help improve fuel efficiency while allowing for the advancement of technology on the vehicles.
While from a passenger standpoint, each of the measures adopted by the Scania Metrolink, help have a safe, comfortable and stress free journey. The bus stopped for dinner on time and also made scheduled stops in Cochin city before leading to a green strip with many auto rickshaw’s waiting to ferry passengers along to their destinations. On a day trip, we can expect to enjoy the luxury and comforts better since we would be awake to notice all the shuttle (and some of the obvious) differences that I have spoken about! However, there is always a scope for improvement and with the advancements in technology and passenger needs, we would like to see a USB charging port and individual headphones make it to the offering soon!
The prices for each of these trips are almost comparable with the rest and Scania has now made my choices really easy! If there was 1 disappointment that I had was that I had expected the bus I was travelling in, to have a toilet on board. This was not to be and that was perhaps the only disappointment but perhaps still not a reason not to choose this experience on my next travel! If there were a Scania bus ticket available to take, you know what my first preference would be for stress free, safe and sound sleep! I am keenly awaiting their operational services in the Chennai-Bengaluru route where most of my nights are spent sleepless!