Luxury on wheels: The ‘bus’ stops at seven-star comfort

Geeta Nair Posted online: Sunday, Mar 02, 2014 at 0000 hrs
Just picture this. You board a passenger bus to be greeted by smiling stewards armed with iPads and ready to offer services similar to in-flight offerings. The iPads are linked to the central data servers, which will have all your booking details. You have access to food and beverages from the in-house pantry, which you enjoy relaxing on the 185-degree reclining seats. If you’re feeling bored, you switch on the satellite TV that has 104 live channels, a music server with 5,000 songs and 300 movies stored, besides newspapers and magazines to perk up your journey.

If you are in need of an urgent business meeting, you can make use of the conference room that has Wi-Fi connections and projectors for presentations. A well-designed restroom with chemical toilets for ‘Him’ and ‘Her’ will take care of your other basic needs.

When it comes to ultimate luxury on wheels, the ‘bus’ stops here. Or, at least, that’s what the new Dilip Chhabria-designed Swedish Scania buses, aptly called ‘seven-star luxury coaches’, would like us to believe. Slated to hit the roads within the first week of this month, the new service is touted to redefine the way one undertakes a bus journey.

Surat-based Siddhi Vinayak Logistic (SVLL) will initially roll out the ultra-luxury bus service in the Pune-Mumbai-Ahmedabad triangle. A total of 18 such buses will be operating on three to four routes in the western region in the first three to four months, after which they will be taken to other parts of the country. “Luxury on the road can mean something else,” says Deepak Baid, director, SVLL, adding that his company will invest Rs 325 crore in the project.

Talking about other features, Baid says the fabrics used on the seats, curtains and carpets will be fire-resistant. “There will be four cameras inside each bus that will be linked to a central monitoring hub. An in-house cab service for pick-up and drop from door-to-destination will keep the luxury experience uninterrupted. Also, there will be two to three drivers on each of the buses,” he adds.

All these facilities will be available for a fare equivalent to AC first-class rail travel.

RC Baid, founder of SVLL, a road transportation logistic company with a fleet of 7,000 trucks, says they have already placed orders for 120 buses, which are to be delivered over one-and-a-half years. SVLL chose Swedish brand Scania from a safety point of view, as the buses meet the roll-over tests, have low vibration and noise, besides more space. The 14.5-metre, 36- and 21-seater buses have been modified by Dilip Chhabria Design, putting the total cost of each vehicle between Rs 2.05 crore and Rs 2.25 crore.

Based on feedback from users and modifications, the fleet will be introduced in the northern and southern parts of the country. In May, the luxury bus service will go to Goa, Bangalore, Udaipur and Shirdi.

Baid is convinced there is a big market opportunity for this kind of service and sees the business breaking even in five years. “There is already demand coming in from corporates to book entire buses for their dedicated use; even families have been using these buses for weddings, where there is a two-month waiting period. A set of buses is being kept aside for this so that regular services are not affected,” he adds.

Sivakumar V, director (sales), Scania Commercial Vehicles, says buses are being imported fully built. They will be made in India as soon as the manufacturing facility in the country is ready by the last quarter. Sivakumar says the patented fleet management system offered by the company was also a deal-clincher. “Road network is expanding and passengers are willing to pay extra for luxury services,” he adds. This is being considered as a major test case for Scania, as the buses also mark their entry into the competitive bus segment in India.

The bus services were launched in Surat but the big splash will come from a presence in Mumbai. Earlier, SVLL was in talks with some IPL teams for use of these buses, but uncertainty over the tournament’s destination has put a big question mark on the deal.