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SBP Review: Suasana Edaran TopClass December 31, 2009

Posted by hafizbam in Bus, Express Coach.
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Suasana Edaran's KCH6 - a Scania K124EB with SKS bodywork.

Suasana Edaran's KCH6 - a Scania K124EB with SKS bodywork.

Date: Friday, 25 December 2009
Route: Singapore (ParkRoyal Hotel) -> Kuala Lumpur (Puduraya Terminal)
Bus: KCH6, Scania K124EB
Seat: 9B

Scheduled Departure Time: 0830 H
Actual Departure Time: 0820 H
Scheduled Arrival Time: 1300 H
Actual Arrival Time: 1500 H

I was scouring around for the most reasonably priced coach service between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to get a group of friends over to the Malaysian capital city on Christmas Day. One that offers slightly greater comfort than the typical 40+ seaters but not too expensive such as the high-end Transtar First Class Solitaire, whose tickets were going for an exhorbitant S$93 one-way! That was in early November this year.

Unluckily for me, most of the coach operators already had their mid-range priced coach classes nearly fully booked and what was left were only bits of empty seats here and there.  Hardly suitable for booking tickets for a group of eight! That was until I came across the website of Suasana Edaran, a Malaysian-owned coach company running routes on the high demand Kuala Lumpur – Seremban, Kuala Lumpur – Penang and Kuala Lumpur – Singapore routes. I tried checking for seat availability using their online booking system but to my dismay, it was still not up and running. I find this rather unacceptable since they have been promoting it ever since their website was up and running more than a year ago when they started doing business here!

Suasana Edaran's Singapore ticket sales office cum waiting lounge at ParkRoyal Hotel shopping arcade.

Suasana Edaran's Singapore ticket sales office cum waiting lounge at ParkRoyal Hotel shopping arcade.

Naturally I was forced to call them up but was glad to find out that they still have plenty of seats left! Not wanting to drag any longer, I made my way down to their ticket sales office at ParkRoyal Hotel shopping arcade (which is just behind the 24-hour Mustafa Centre in Little India). Imagine my surprise when I found out that not only do they still have many seats left, they were also running a promotion which saw their typical S$45 one-way tickets being sold at a much cheaper S$38!

Tempted by their discounts, I booked eight tickets for the 0830H trip leaving Singapore on Christmas Day and the 1400H trip leaving Pasarakyat Terminal in Kuala Lumpur two days later. I chose the back seats on the upper deck for the trip up north, and went for the front seats for the trip back. Even though I had to withdraw my money from the nearest DBS Bank ATM at the new City Square shopping mall across the road in order to pay them up (yes, they do not accept payments by card), I left the ticket sales office a satisfied customer.

However, due to changes in plans, my friends and I decided that the 1400H departure back to Singapore was a bit too early. So I called up Suasana Edaran and asked if it was possible to change my return trip departure timing. I was happy that my request can be acceded to, and at absolutely no extra cost! Similar processes with other coach companies such as Transtar would have cost me quite a substantial amount, and that is if I can even make changes to my itinerary in the first place. When I came down to the sales office to make the ticket exchange, I was pleasantly surprised to see my new return trip tickets already prepared beforehand and sealed in an envelope. Now that is what I call professionalism and efficiency!

KCH6 pending departure from ParkRoyal Hotel.

KCH6 pending departure from ParkRoyal Hotel.

Moving on to Christmas Day itself, my friends and I reached ParkRoyal Hotel well before 0800 hours but found ourselves locked out as the shopping arcade itself wasn’t opened yet. We waited outside with the other coach passengers before the doors were opened slightly after 0800 hours and settled down in their spacious ticket sales office cum waiting lounge which was well stocked with magazines and beverages to keep us occupied. We were called to board the bus at about 0815 hours and the fully-loaded coach departed early at 0820 hours. Shortly after, the female bus attendant handed each of us a bottle of mineral water and announced in English that we were reaching the immigration checkpoints, as well as what we should bring along with us. This was very helpful for first-timers and foreigners on the bus.

However, the joy was short-lived as my worst fears started surfacing – the Christmas Day traffic jams at both the Tuas and Sultan Abu Bakar immigration checkpoints. That itself took us nearly 2 full hours to clear but I realised that the jams were not so much because of the high volume of cars, but because of just one officer regulating the flow of travel coaches into the Sultan Abu Bakar complex to prevent massive human congestion. Smart move, but still too time consuming. Add to the fact that there were a number of Indian nationals on our bus and immigration clearance took longer than usual.

Interior view of the upper deck of the coach from the rear.

Interior view of the upper deck of the coach from the rear.

Interior view of the upper deck of the coach from the front.

Interior view of the upper deck of the coach from the front.

Our bus, a Scania K124EB registered as KCH6, carried on only after the last passenger cleared immigration checks at 1130 hours. It then made a short stop at the first Rest & Service area just after the first toll plaza, following which the bus attendant started serving us food packed in clear containers. It turned out to be the very familiar Nasi Lemak, complete with a fried chicken wing, sambal and cucumber; and which tasted good. I suspected the food was collected from one of the stalls at the rest stop. The driver drove at a slower speed for the next half an hour, which is a good gesture allowing us to eat without much of the humps and bumps of the road. The attendant then returned to collect the containers and any other rubbish we may have, and the bus began to pick up speed. The attendant also proceeded to give each of us a headphone to accompany the personal entertainment system.

Nasi Lemak served just after JB immigration.

Nasi Lemak served just after JB immigration.

Fried chicken wing taking the place of the fish, yummy!

Fried chicken wing taking the place of the fish, yummy!

The personal entertainment system (consisting of a 7.2 inch LCD screen) which was not switched on in Singapore due to local rules and regulations, started playing four English and Malay movies simultaneously. While there was a game console slotted at the back of each seat, I did not have any use for it as I could not find any games. However, my friend sitting on the last row behind me was already engrossed in his game of chinese chess. A little inconsistency there. As I did not have much sleep the night before, I decided to forgo watching the movies and instead go into slumber after charging my camera batteries using the power socket close to the floor.

The comfortable grey-coloured fabric seats have a wider pitch than those found on the economy class seats onboard most airplanes. However, the recline control was still manually operated, as compared to automatic buttons on most newer double-decker coaches. The wide seats in a 2+1 configuration also means the aisle is a bit squeezy, making it difficult for the attendant to walk up and down while serving the passengers. However they do not seem to have much problems with it probably due to experience.

The individual personal entertainment system. Pity the lack of choices.

The individual personal entertainment system. Pity the lack of choices.

I was woken up by the bus attendant announcing that the bus was stopping for a 15-minute toilet break halfway into the journey. I took this opportunity to snap a couple of photos of the bus, which promptly continued its remaining journey on time. I also enquired with the bus attendant on the drop-off locations in Kuala Lumpur and was told it would make two stops – one at Puduraya Terminal before ending its trip at Pasarakyat Terminal. We decided to alight at Puduraya as it was nearer to our hotel. I also realised that some passengers were served coffee in styrofoam cups stamped with the Suasana Edaran logo. I might have not been approached as I was fast asleep but I didn’t mind as I did not like the idea of spilling coffee on myself as the cup was not covered.

View of the Suasana Edaran TopClass coach from the rear.

View of the Suasana Edaran TopClass coach from the rear.

Two more hours into the journey and the Petronas Twin Towers came into view, signalling that we were reaching our destination soon. However, I was surprised when the bus pulled in to the Pasarakyat Terminal first. After majority of the passengers alighted, I double checked with the bus attendant who also seemed perplexed as to why the driver did not stop by at the Puduraya Terminal first. As it turned out, some of the passengers had already made agreements by mouth to the counter staff back in Singapore to be dropped off at Puduraya Terminal, which is more accessible and centrally-located than Pasarakyat. However, this was not recorded in the namelist given to the driver, which stated that everyone’s destinaton was Pasarakyat. However, he eventually gave in and those heading for Puduraya re-boarded the bus. All in all, the whole journey took six and a half hours, which was two hours behind schedule thanks to the delay at the immigration checkpoints.

————————————————–

Date: Sunday, 27 December 2009
Route: Kuala Lumpur (Pasarakyat Terminal) ->Singapore (ParkRoyal Hotel)
Bus: Scania K124EB
Seat: 9B

Scheduled Departure Time: 2200 H
Actual Departure Time: 2200 H
Scheduled Arrival Time: 0230 H
Actual Arrival Time: 0240 H

Fast forward to the night of 27th December. We checked in at Suasana Edaran’s office at Pasarakyat Terminal which is within walking distance from the well-known Berjaya Times Square shopping mall. The bus was already there when we reached at 2130H and we immediately loaded up our luggages before visitng the toilet. It was only then I realised my tickets were for seats at the back of the upper deck instead of the front seats which I had requested. But considering that we had made a last minute change, any seat is a good seat and I sat in the same seat on the second last row next to the emergency exit. The bus departed exactly at 2200H and as per standard, the female bus attendant started giving out bottles of mineral water and headphones for the entertainment system.

View of the coach's interior at night with the nice lighting.

View of the coach's interior at night with the nice lighting.

I tried out the automatic massaging function this time round. While the whole thing worked fine, the effect of the massage felt more like the kind of vibrations you would get when an old bus is sitting idle with the engine on; the only difference is having these vibrations concentrating on different spots on your back. In any case, I’m not much of a fan of massage seats and seeing that I was still not yet sleepy, I decided to watch whatever movies they were screening. I settled for this sick movie whose title I have yet to find out. Sick because the movie is all about brutal murder of innocent victims by a group of “hilly-billies”, essentially deformed humans who prey on stray hikers for food. What a way to keep me awake in the middle of the night! Haha.

Food prepared by Ayamas packed in a plastic bag.

Food prepared by Ayamas packed in a plastic bag.

Not the most appealing chicken rice around but it did fill up the stomach.

Not the most appealing chicken rice around but it did fill up the stomach.

Anyway, the movie provided a good form of entertainment to go along with the Ayamas chicken rice which was served in the same transparent microwaveable boxes, only this time round the food, together with the plastic fork, spoon and napkin were all packed in a plastic bag. A wise move considering many might not have the appetite to eat heavily so late at night. However, the food was quite bland and thankfully I had bought a Subway sandwich earlier to complement my meal!

So the coach made a toilet break midway through the journey, this time round though it stopped at a proper Rest & Service stop with the proper food stalls and all. Unlike the trip up to Kuala Lumpur, the bus attendant (whom I find to be very young and pretty, and very Singaporean) did not make any announcements onboard informing passengers of the supposedly 15-minute toilet break. Either she forgot about it or the PA system was not working but in any case, all the passengers got woken up as the driver switched on the bright lights in the bus. By this time too, the entertainment system was paused.

The 15-minute toilet break turned out to be a 30-minute makan break but nobody was really in any rush in the middle of the night so it was alright. By now some passengers were seen to be sleeping soundly under the comfort of blankets and pillows provided by the attendant. I wonder why I wasn’t provided with a set though. Anyway we were anticipating the movies to run for a second time after the bus commenced the second leg of the journey but it never happened. While majority of the passengers may be sleeping, the bus crew should take into account those who were not, and should just play the movies again for the sake of keeping the passengers entertained with whatever limited offerings available, especially since there are no video-on-demand and games available.

The bubbly cute coach attendant in the black and white uniform.

The bubbly cute coach attendant in the black and white uniform.

We reached the Sultan Abu Bakar immigration complex slightly before 0200H, crossed the Second Link and cleared Tuas checkpoint shortly after. Again, no announcements were made by the attendant. By now the entertainment system was already switced off and the headphones collected back. With the driver skilfully cruising the Ayer Rajah and Central Expressways, we managed to reach ParkRoyal Hotel slightly after 0230H. This brings the whole journey to their promise of 4.5 hours long.

Overall, Suasana Edaran managed to surpass my expectations of a Malaysian coach operator. For the price I paid, my rides were definitely value-for-money and the company scored on the comfort factor with their fabric seats, airconditioning and general smoothness of the journey. However, there are a few areas which the company can further improve on.

The first of which would definitely be the personal entertainment system. This can be upgraded to offer passengers with video on demand as well as games, which would make the investment for the game consoles worth the money. The food and beverage offerings can definitely be improved as well. In addition to making their food look more appetising, the company may want to introduce Transtar-style styrofoam cups with covers with which they can serve hot coffee or tea to passengers with ease. Passengers will also not have to worry about any spillage. The company may also want to look into standardising practices across all its staff, such as ensuring that all announcements are being made to inform passengers at the appropriate times.

I recommend this coach service for those who won’t mind going that extra mile to save a few bucks on transport, but yet do not want to compromise too much on comfort.

With that, I’m happy to give Suasana Edaran TopClass a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

For more information, do visit their website here:
http://www.suasanaedaran.com.my/

Suasana Edaran TopClass
Customer Service: 5/5
Onboard Service: 3.5/5
Comfort: 4/5
Entertainment: 2/5
Food & Beverage: 3/5
OVERALL: 3.5/5

Price-fixing: Coach companies fined; Transtar Travel received highest penalty November 4, 2009

Posted by hafizbam in Express Coach, Miscellaneous, Transport Events.
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A Transtar Travel coach.

A Transtar Travel coach. Transtar's fine is the highest among the 17 parties involved. Photo by mynetbizz.

 

16 OPERATORS COLLUDED TO SET MINIMUM PRICES FOR TICKETS

Sixteen coach operators plying between Singapore and Malaysia and their association have been fined S$1.69 million for price-fixing.

The Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) has found the companies and the Executive Bus Agencies Association (EBAA) guilty of setting a minimum price for coach tickets sold here and for a fuel and insurance surcharge on each ticket.

This collusion took place between 2006 and June last year.

The fines, ranging from $10,000 to $518,167, are pegged to the company’s size and the amount earned from the price-fixing.

The total fine is the biggest penalty handed down by the CCS, which promotes healthy competition in the various industries and administers the Competition Act.

In the only other time it has wielded its powers, it fined six pest exterminators a total of $263,000 for bid-rigging in January last year.

In the latest case, the EBAA, which represents 26 coach operators with 60 per cent of the market share, instituted a minimum ticket price for tickets to destinations in Malaysia, including Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh and Genting Highlands.

This minimum price, first set at $25 in 2005 for a one-way ticket to Kuala Lumpur, edged up to $29 over the years.

Until that $25 minimum price was set, most of these coach companies were charging $20 or $23. A spokesman for one of the companies told the CCS that they were managing to cover their costs even at the lower price, except profits were thinner.

The coach companies said in their defence that they agreed to this minimum price to forestall a price war among themselves.

This cut no ice with the CCS. In its judgement report, it said the practice amounted to “blatant price-fixing”, which deprived consumers of the “efficiencies and innovation” which result when healthy business rivalry prevails.

Although some companies chose to charge less than the minimum agreed upon, the CCS deemed them just as liable because they had been party to the price-fixing.

On the matter of the levying of a fuel and insurance surcharge, the CCS also found out that the EBAA bought insurance policies in bulk at 30 cents, sold them to its members at 50 cents, and then directed them to levy a surcharge – $2 extra in the case of Kuala Lumpur-bound passengers. Over the years, the surcharge was raised to $8.

EBAA spokesman Sebastian Yap, pointing out that the surcharge also covered higher fuel prices, added: “Business has been hit by budget airlines and H1N1. We are just trying to help our members meet costs.”

All parties involved have since stopped imposing the minimum selling price and the surcharge.

Transtar Travel, which received the highest penalty, said it would appeal against the fine.

Konsortium Express & Tours also said it would appeal; Grassland said it would not, while Five Stars Tours and the EBAA were undecided.

The Consumers Association of Singapore’s executive director Seah Seng Choon said the fines send out a “strong signal” about the unacceptability of price collusion.

“Pleading ignorance is no excuse and the law has been there for a long time,” he said. He called on trade associations to educate their members on the Competition Act.

Investigations of the coach companies followed a report in Lianhe Zaobao about the fuel charges levied by coach companies. The CCS found damning evidence in the EBAA’s minutes of meetings and in interviews with EBAA members.

All parties in the latest case have two months to pay the fines. They may, with the CCS’ approval, pay them in instalments.

The CCS has looked into 98 cases of possible infringements of the Act; investigations have been completed for 74, and 24 are still being probed.

- The Straits Times, page A3, Wednesday November 4 2009

Breakdown of penalties imposed:

1. Transtar Travel – $518,617
2. Five Stars Tours – $450,207
3. Konsortium Express & Tours – $337,635
4. Regent Star Travel – $103,875
5. Gunung Raya Travel – $76,668
6. GR Travel – $52,432
7. Grassland Express & Tours – $ 27,706
8. Sri Maju Tours & Travel – $ 24,600
9. Enjoy Holiday Tour – $23,425
10. WTS Travel & Tours – $13,611
11. Alisan – $10,807
12. Travelzone Network Services – $10,000
13. T&L Tours – $10,000
14. Nam Ho Travel Service – $10,000
15. Lapan Lapan Travel – $10,000
16. Luxury Tours & Travel – $10,000
17. Express Bus Agencies Association – $10,000

TOTAL: S$1,699,133

A big win for the budget airlines competing in the same markets, especially the Singapore – Kuala Lumpur route, now that potential customers will think twice about where their money is going to. Nevertheless, with lower fares and more point-to-point services, demand for express coach services should not be hit too hard by this bad publicity.

I’m just wondering if I had been charged more than I should for the Transtar ticket I just bought. Hmm…

Premium bus service 586 returns… in Yishun! October 25, 2009

Posted by hafizbam in Bus, Express Coach, Premium Bus, Private operators, Something New.
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BusHublogo

SBS Transit is now no longer the only bus operator providing premium bus services in Yishun town. Private bus operator Bus Hub Services Pte Ltd has been running a new route from the estate to the CBD on weekday mornings, soon after gaining approval from the Public Transport Council (PTC) in April 2009.

In true Bus Hub style, the service has been dubbed the Yishun Express and interestingly, officially numbered 586. Some Bukit Panjang residents may recall seeing a bus service with the same number running in their estate some months back. That was the SMRT Buses version of 586, which got scrapped due to low demand (and why wouldn’t it, paying 4 bucks to get to Jurong East just isn’t worth it!). So if this reborn 586 does succeed, it would definitely be a snub at SMRT, especially so when the service is running in their traditional operating territory!

Just like its two other premium bus services 562 and 576, Yishun Express 586 targets the residents of private housing who are more likely to work in a downtown office as compared to the typical HDB dweller. Along the way however, it does serve a bit of the Yishun HDB crowd missed out by SBS Transit’s 558 and 559.

The route starts at Canberra Drive serving residents of Yishun Sapphire and Yishun Emerald, calling at the bus stops outside the Darul Makmur Mosque and Yishun Community Library soon after. From there it proceeds to pick up passengers from the Lilydale, Shaughnessy and Orchid Park condominiums before heading to Sembawang and Upper Thomson Roads to fetch those residing in Springside and Springleaf estates. From there, the bus cruises along the expressways down to City Hall, Shenton Way and ending at the stop opposite Hong Lim Complex along Upper Cross Street.

If demand from SMRT’s 587* is anything to go by, this service should have a ready pool of customers, especially so when its coverage in the city area is much greater than the simple Shenton Way-only offerings. Again, this can only happen if the targeted crowd knows about Yishun Express’ very existence since private operators rarely display their bus service information at bus stops. *(SMRT’s 587 is also a premium route targeting those from the LaCasa, Rosewood, Casablanca and Woodgrove private housing, serving pockets of HDB residents along the way.)

And yes, the total journey time for Yishun Express end-to-end is only an hour at most as stated in their website. A flat fare of $4 per trip is payable, though regular commuters can save up by purchasing the monthly booking at $80. And for a limited time only, Bus Hub is offering an introductory monthly booking discounted fare of only $70.

More information can be found in Bus Hub’s website.

Travel Malaysia Fair 2009 October 17, 2009

Posted by hafizbam in Bus, Express Coach, Miscellaneous, Transport Events.
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What: Travel Malaysia Fair 2009 (includes display of 8 express bus coaches) – admission is free!

When: 16 to 18 October 2009, Friday to Sunday; 1000 to 2130 hours

Where: Suntec Singapore Convention Centre Hall 404

How: By train: Alight at City Hall station and walk through CityLink Mall or take the free shuttle bus from the bus stop at Coleman Street. By bus: 10, 10e, 14, 16, 36, 70, 70M, 97, 106, 107M, 111, 133, 162M, 196, 196e, 502, 518, 531, 541, 546, 547, 597, 700A, 857, NR1

Express Bus Agencies Association (EBAA) is pleased to present once again our annual edition of Travel Malaysia 2009 travel fair to be held on 16th – 18th October 2009 at Hall 404, Suntec Convention Centre. The three days event will be the largest and most comprehensive tourism exhibition on Malaysia as a favourite destination for the year end holidays. The three days event is expected to draw a crowd turnout of about 30,000.

In cooperation with Tourism Malaysia, the main highlights of the event are the State Pavilions where the various states of Malaysia flaunt a unique mélange of attractions and holiday destinations as well as a multitude of special products. The fair will also showcase and display the state of the art and most up to date exclusive express bus and coaches by EBAA member companies.

Travel Malaysia 2009 is supported by Malaysia Tourism Promotional Board (MTPB) as the Title Sponsor and is co-sponsored by AIG, Genting International, Awana Resort, OCBC Bank and Star Cruises. Travel Malaysia 2009 includes key exhibitors from the tour and travel industries, hotel and resort, theme park, golf and recreation resorts, service provider of transport, travel agents, eco tourism, property investment, health tourism, shopping, entertainment, adventure holidays and NTOs from Malaysia.

A total of 85 exhibitors occupying a floor area of 4,000 sqm comprising 133 booths and display of 8 premium express buses will be put up for the event. Of these 133 booths, 60 booths were allocated to Tourism Malaysia HQ for their exhibitors by the respective state tourism boards.

Extracted from Suntec Singapore’s calendar of events and http://www.ebaa.sg/.

Members of the EBAA include Transtar Travel, Five Stars Tours, Lapan Lapan Travel, Sri Maju Tours & Travel, Regent Star Travel, Konsortium Express & Tours, Luxury Tours & Travel, WTS Travel & Tours and Hasry Singapore. Something that might be interesting to note – both SMRT Bus Plus and ComfortDelGro Bus are associate members of this grouping as well.

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