I’m sure many of us are familiar with ‘the bus with the horse logo’. If you’re thinking of the bus that carries horses to the Kranji Turf Club, you’re wrong. But if your guess is Grassland Express, you are spot on!
Grassland Express has been a long-time, and regular operator of interstate express buses between Singapore and Malaysia. Some of the buses under the Grassland Express brandname are operated under the Super Nice Express operating permits, with the largest number operating under the Zenwan Express permits. Together, they operate daily services to major towns in Peninsular Malaysia like Ipoh, Alor Setar, Penang as well as Genting Highlands and Kuala Lumpur. The type of coaches operated ranges from 25-seater Super VIP class coach to 26-seater Royal VIP class double-decker coach. I had the chance to ride on one of the Royal VIP coach on my way back to Singapore not long ago.
Initially, I had wanted to book my ticket online through their website. However, two things made me changed my mind. First, not all seats are available for booking. As an enthusiast, I would prefer to have the gunzel seat. But this particular seat was not available for online booking. Secondly, I’ve to pay an additional S$4 for the administration charge. With a base fare of S$38, plus the admin fee of S$4, I need to pay S$43. Quite a whopping sum, in my opinion. So I decided on the alternative, which is the traditional way – buying it over-the-counter.
Just as I had expected, the blocked gunzel seat is available for booking when I enquired at the ticketing office at Golden Mile Complex. The other best thing was that I don’t have to pay for the admin charge. Just S$38 for the ticket itself. With the preferred seat booked and ticket voucher in hand, my first trip ever on a Grassland Express bus has been confirmed.
In Kuala Lumpur, Grassland Express buses to and from Singapore will call at Jalan Imbi, just below Imbi Monorail Station opposite Berjaya Times Square. A small ticketing office is located here for passengers to purchase tickets and check-in for their trips. I booked on the 3.30pm trip back to Singapore. Check-in should be done 30 minutes prior to departure, as advised by the ticketing officer in Singapore as well as printed on the voucher. Upon check-in, the ticketing officer wrote on the voucher that the bus scheduled for the 3.30pm trip will be PGW9929.
PGW9929 is a 26-seater Royal VIP double-decker coach built on the powerful MAN 24.460 chassis. The bodywork for the 460hp German machine is supplied by MTrans on the modified Irizar PB model. It seats 22 passengers on the upper deck and 4 passengers on the lower deck on a ‘2+1′ seating configuration. Every seat is equipped with a personal entertainment system with video-on-demand and a game system. The seats are not equipped with an integrated massaging system, although it can be reclined to a comfortable position, complete with adjustable leg rests. As an added safety feature, all seats comes with seat belts. Food and drinks are not served onboard and cabin attendant service is not available as well.
The bus came at 3.20pm. As the bus pulls up at the bay, passengers starts to board the bus. I was told that the trip was fully booked way in advance. At the precise 3.30pm mark, PGW9929 departed for Singapore. The bus used the new Maju Expressway to leave KL, like other buses that departs from Hentian Pasarakyat. Most of the highway is elevated and is free from congestion. We reached Sungai Besi Toll Plaza some 20 minutes after we left Jalan Imbi. A short toilet break was made soon after and as told by the driver, the bus will not make any further stops before Yong Peng.
I quite like the smooth acceleration of the bus. The bus is indeed powerful as the bus overtook other vehicles quite often while cruising on the North-South Highway. However, as much as I like the sheer power of the bus, it’s not the same case for the driver’s style of driving. I managed to record three incidences of close-calls. One is way too much, and three is just scarring. As a passenger, obviously I prefer to reach my destination on time or even better if it’s earlier. But I will not condone or compromise on the safety aspects. Safe and meticulous driving skills are a must when choosing the company I’m travelling, so with these 3 avoidable close-calls, I may think twice about Grassland Express.
Touching on the seats and interior, I must say that the seats are among the most comfortable in the industry. I did not personally try out the reclining functions of the seat, but looking at how soundly the other passengers around me were sleeping, it must have been quite comfy. The personal entertainment system, however, is a letdown. Movies, music and games are available but they are quite outdated. In comparison, the movies available on the Alisan Golden Coach which I took back in August, are the same as those being shown on the Grassland Royal VIP. Needless to say, I chose not to watch any movies.
The airconditioning was superb, and it got colder as the time passed by. However, the interior fittings were in a terrible shape. I found that the leather fittings were damaged, most probably due to tear and wear. And obviously due to lack of maintenance.
We reached Ming Ang Restaurant in Yong Peng at around 6.15pm for a 25-minutes break. I did not feel like grabbing anything to bite so I chose to stay in the bus. But I got a rude shock when the driver told me to get off the bus. I admit that it was a bad choice to stay on the bus, but I don’t see the need to tell me off in such a manner. The bus left Yong Peng at 6.50pm, later than scheduled as a couple was late to board the bus. From this point onwards, the bus was driven at a lower speed, probably due to the darkness that have set in.
It’s time for the Malaysian immigration clearance when we arrived at the Sultan Abu Bakar Complex at 8.10pm. A short journey on the Second Link bridge was made later and we cleared the Singapore immigration clearance in Tuas just before 9pm. As per the regulations, the TV screens were switched off. Before proceeding to the last disembarkation point at Golden Mile Complex, the bus made short stop along the Ayer Rajah Expressway near the former Tang Village. We finally arrived at the final destination at 9.30pm. A full 6-hour journey.
This has been the worse journey yet on a supposedly executive-class bus service. From the dangerous driving to the driver’s level of courtesy, I personally did not enjoy the trip on Grassland Express. But to be fair, I shall not say the same for the rest of the Grassland Express services. I hope that the drivers will put more emphasis on the way they drive as well as their manners when interacting with the passengers. I may have made a mistake but I would appreciate if it is corrected in a more dignified manner. As for the bus, I call for the management to update the entertainment system more regularly. And of course, do a bit of maintenance on your buses, please. The Royal VIP bus, is afterall, not in a shape befitting its namesake.
Grassland Express Royal VIP deserves a 2-star rating.
For ticketing details, please contact:
Grassland Express & Tours Pte. Ltd
5001 Beach Road #01-26
Golden Mile Complex
Tel: 6293 1166
Blk 221 Boon Lay Place
Boon Lay Shopping Centre
Tel: 6262 1661
Super Nice Express Sdn Bhd
Imbi Monorail Station
Jalan Imbi opposite Berjaya Times Square
55100 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-2144 1332, o3-2144 2332