Text and photos by Elizabeth Lolarga,VERA Files
De luxe buses that offer air-conditioned, non-stop trips to such tourist, educational and business hubs like Baguio City are no longer a novelty. But what the operators of these provincial bus companies seem to have overlooked is branding their product for easier consumer recall.
The 20-year-old Genesis Transport Services pulled one over its competitors recently with the launching of its executive coach, called by the auspicious name of JoyBus. The name is close to the word "joyride" but without the recklessness that term implies.
Loren Zubia, Genesis marketing manager, said at the bus service's presentation to the press at Baguio's Hill Station restaurant that the 28-seater blue and yellow JoyBus units plying the Avenida/Cubao-Baguio route and vice versa assure the passenger of the following:
- Superior comfort through wide seats that can fully recline and the free use of a blanket against the cold;
- Free WiFi and filling snacks;
- A unisex flush toilet;
- Insurance from accidents automatically included built in the passenger fare and not paid separately;
- Safety and faster travel time (five to six hours with no stopovers);
- Presence of a stewardess, usually a tourism graduate, throughout the trip to give welcome and safety spiels and assist passengers;
- If anything untoward, an emergency happens, the driver veers to the nearest hospital or police station;
- The presence of K-9 dogs during peak seasons at the terminal.
Zubia added that on night trips, soothing instrumental music is played so passengers can rest or sleep without a noisy disruptive video.
Marilou Avila, who is in charge of training and seminars, assured that their drivers have passed a battery of tests apart from the actual driving test. A Department of Transportation and Communication regulation mandates that by 2013, professional drivers must all have passed an assessment conducted by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority. If they fail, their drivers' licenses cannot be renewed.
Apart from knowing defensive and economical driving, these drivers go through regular drug tests. Once they arrive at the terminal to park the bus, security guards check on them to ensure that they rest fully before their next trip. Avila said these drivers play "the biggest role in the business."
One notable safety feature is the speed of a JoyBus is automatically locked at 100-105 kph, no more. Even if the highway is clear and the driver wants to step on the gas to accelerate, he cannot go beyond the maximum speed limit.
The other safety measure is during the once-a-week coding schedule of a bus, it undergoes preventive maintenance. When a breakdown happens along the way, it is standard operating procedure for the driver or stewardess to immediately call the dispatcher so another vehicle can be sent over to rescue stranded passengers.
Riza Moises, company president, said, "We are not just running a business. We are a responsible operator. We may not yet be the best, but we're known for taking care of our employees through retirement benefits. So why go abroad if you can earn as much with Genesis? We try our best all the time. We want to become the example even if we're not big."
Another feature is the reliability of JoyBus in keeping to a schedule. Zubia said even if there are only two to three passengers, the bus will leave on time and not pick up passengers along the way for security reasons.
Confident of more people seeking the stress-free comfort of de luxe buses, Droy Jalbuna, operations manager, said Genesis will buy 10 more new bus units to add to the fleet plying the Baguio and Baler routes. In fact, they are adding another destination: Manaoag in Pangasinan, a popular pilgrimage site.
For the Manila/Cubao-Baguio and vice versa route, the rate is P650 per passenger with a 20 per cent discount for senior citizens (P520). The savings are considerable when other companies with similar buses charge P715.
Ensconced on an upholstered seat with a clear view through the window of the five provinces whizzing by along the North Expressway, SCITEX and MacArthur Highway, it becomes easy to fall in love with this country again.
The advertising billboards that sometimes cover sky and expanse of fields planted to rice or sugarcane become tolerable. From that perch, one sees palay being threshed or dried in the sun on patches of highway or bagged in woven sacks. Uniformed employees walk home in groups. The bus tails a tricycle bringing home children from public school and overtakes it when the other side of the road is clear. Soon the lowland trees of mango and coconut give way to the pines that thrive in a higher altitude. Home again!
(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")