Traveling a long distance, be it for fun or your daily/weekly commute is not exactly fun. This is especially true if the bus you’re in jam-packed with people and you’re left standing till you reach your destination. Fortunately, there are a few platforms that allow you to book tickets and reserve your seats online. The latest in that regard is SLTB Express.
What exactly is SLTB Express?
Well, for starters, SLTB Express is a mobile app for Android that allows you to book and reserve your seats on a long distance SLTB bus online. A project by the Sri Lanka Transport Board, SLTB Express was launched on the 18h of July 2018.
According to Min. Nimal Siripala De Silva – Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, who spoke at the launch of the SLT Express app, the reasoning behind the SLTB Express was to modernize the purchase of tickets in SLTB long-distance buses minus the hassle to commuters.
They would usually have to spend time standing in long queues or even seek the assistance of brokers. Ths in turn, would mean additional costs for the commuter. Another benefit that the Minister noted was the reduction in costs to maintain ticket counters. Even though we don’t regularly travel long distances by bus, we decided to check out the app and see what it’s like. If you don’t have a smartphone or are not keen on installing an app, there is also a web version of SLTB Express available.
Using SLTB Express
Gone are the days of signing up or login processes. The SLTB Express app does away with all that, bringing you a simple screen instead. Here, you enter your departure location, arrival location and the date of your journey.Once that is done, you are given a list of all SLTB buses that pass through that destination.
The results sheet is actually quite detailed. You are given the departure and arrival time/date of the bus. In addition, you can also see how long the journey to your destination would take. For example, we selected Kandy as our destination from Colombo. The results included busses that go to Ampara, Wasgamuwa, Kalmunia, Bibila, and Walapane.
So essentially, these busses would be passing through Kandy along the way. As such the journey duration was calculated for that. Once you pick a suitable bus, you’re then given the seat layout of the bus. This is a lot like booking seats at a movie theatre. A legend shows you what seats are booked, which ones are available and which ones have been reserved.
Making your booking with SLTB Express
Once you have picked the seats you want you can proceed to carry out the booking. This involves you filling out a form. The form contains details such as Name, Mobile phone number, NIC/Passport and email address. These are all pretty standard details. You can also choose to assign details to the seats you have booked. This is in case you’re booking tickets for multiple people or you’re booking on behalf of someone else. You can also choose what Bus stand you would be getting in and getting out of as well.
In terms of payment, bookings made via the SLTB Express app can be paid for via Credit/Debit cards, PayPal, and Dialog/Hutch eZcash. At the bottom of the form is a detailed list of all the costs involved. In addition to the LKR 100/- that was charged for booking, there was also charges simply put as Other Charges.
Payments for tickets books via SLTB Express can be done in a number of waysWe later found out that the booking charge includes infrastructure maintenance, training of SLTB staff members and the digitization of the total operations flow. In addition, this also covers 24/7 multilingual call center operations & 24/7 operations helpdesk services, passenger SMS notification charges and related customer service components. It also generates the revenue for developments and sustainability of the project.
Other charges involve costs involved in managing terminals, improving passenger service level, overheads in allocating alternative resources for confirmed seats in case the bus breaks down etc.
Once the payment has been made, you are given a receipt for the booking which is sent to you via email. One thing that we noticed was that there was no option to have a saved history of booking so that you can take the same bus route if you end up taking that bus route regularly. Perhaps the developers can look into that.
How viable is SLTB Express?
Now that is indeed an interesting question. While the mobile and web app are novel ideas themselves, we did find a number of quirks that we made a note of. For starters, the busses themselves are only focused on a limited number of routes from Colombo outwards. So if you’re looking for a bus to come back from Kandy, or Ampara, then SLTB Express, unfortunately, has no results to show you.
According to the developers of the app, a commuter who booked the tickets can obtain their seat by showing the reservation on the mobile phone to the conductor. From there, he/she would be issued an e-ticket as well. Our concern here is that someone else may take the seat before the rightful owner, leading to an awkward and rather embarrassing altercation. Sri Lanka is somewhat known for picking fights, especially one’s comfort of being seated hangs in the balance.
Convenience vs Pricing
In terms of pricing, even though SLTB Express does have the convenience of booking your seats online, there are those that would just prefer to go early and get a seat themselves. Added to this, the booking charges and other charges might be a deterrent for commuters, especially if they are taking that particular route several times a week as it becomes expensive.
Another thing that we noticed was that SLTB Express was developed by Express 418, who are also the developers behind BusBookings.lk. This too is another platform for booking seats on busses. So does that mean that the SLTB is just bootstrapping off an already existing app and platform? if so, why not bring both SLTB and Private Busses into one app? This would give users the choice to pick between both services as they see fit.
Looking at the web offering of both platforms, they both are strikingly similar. In addition, in our case, BusBookings also has busses from Kandy to Colombo, which SLTB Express lacks. Then again, in the defense of SLTB Express, the latter only has vehicles that fall under the SLTB category. This is the limiting factor that hinders SLTB Express to have more bus routes added.
Overall, SLTB Express is quite a good concept. The only issues that we had were that the ticket prices are a bit too much for the daily commuter. Further, the lack of busses from outstation areas to Colombo means that anyone who is planning on using SLTB Express to go somewhere must also figure out an alternative route to get back. In this case, they may just decide to take a regular bus anyway.
Have you used SLTB Express? Love it? Hate it? Leave a comment below.