A partnership built to last
What better way to celebrate 40 years of providing commuter transport than to accept the keys to your 100th MAN bus?
This is just what Free State transporter Interstate Bus Lines (IBL) did at a celebratory event held at the Windmill Casino and conference centre, just outside Bloemfontein, on May 22.
IBL is the largest passenger bus operation in the Free State province. Its 253 buses transport between 22 000 and 25 000 passengers per day in one direction, on routes between Bloemfontein and outlying rural areas including Thaba ‘Nchu, Botshabelo, Brandfort and Soutpan.
Christo du Plessis, IBL’s chief operating officer, explains that services run seven days a week, from 04:00 to 00:00. “Our fleet of single buses and bus trains travels a total of 17 million kilometres per annum. Much of this is on gravel roads.”
These harsh operating conditions mean that rugged, dependable vehicles are needed, which is why, in 2007, the company decided to standardise its fleet on MAN buses.
Towards the end of 2015, MAN commuter bus derivatives will make up 45 percent of the IBL fleet – including 74 MAN bus trains, 34 MAN Solo buses and seven Volkswagen buses.
“In 2007, our objective was to standardise our fleet and enhance our technical efficiency. IBL has a MAN-accredited workshop, which enables us to sustain a 99,8 percent trip cover ratio. In future we will replace all old 65-seat and 100-seat buses with MAN derivatives to optimise seating capacity and cost savings,” says Du Plessis.
Both IBL’s 115-seat bus trains and 79-seat Solo buses are based on the marque’s front-engined Lion’s Explorer HB4 bus chassis. The HB4 is ideally suited to commuter transport in rural areas. It combines rugged construction with passenger comfort. Safety features include air suspension and an advanced braking system.
A highly significant aspect, though, is that of seating capacity. “MAN buses are capable of carrying more passengers than competitor models. This improves our carrying capacity by 14 percent in the bus trains and by 21 percent in the single buses,” explains Du Plessis.
A Euro-3 MAN diesel engine with automated manual transmission ensures optimum fuel efficiency and limited carbon emissions. “The fuel savings delivered by our MAN fleet is another critical business benefit, with our MAN bus trains using six litres less per 100 km than our older bus trains. Our MAN Solo buses are saving IBL seven litres per 100 km travelled,” he continues.
Every MAN bus is built in the company’s factory in Olifantsfontein and takes 800 to 900 man-hours to deliver. This bodes well for the IBL way of doing things … Following its management buyout in 2006, the IBL has grown to become one of the province’s leading business enterprises. It has a broad-based empowerment stakeholding of 63 percent, which includes employees, taxi associations and small bus operators.
George Mokgothu, chief executive officer of IBL, notes: “The spirit of entrepreneurship, that made IBL what it is today, continues to be nurtured in all divisions of our operation. Skills development is a key element of our strategy to offer excellent service and value for money to our customers.
“We now have a merSETA-approved technical training centre, where we will have 55 apprentices undergoing a three-year training programme. We also have a highly efficient driver training centre, which includes a medical facility to ensure driver wellness.”
Geoff du Plessis, MD of MAN Truck & Bus SA, gives his best wishes to the company: “It is a great honour to be able to congratulate IBL on the occasion of its 40th anniversary. MAN, too, had humble beginnings more than 250 years ago and shares the pioneering spirit that lies at the heart of IBL. We are also proud to be able to supply buses with bodies that are manufactured in South Africa in our own factory.
“The respect IBL has for all its stakeholders is inspirational, and MAN looks forward to a long and successful partnership with the company as it moves into another 40 strong years of quality service delivery to the people of the Free State,” he concludes.