After the 2010 World Cup
After the 2010 World Cup, will 2011 produce the hangover? With the demand for World Cup transport, the South African bus and coach industry went through boom times. Is there still plenty of business around? UDO RYPSTRA ponders the question
Last year, the World Cup and the Gautrain provided the bus industry with a bonus of 504 luxury coaches required for transporting the soccer teams and fans from stadium to stadium. Some people might argue that for the bus and coach industry, the party is over and that the industry will return to its usual sales quota of between 800 and 1000 units per annum.
Will it? Where will these 504 coaches be placed? What will 2011 bring?
Watch out for the Mercedes-Benz SA Bus & Coach division – its ambitions in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as financial clout (it landed a R1.2 billion order for 460 luxury coaches from Autopax in a deal which was financed by Mercedes-Benz Financial Services, MBFS, and financed as part of the deal, a further 44 buses purchased from another manufacturer).
In targeting the sub-Saharan export market, Daimler Buses of Germany has taken another bold step in making South Africa the hub for bus and coach sales in the Southern African region. It has made significant investment in the further development and upgrading of the East London CKD plant, particularly the dedicated bus line. Apart from increasing its share of the South African market, it is now also targeting Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho, Mauritius, and as far as Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.
“By making Mercedes-Benz South Africa’s Bus and Coach division responsible for sales and aftersales in these regions, this strategic move ensures shorter response times on customer requests, both on the sales and aftersales side,” says Holger Suffel, executive managing director, sales, service & parts, Daimler Buses Germany, at last year’s handover.
“Autopax run a successful cross-border business and a number of these Mercedes-Benz luxury coaches will be used in these operations. Our active presence in neighbouring countries will be of particular benefit to them in the aftersales and service areas, with logistical cost and time savings,” says Suffel.
Mercedes-Benz Bus & Coach divisional head Jan Aichinger has a challenging job on his hands. But the fact is that there is a large cross-border market waiting to be tapped, with many African countries and cities planning to upgrade their public transport systems. Zimbabwe alone reported to have a shortage of 6 000 buses and coaches.
Chinese manufacturers are also eager to enter the market, but may not have the product. Take late last year for example, the Mozambican government instead ordered 100 large VW buses for Maputo’s passenger transport after it realised that the Chinese-made Yutong buses it bought in 2007 for US$141 000 each were not properly specified for the country. By catering for the added World Cup demand, South African bus chassis and bus body manufacturers have shown they have the capacity to supply the sub-continent with reliable products designed for the African market.
While Mercedes-Benz, MAN/Volkswagen, Volvo, Scania and Iveco can supply suitable chassis, a full range of bodies are available from body builders such as Busmark 2000, Marcopolo, Irizar and VDL, to name a few. Also of importance, local truck and panel van converters are able to provide smaller buses based on various European and Japanese chassis. MAN, of course, remains the only manufacturer able to supply complete buses from its Olifantsfontein factory, with its Lion’s Explorer probably the best selling commuter bus in Southern Africa.
Completion of the Gautrain project will also require more feeder buses with Mercedes-Benz already having supplied a number of units for the OR Tambo International Airport Sandton station phase. Managed under contract by Unitrans Passenger, these are running smoothly and are well supported during peak hours. Completion of the Gautrain project through Midrand up to Pretoria is scheduled for later this year and will require separate feeder bus systems.
The roll out of Integrated Rapid Transport system (IRT) in South Africa’s major cities should also require more buses and may see the competition for a slice of the cake increase. Mercedes-Benz Bus & Coach (through Gautrain feeder buses), Scania and Volvo are already deeply involved. MAN Bus & Coach may also be entering the fray. MAN’s Ray Karshagen – Management Board Member, Business Development: Bus – has hinted his company may introduce a suitable model in the near future to enter the next tendering processes.
IRT systems will have trunk and feeder routes. The trunk services will make use of large articulated vehicles, that can carry up to 120 people, operating mostly in their own dedicated lanes. Feeder services will operate using vehicles that carry up to 50 people, operating in the same lanes as regular traffic. IRT vehicles will only stop at stations and will not pick up passengers at any points along the road.
Scania has already supplied smart buses for the first phase of Johannesburg’s Rea Vaya BRT system and Cape Town’s airport service.
According to City of Johannesburg spokesperson Gaby Tugwana, expansion plans are on track. “Since the launch of the trunk service, commuters and residents have continuously urged the city to ensure that the system has a wider reach.” The Rea Vaya service is operated by former taxi drivers after extensive training. “A substantial number of taxi owners have registered to be part of Rea Vaya and are engaging in the formal negotiation process.”
Many buses will be required for the completion of the four phases.
In Cape Town work on the first phase of the IRT system is almost complete with one route connecting the airport to the city centre, the stadium and Sea Point already in operation, and the other will operate up the West Coast to Table View and Atlantis.
Cape Town has ordered 43 Volvo buses for its system with specifications for high floor systems with elevated platforms at the bus stops. This order pertains to eight articulated Volvo B12M buses and 35 12-metre Volvo B7R buses. Marcopolo will also manufacture the bodies for these buses.
Port Elizabeth, which wants to roll out an IRT system with dedicated bus lanes, has selected Volvo Buses as its sole supplier. This includes the buses – gold contracts that involve Volvo taking responsibility for all service and repair work on the vehicles, and the ITS4mobility traffic-information system. It has taken delivery of 25 articulated buses of the Volvo B9SLA model with bodies from Marcopolo.
Unfortunately, legal hassles have delayed the rolling out of the IRT system for more than six months, with the buses still standing idle as we went to press. While the municipality has not directly attributed the delay to its cashflow crisis, officials have privately admitted that this is one of a host of factors which has seen the transport system put on hold. The taxi industry is also causing part of the delay. Last year, a start was also made with Pretoria’s public transport system with the introduction of new routes, a new ticketing system, and the local BRT project finally seeing some progress. This should also lead to tenders for new buses.
Metro bus services
Developments in the area of urban IRT/BRT systems and changes in bus subsidy systems have brought quite a degree of uncertainty about the future of municipal and private bus operators. According to industry experts, changes in the subsidy system have also made it difficult for operators to make future investments in buses.
These and other issues facing the bus industry will probably be addressed by stakeholders, including government officials, at this month’s annual conference of the South African Bus Operator Association (SABOA). A main feature of the conference is the annual report by SABOA advisor Professor Jackie Walters of the Johannesburg University’s transport faculty, whose detailed address normally outlines the progress made (or not) in negations with government, with subsidies, including those for school buses, being an ongoing issue.
Expert speakers such as Alta Swanepoel are also expected to address legal issues pertaining to legislation introduced recently to make it compulsory to have buses and coaches roadworthied every six months. There are also proposals to have the average weight of a passenger as classified by the law increased from the current 68kg per person (plus hand luggage) only.
While the first is aimed at making buses, coaches and taxis safer and more attractive to the public and tourists alike, the second is aimed at preventing the overloading of buses, coaches and also taxis. They follow a damning report by a Western Cape parliamentary working committee that was completed late last year which has called for the regulation to be urgently “revisited” and states that
68 kg is “not realistic because the average South African’s mass is 80-90 kg”. The excess weight, which is not taken into account when the vehicle is certified, increases stress on rear axles and tyres.
“When this is combined with passenger or luggage overload, unbalanced trailers, poor tyres and speeding, accidents occur,” the report said. John Roberts, who represents the retail motor industry’s SA Vehicle and Bodybuilders’ Association on a transport department technical committee, says “68 kg including luggage is outdated and one has to bear in mind that the international standard is 75 kg”. He says he is aware the Department of Transport is intent on changing the current regulation, but says it could take “some time because the matter is very complex” and would have “dire consequences for the whole public transport industry”.
The Gautrain and IRT/BRT developments suggest that South Africa is at long last beginning to realise the dream of a fully integrated public transport system. One in which the taxi, bus and passenger rail modes cooperate with one another by working on strategies with a common vision.
The vision, which includes one smartcard for use on all public transport modes, was raised by former Transport Minister Mac Maharaj in his Moving South Africa Agenda more than 10 years ago, but, in all that time, each of the three modes has been doing its own thing, hardly talking to the other.
The City of Cape Town has actually been working on it for more than a year with its Integrated Transport Project that will have all the modes, including Golden Arrow Bus Services and Metrorail, eventually working together.
Last year, Port Elizabeth came to the party with taxi and bus operators having established a Bus & Taxi Business Chamber to plan ahead. This is an initiative of the bus and taxi operators from Eastern Cape Peri–Urban Bus Operators Association and Santaco (EC). The chamber has been mandated to unite and transform the public transport industry in the province to be in line with the Legislative and Policy Framework. The chamber is designed to set up a coordinated transport industry with major stakeholders cooperating and collaborating for rendering the best quality passenger service, which is safe, reliable and affordable to the people of the province, especially the rural communities.
As for a smartcard, it was also announced late last year that Absa has selected Oberthur Technologies to launch the first dual prepaid smartcard – the new prepaid MasterCard contactless payment card with PayPass. Oberthur Technologies said this is the first launch of dual-interface payment technology, to enable both contact and contactless payment transactions, on the African continent.
The card has been designed for use in retail outlets throughout South Africa to offer consumers increased convenience and speed at the point of sale (POS), while giving retailers the benefit of faster till points and providing a secure alternative to cash. The card can also be used as a transport token in South Africa’s new integrated transport system, to be implemented by the national Department of Transport.
Finally there is the hope among many that 2011 will see more information about bus and taxi transport – routes and time schedules – on the internet and on smartphones. This may be a mammoth task for the taxi industry which wants to target the middle class, but whose routes crisscross Africa like Telkom fixed telephone lines. The technology is there, but the point is that without advertising this service – at taxi ranks and bus stops, as Cape Town plans to do – it will be difficult to get people out of their trusted cars.