Eldo Coaches: Putting safety first
Some bus operators blithely sacrifice regular maintenance and safety precautions as they cut fares. However, for Eldo Coaches, the safety of the drivers and their passengers remains a non-negotiable top priority.
The South African bus and coach industry has become extremely competitive for established operators. New vendors are cutting into the commuter, intercity and tourism coach markets every month. In addition, passengers want more value for their money.
One of the best-known operators is Moolla’s Transport Services, a family business trading as Eldo Coaches from its headquarters in Eikenhof, Gauteng. The company is 100% black-owned and was established in 1956, back when the bus industry was dominated by white owners and operators. Black operators found it very difficult to get into the market at the time.
Ahmed Moolla recounts the many challenges he faced when he started the company with brothers Ismail and Mahomed Moolla.
“It was difficult to get financing, and almost impossible to get permits for subsidised services between Eldorado Park and Sandton,” says Ahmed. “The permits for Eldorado Park were only granted in 1985, so we changed the company name to Eldo Coaches. The permit for Lenasia to Johannesburg was granted in 1999.”
However, Eldo’s commitment in taking its services to the people through natural business growth and acquisitions has enabled it to grow into a formidable entity with an enviable record of accomplishment. Company directors Ahmed, Ismail and Mahomed Moolla – and their sons – are very hands-on in running the operation, often driving buses themselves.
The company still runs the original inner city service for people commuting from rural areas to urban areas for work and shopping and provides this semi-luxury service under a Gauteng provincial government contract.
However, even subsidies are not guaranteed. Last year Eldo Coaches was one of several bus operators affected by the Gauteng transport department’s decision to terminate contracts for 2009-2010, and negotiate new contracts. Subsidies were subsequently reduced by up to 50%, causing a huge reduction of services and many job losses.
Statistics from the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) indicate that subsidised bus services in Gauteng provide transport for 1.5 million people. Any reduction of bus services would force many commuters into the more expensive taxi market. The union says 78% of lower-income workers are already spending more than 20% of their income on public transport.
Eldo Coaches is the first 100% black-owned company in Gauteng to enter the luxury intercity coach market with luxury coach services between Johannesburg and Durban via Lenasia, Heidelberg, Harrismith, Estcourt and Pietermaritzburg.
The prices charged for these services by established competitors were quite high, which inevitably made them accessible only to higher income travellers. Ordinary commuters were forced to rely on long-distance taxis and semi-luxury buses that were unsafe and uncomfortable. Eldo broached the market by providing a five-star superlux service at a price affordable to almost everyone. This inevitably forced the bigger operators to lower their prices and make the service more accessible.
The company currently has a fleet of imported, SABS-approved coaches featuring onboard facilities such as toilets, air-conditioning, reclining seats, reading lights and DVD/audio entertainment.
Mohsin Moolla, son of Ahmed, says some unscrupulous operators have entered the market with rates that do not even cover the daily operating and maintenance costs of the vehicles, never mind replacement costs.
“So something has got to give – improper maintenance, drivers working long distances and long hours without a co-driver,” he said. The very low pricing not only made it difficult for Eldo Coaches to compete, but also led to the whole industry being given a bad name because of the cut-price operators’ accidents.
For the premium tourism market, Eldo Tours provides a large range of vehicles including luxury coaches for local and international tour groups, for short school excursions and funerals, smaller luxury minibuses for hotel and airport transfers and executive, chauffer-driven services for corporates and VIPs.
Mohsin says the company is run by a team of dynamic professionals driven by progressive thinking and committed to playing a pivotal role in economic development and black empowerment.
The 45 drivers, many with long-service records, are true professionals, who do not compromise on quality customer service and maintaining the highest safety standards.
Drivers are carefully screened by Mohsin himself, and put in the driver’s seat only after a one-week Scania training course. Strictly controlled driving hours and resting periods are applied on shorter routes where only one driver is used. All drivers and their vehicles, including the tyres, are also closely monitored. Eldo’s last accident occurred in 1996 with only one fatality. Despite the obstacles, the company fleet has grown to 75 commuter buses and 15 luxury coaches.
The Moollas are particularly pleased with the fuel economy and reliability of the 20 Scanias in the fleet. These include single-deck F94 and double-deck K124 coaches. The vehicles are maintained by Scania while under warranty, or in Eldo’s workshop after warranty and once maintenance contracts have expired. Fleet vehicles are also replaced every four years. “Safety is and will always be our top priority,” says Mohsin.