Greyhound: the people’s choice
Unitrans Passenger is helping South Africa establish a world class public transport system. Amongst its stellar transport options, Greyhound stood out as Best Coach Operator in this year’s Focus on Excellence awards, sponsored by WesBank.
Efforts to provide South Africa with a world class public transport system are now well underway with both the public and the private sector – especially Unitrans Passenger – making major contributions to the objective of creating a seamless, integrated multimodal system as can be found in First World countries.
South Africa still has a lot to do to catch up. But that seamless grid is slowly falling into place, with international and regional airports already having been upgraded to facilitate world class air travel.
The Gautrain, already linking OR Tambo International airport with Johannesburg and Sandton, is to be completed next year – with Phase II connecting Midrand and Pretoria by August. Other rapid rail links are being planned between Durban and Gauteng while existing Metrorail services linking cities and towns are to be upgraded.
In addition, four major cities – Johannesburg, Tshwane, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth – are working on establishing world class bus rapid transport systems, fed by existing municipal bus and taxi services. Unfortunately, these systems, like intercity rail travel, are still inadequate, unreliable and unsafe, especially at night.
It is this gap which Unitrans Passenger and the rest of the private sector fill through their reliable luxury, semi-luxury and basic road passenger transport services.
Unitrans Passenger provides services to all three market segments (public, tourist and personnel) to an estimated 10 million-passenger market. It is a division of the Unitrans group whose services include transportation, warehousing, distribution, clearing and forwarding, related supply chain services, and automotive retail.
Gautrain feeder buses
The Unitrans Passenger contribution to bus and coach travel is broad and not confined to tourism and intercity services alone. A little-known fact: Unitrans Passenger division manages the excellent and affordable Gautrain bus-feeder services, running on routes to and from the Gautrain Sandton station and the surrounding Gauteng suburbs.
This contract currently involves the managing of 44 buses and is expected to increase to approximately 125 buses, once the Gautrain is fully operational on its other routes.
The company’s involvement with reliable airport-related transport services is further entrenched by running airport shuttle services via its Magic Bus division, in three cities, for the past 20 years.
To the general public, Magic Bus is best known for its “exclusive transfers” from Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town International airports. But an equally important segment of the business is door-to-door transfers, because Magic Bus caters for city and other regional tours, team building events, conferences, parties, golf excursions and more. This exclusive service is available 24/7 and is tailored to the individual’s and corporate market needs.
However, it is in the area of intercity bus and coach transport that the group has proven itself most, for many years. Its Greyhound division, which runs reliable, scheduled, luxury coach services between South African cities and as far as Harare in Zimbabwe, has drawn many public accolades, including having been voted South Africa’s most popular intercity coach service by readers of The Star, Johannesburg’s biggest daily newspaper.
Last month, it again won the Focus on Excellence Award for Best Coach Operator beating its sister company, Mega Coach, which runs chartered services, and fellow competitors Springbok Atlas and Translux.
Nominated by the cities of Johannesburg, Tshwane and Cape Town, it has also won a number of PMR Golden Arrow and other awards.
“Lots of hard work went into achieving this FOCUS on Excellence award so we are very happy and proud,” comments Peter Ferreira, operations manager at Greyhound.
“In our mission to achieve excellence, we have focused on reducing expenses in all areas of our business. This includes an on-going programme to reduce fuel consumption across the board. All these cost-saving projects support us in bring an excellent service to our customers.”
The emphasis is always on safety and comfort at affordable prices. All vehicles are regularly checked and maintained, and drivers undergo intensive training programmes to ensure the safety of their passengers. Greyhound coaches are all fitted with satellite tracking and are monitored 24 hours a day.
As for the comfort aspect, Greyhound coaches provide passengers with air-conditioning, on board toilet facilities, reclining seats, individual reading lights, audio and visual entertainment and refreshments.
Greyhound has a 24-hour reservation and customer care line (083 915 9000) and this number appears in all advertising material and on tickets for passengers’ convenience.
Similar, but more affordable, scheduled, semi-luxury services are run by yet another Unitrans Passenger division: Citiliner.
What has given both Greyhound and Citiliner an edge on their competitors is that their time tables and routes are not only published on the internet, but can also be accessed via the mobile web. In addition, bookings can now be made via mobile phones.
Mega Coach, which won the Best Bus and Coach Operator Award 2008, was again nominated this year. It is the luxury coach charter division of Unitrans Passenger and is seen as one of the foremost coach companies in Southern Africa, having built a reputation for providing reliable, safe and cost effective transport solutions.
The services it provides include airport transfers, conference or corporate events, full-day/half-day charters and overland services.
Says Koos Nel, marketing manager, Mega Coach: “Mega Coach is committed to provide the best transport solutions and service delivery to clients. We know that in order to gain competitive advantage on both a local and international level, our service has to be of world class standards.” He says Mega Coach has achieved this by ensuring that its staff are competent to deal with all aspects of the business and are trained to be fully conversant with geographical layout, road conditions, permit requirements for cross border travel, and the length of time a journey is likely to take.
This knowledge is then put into practice by utilising these skills to assist clients in providing the most competitive quotes. “We pride ourselves on the efficiency of replies and our versatility in providing additional services, such as cabin attendants, refreshments and even a tour guide if required,” Nel says.
Mega Bus specialises in providing affordable, standard, passenger transport and logistics solutions to a diverse range of business sectors.
The mining industry forms a large segment of the client base, but Mega Bus’s expertise extends beyond this sector and includes government commuter contracts, light and heavy industries, scholar services, and special ad hoc hires.
Mega Bus has a well-established portfolio of blue chip clients. The company’s fleet consists of more than 1 000 expertly driven and well-maintained vehicles that offer safe, reliable and efficient transport solutions to tourists, travellers and corporate clients. It can also provide a guide, foreign or local, should the need arise.
To ensure passenger and driver safety, Unitrans Passenger divisions make use of state-of-the-art mini, midi and macro buses and coaches. These range from the much acclaimed Mercedes-Benz Sprinters, which are converted by OEM-approved panel van converters, to buses and coaches built on internationally acclaimed bus chassis – supplied by Mercedes-Benz and Volvo – and completed by internationally renowned body builders, such as Irizar and Marcopolo.
Magic Bus makes use of Vito and Sprinter mini and midi buses and coaches, which are equipped with air-conditioning and PA systems. These performance-driven vehicles were developed with high international safety standards in mind, which include an Electronic Stability Program, ABS brakes and Acceleration Skid Control.
Greyhound uses Volvo CH5000 single-deck chassis and Volvo B12R and B12B double-deck chassis for its Marcopolo and Busscar bodied coaches. The high-quality Volvo chassis have proven to be extremely reliable in operation.
“Volvo Southern Africa Bus Division is proud to be one of the preferred suppliers of coach chassis to the Unitrans group and wish to congratulate the staff and management for achieving this prestigious award,” said Marius Botha, general manager bus division, Volvo Southern Africa.
“Our bus and coach chassis range is represented in most of the group’s key operations Greyhound’s maintenance facilities are Volvo Authorised and supported to benefit their implemented preventative maintenance programme. In addition Volvo supports the training and skills development for Unitrans technicians that in turn ensures optimum performance of the Volvo Coach,” he said.
“B12R Coaches are approaching 2,5 million kilometres on the original drivelines, a reflection of the high standard of maintenance and care that is being applied by the Unitrans Passenger Group technical division,” Botha added.
Volvo Southern Africa’s national footprint consists of 13 dealerships that are strategically positioned on all major routes to fulfill customers’ expectations for their vehicle operational support.
In addition to these well-proven Volvo chassis, many of the coaches are based on the Mercedes-Benz 0500 chassis, which has won European awards. It also won the Best Coach Award at the same function at which Greyhound won its top award.
In fact, Greyhound recently bought five Mercedes-Benz 0500 bus chassis with Irizar’s New Century bodies.
Commented Paul Nel, GM of Irizar SA: “These bodies have upmarket specs with individual sound provided so that passengers can listen to the radio, or play DVDs and TV programmes. With that, they certainly have raised the bar in intercity travel on the Johannesburg-Zimbabwe route.”
Passenger safety and comfort are prime considerations, and both the inter-city and the semi-luxury coaches – which seat 61 and 52 persons respectively – are fitted with seat-belts all-round. Both coaches are fully equipped with air-conditioning, entertainment equipment, including DVD and MP3 player, monitors, and microphone facilities.
“Marcopolo has just recently supplied a number of vehicles to Unitrans Passenger throughout its various companies. Marcopolo are extremely proud to provide bus and coach bodies to Unitrans passenger as one of the best and most professional Bus and Coach Operators in Southern Africa. The extremely high standards that Unitrans Passenger receives from Marcopolo are conveyed through to the service levels experienced by the passenger. On behalf of all the staff at Marcopolo South Africa, I would like to extend my warm congratulations for an award well deserved!” commented Marco Guedes, commercial manager, Marcopolo.
The Irizar and Marcopolo bodies are fully compliant with SANS rollover requirements. “The rollover factor is crucial in the design of these coaches and accordingly, they meet the SANS regulations requiring that the structural strength will resist the shearing of the coach side structure and deformation of the superstructure. This ensures that the residual area of the vehicle – the area where the passengers are situated – will not be intruded upon in normal accident situations,” said Jan Aichinger, divisional manager of Mercedes-Benz Bus & Coach Division.
Safety goes hand in hand with proper driver hours and ongoing training, which is done in-house in conjunction with OEM “train-the-trainer” programmes. Pro-active, rather than reactive fleet maintenance is an integral part of Unitrans Passenger’s sophisticated fleet management systems, which not only monitor the vehicles and drivers, but can forecast when a tyre, a part, or the whole vehicle itself needs replacement.
Added Nel: “Greyhound is the market leader and the award is well deserved. They are professional, and their maintenance and service standards are tops. They only buy original spare parts and they look after their vehicles very well. They are clean and you seldom see them break down. We feel very privileged to be associated with Unitrans.”
Unitrans Passenger, like its parent company Steinhoff International, endorses the Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) strategy of the South African Department of Trade and Industry. Unitrans Passenger is currently rated a level 4 contributor. Documented targets for preferential procurement, ownership, management control and employment equity (in line with the industry specific standard/charter/code of good practice) are in place.
In addition, all South African permanent employees, not currently participating in the Steinhoff long-term share incentive scheme(s), participate on an equal basis through an employee share ownership plan known as S’khulasonke. Of these employees more than 70% are black, as defined in the Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment Act No 53 of 2003.