PRETORIA, 2009 - One of SA’s longest-running bus-companies, North West Star, recently took delivery of 60 new Mercedes-Benz OF1730-buses as part of a R92 million-contract that will refurbish its fleet with 77 new Mercedes-Benz busses.
The OF1730-bus was specifically designed to meet both South Africa’s tough road conditions and the future public transport needs of metropolitan governments.
The large loan for the fleet-upgrade was raised in Malasia with Mercedes-Benz Finance facilitating the deal.
The contract include site maintenance as well as road side assistance provided through the local dealership.
In receiving the buses, Mr Pule Pule, CEO of Noth West Star, recalled some of the tougher times faced by the company, which started out as Africa Bus Services in 1972, then became Bophutatswana Transport Holdings (BTH) and in 1994 re-registered as North West Star.
“In 1999, we were heavily in debt, three years later, we were showing a profit of just under one million – our success was rooted in the community taking ownership of North West Star buses,” said Pule.
Before the handover, the new Mercedes-Benz OF1730-buses were introduced to the communities of Hammanskraal and Soshanguve by the Soshanguve Community Radio, which travelled on open double-deck bus, singing the praises of the the brilliantly-shined new buses as they paraded along the various bus routes in the area.
Jan Kruger, Asset Manager of North West Star, explained that North West Star commuters typically travelled to Rosslyn and Pretoria CDB. “As far as possible, the same drivers drive the same routes in the morning and evening, with the result that commutters do not treat us as an impersonal bus service, but more like a safe and reliable lift-club.”
To ensure the reliability and effeciency of the buses, Mercedes-Benz used more than 30 years of experience to stipulate exacting designs for the chassis and interior.
The chassis are built at the Mercedes-Benz Bus Centre in São Paulo, Brazil, with Marco Polo providing the specially adapted bodies which include a driver door. Assembly takes place in East London.
The new Mercedes-Benz OF1730 bus meets European III emission-standards and has diesel consumption figures of between 30-35 litres per 100km compared to the older buses’ 47 litres per 100km.
The South African design has in fact proven so successful that the São Paulo Bus Centre is now considering a right hand conversion for the Latin American market, which sells 27 000 buses per year, compared to South Africa’s 120.
Most of the drivers who formed a chior to serenade their new buses have been with North West Star for more than three decades. Few of them have driven more than 10 buses in this time.
Their praises of the Mercedes-Benz’ duralability were summed by Soshanguve Community Radio, which boasted, “they deliver each on time”, while on of the drivers added that the new buses were “Brazilliant!”
Willem van Breda, expert on public transport, said punctuality was core to any form of public transport.
He added that current implementation of the National Land Transport Transition Act would greatly co-ordinate the various modes of rail, bus and taxi-transport to better serve commuters.
“The national aim is to to deliver the commuter cheaply, safely and on time by providing the most seats at the lowest cost for each leg of the journey, be it taxi, bus, or train”.
He added that both the cities Thswane and Johannesburg would each start R2 billion projects to implement rapid transit project for their surrnounding communities.
“The Tshwane rapid transit project will cover some 700km of routes and is being modelled on the rapid bus transport systems which originated in Brazil and has since been adopted in Europe and the Far East.
Rapid transport systems typically create a circular route using bus-only lanes in the middle of existing roads, on which a bus would pass on average every 10 minutes. Taxis would deliver commuters from the suburbs to the main bus routes using similar taxi-only lanes. Such rapid transit systems drastically reduce congestion, the bane of every driver on the road.
“Tenders are expected to be invited before year end, and thanks to their fleet of new 1730-buses, North West Star is ideally placed to tender,” said van Breda.