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Buscor adds 12 new MAN bi-articulated buses to fleet

On October 15, 2014, Mpumalanga’s premier commuter bus service, Buscor, will take delivery of 12 new 27 metre-long bi-articulated bustrains to add to its existing fleet of ten MAN abnormal-length bi-articulated buses.

Unveiling of Buscor's Bi-articulated Bus

The deployment of the new vehicles by Buscor follows a six-year pilot project initiated by the company and assisted by MAN, in response to a call from the National Department of Transport (NDoT) in 2006 for bus operators around the country to find commuter transit solutions that would effectively alleviate road traffic congestion, improve passenger safety, limit carbon emissions and reduce axle overloading to minimise damage to road pavement surfaces.

According to Nora Fakude-Nkuna, Executive Chairperson of Buscor, “our organisation has always been proactive in developing and deploying commuter bus solutions that meet the demands of consumers and government alike. Buscor built Africa’s first bi-articulated bustrain in 2007 as a prototype for the government-sanctioned pilot project. The bus commenced commercial duty in October 2007 and with the assistance of MAN Truck & Bus both in South Africa and in Germany, we added a further nine units to the fleet over the following three years.”

Pivotal to the pilot project was the granting of permits from the NDoT to oper-ate the vehicle on public roads, a lengthy and often-difficult task that had the prototype stand for a year in 2008/2009 when its permit lapsed. However, after successfully lobbying the NDoT to issue a new permit for the pilot project, Buscor became the first bus service in the country to not only become RTMS (Road Transport Management System) accredited in 2012 but also to have PBS (Performance-based Standards) certification and a fleet of buses permitted to travel on any class of road.

“The six-year pilot project was extremely successful with no serious safety incidents recorded after covering 2.2 million kilometres carrying 3.3 million passengers. This impressive record, combined with the economical and envi-ronmental advantages of the high-carrying-capacity buses, enabled Buscor to acquire full and indefinite exemption from the NDoT in mid-2014 to operate its bi-articulated bustrains on approved routes within the province,” states Buscor’s General Manager: Technical, Leon Grobbelaar, who has driven the project since its inception and was instrumental in persuading MAN’s German bus chassis production division to factory-produce a chassis according to Buscor’s specifications.

The 12 units being handed over on October 15 are the first bi-articulated front-engine commuter buses to be fully-built by MAN and are the first of their kind in the world to operate on non-dedicated routes.

Capable of seating 137 passengers, the Buscor bi-articulated bustrains are designed for use during peak commuter-density periods and significantly re-duce the number of vehicles required to transport the commuter community in the province.

“Without our single and bi-articulated MAN bustrains, our fleet would now number around 700 rigid-chassis buses. The bustrain solution has enabled us to keep our fleet size down to 415 units, effectively satisfying the NDoT’s mandate to improve safety and reduce congestion, carbon emissions and pavement damage on our roads,” adds Fakude-Nkuna.

The 12 new units are a true ‘new-generation’ for the Buscor fleet, says Grobbelaar, and have very similar fixed operating costs to those of a single-articulated bustrain.

The 4x2 MAN HB3 prime-mover is powered by a 287kW (390hp) Euro3 common-rail MAN D20 diesel engine with TipMatic automated manual trans-mission, a ZF intarder, EBS braking system, full air suspension and two maintenance-free Hübner articulation couplings.

MAN Truck & Bus SA’s Head of Bus Sales, Philip Kalil-Zackey says, “As a factory-built chassis, the new bi-articulated bus boasts a turning radius 1.5-metres shorter than a single-articulated bustrain. While the prototype ran on super-single tyres, the new four-axle units sport dual wheels which significantly improve vehicle stability while a drag-reducing aerodynamic frontal design helps improve fuel consumption and airflow to the cooling system which has been designed to handle Mpumalanga’s sub-tropical temperatures.”

Passenger safety enhancements in the new buses include an 80km/h speed limiter, seatbelts on all seats and three escape hatches. The units have next-generation ventilation systems, a ‘kneeling’ system that lowers the chassis for easy exit and entry of the vehicle, as well as a light interior paint finish that gives a “feeling of space,” says Grobbelaar.

The bi-articulated bus bodies were built in MAN’s Olifantsfontein bus body manufacturing plant and are designed to assist passengers with physical disabilities.

“All the handles and grab rails in the bus are painted a bright yellow to help the visually impaired and we will also fit our unique wheel-chair lift system to some of our new bi-articulated units,” adds Fakude-Nkuna.

The buses will be piloted by NCPD-certified professional drivers, each having undergone advanced driver training at Gerotek. Each vehicle is fitted with a wide-angle rear-view camera and a Fleet Management System to monitor driver performance.

The new buses will each transport around 145 000 passengers per annum, traveling approximately 72 000km per year over the next ten years.

“The pioneering technologies and innovations that have resulted from our teamwork with MAN have helped deliver a solution that significantly lowers our CPK and we are looking forward to an improvement in cost efficiencies within our bustrain fleet,” states Grobbelaar.

With permission now to operate its bi-articulated buses within the province, Buscor will introduce an additional 12 bi-articulated bustrains in the coming months.

Geoff du Plessis, Managing Director of MAN Truck & Bus SA states that: “MAN has enjoyed a long and mutually rewarding partnership with Buscor that stretches back over several decades. The collaborative effort that went into getting these units ready for deployment is worthy of the highest accolades. The fact that the ten pilot project vehicles effectively met all the stringent regulatory requirements gives MAN all the confidence that these 12 units and those to enter the Buscor fleet in due course will bring unmatched efficiencies to the Buscor fleet.”

With the official handover of the 12 new MAN bi-articulated bustrains marking a milestone in Buscor’s 30-year history, Fakude-Nkuna concludes, “Buscor’s goal to field a fleet of 50 bi-articulated vehicles has gained critical momentum. We are now able to expand our bi-articulated bus fleet with less risk of capital loss and offer our customers a world-class bus service in urban and rural areas of Mpumalanga. In building what I regard is a legacy programme and a benchmark for all other commuter bus companies in the country, we at Buscor have come to appreciate the power of working with experts within the commercial road transport industry and with public officials who embrace our vision, towards a universally beneficial commuter transport solution.”