Towards the end of 2009, Mercedes-Benz South Africa (MBSA) signed a contract with the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) that will see the vehicle manufacturer deliver 460 luxury coaches in preparation for the 2010 Soccer World Cup. FOCUS attended the signing.Late last year, when most of the country was already in holiday-mode, Mercedes-Benz South Africa (MBSA) was busily finalising details of a contract with Autopax, the road transport arm of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA). Executive members of all three organisations signed the deal at an event held at MBSA’s head office in Zwartkop, near Pretoria, on 14 December 2009.
The 460 Mercedes-Benz coaches ordered will more than double the Autopax fleet in preparation for this year’s FIFA World Cup, when the demand for inter-city luxury coach transport is expected to increase significantly.
According to Saki Zamxaka, chief executive officer of Autopax, the new coaches will greatly improve the organisation’s Translux and City-to-City services. By the end of May 2010, a total of 460 luxury coaches will be added to the Translux and City-to-City fleets of luxury coach operator, Autopax, at a total cost of R1.4 billion.
“The new Mercedes-Benz coaches were urgently required to accommodate the expected increase in commuter traffic during June next year,” Zamxaka stated at the event. “They will specifically be used to transfer international tourists between airports, accommodation venues and stadiums.”
The new coaches will also feature prominently in Autopax’s long-term plans.
“We are taking a giant step today,” said Zamxaka. “Although these coaches will help to ensure that the 2010 World Cup is a success, they will also create a lasting legacy by helping to improve South Africa’s public transport system in the long run. Beyond 2010, these coaches will all be incorporated into the Autopax network.”
This massive increase in the organisation’s fleet size will allow Autopax to extend its route networks in areas such as the Limpopo corridor, as well as meet growing demands for cross-border coach travel into neighbouring countries and beyond.
An increase in the number of coaches operating means that more drivers will be needed.
“An additional 1400 drivers will be recruited and trained during the next six months,” said Zamxaka. “Existing employees will also need product-specific training in order to drive the new buses, which are fully automatic and have features like on-board entertainment and air-conditioning, which drivers must operate.”
“The training programme will include courses in defensive and advanced driving, with additional options for first aid and route-specific training such as what information to pass on to passengers when entering a malaria area, or how to navigate areas with inadequately serviced roads.”
With the World Cup less than six months away, MBSA has undertaken to deliver all 460 vehicles by 10 May 2010. The Type 0500 RSD 2436 bus chassis will be assembled at MBSA’s East London plant, with Germiston-based manufacturer, Marcopolo, producing the coach bodies.
The Mercedes-Benz 0500 RSD 2436 chassis has a Euro3 fully-electronic management engine with 360 hp/260 kW output of power. Each vehicle will also be fitted with Type ZF6HP602C fully-automatic transmission: a new introduction to the MBSA product range, with an integrated retarder. This has a number of driving and safety benefits ideal for inter-city transportation, one of which is that the gearbox is automatically shifted on demand, allowing a driver to concentrate on the road.
The Mercedes-Benz luxury coaches will be fitted with passenger seat-belts. They will also be fully air-conditioned with microphone facilities, and will feature entertainment equipment including DVD and MP3 players and monitors.
“We are extremely pleased that such an important contract for PRASA has been awarded to MBSA,” said Hansgeorg Niefer, the company’s president and chief executive officer. “Daimler has made a significant investment in resources to ensure on-time delivery and the renowned quality that has become synonymous with Mercedes-Benz.”
With this in mind, Daimler AG has contributed €1 million (R10.7 million) towards expanding capacity at MBSA’s East London plant. According to Jan Aichinger, Divisional Manager of MBSA’s Bus & Coach division, Mercedes-Benz Buses has a strong dealer network able to provide excellent after-sales service. The manufacturer has also invested in additional infrastructure to ensure even better aftersales support for World Cup buses.“Through this delivery, MBSA will assist greatly in improving public transport in South Africa. The new buses will provide an opportunity to demonstrate to both local and international passengers the quality and service available on the Translux and City-to-City networks, and set South African road commuter services on track to offering better public transport in modern, reliable vehicles manned by fully-trained, friendly and informed drivers,” Zamxaka concluded.
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