Interview | Bruce Dickson, CEO, MAN Truck and Bus South Africa

A well-worn phrase has it that “…a developed country is one in which the wealthy use public transport.” In metaropolitan areas, hundreds of thousands of commuters rely on the informal taxi system, while single occupancy vehicle transport is the standard for those who can afford it. In 2009, South Africa launched its first Bus Rapid Transport System in Gauteng as a first step towards providing a first-class service that could appeal to a diverse community.

ALTHOUGH A LOT of new infrastructure, including transport, was a requirement for the 2010 World Cup, reliable transport remains key to South Africa’s efforts to continually address the legacy of poverty and a dual economy state. Leading bus manufacturer MAN Truck & Bus played a critical role in rolling out this public service. In this interview, MAN Truck and Bus’s CEO, Bruce Dickson, focuses on the company’s recent work with the City of Tshwane and its Tshwane Rapid Transit tender.

BRT systems are relatively new to the South African market. How does rolling out a BRT system in this country compare to doing the same in Europe?
BD In my opinion, it is far more complex and challenging as we have the added factor of existing service providers in the form of bus operators and minibus taxis.

Taking the example of the tender for buses linked to BRT system in Tshwane, how well were the tenders specified and what challenges did they pose to MAN Truck & Bus?
Generally the tenders are well specified, with a lot of detail provided on what exactly the customer requires in terms of specification, etc. In the case of the Tshwane Rapid Transit tender, MAN experienced little or no challenges in meeting the required specifications, as we are well covered in respect to requirements for low-floor buses with low emissions or compressed natural gas (CNG) propulsion systems. In fact, MAN is the market leader in Europe in the CNG and hybrid market segments.

How customised are these buses and what makes them unique?
The most unique feature of this type of buses is the large passenger entrance doors that are positioned down the right hand side of the vehicle. They also have a high level of intelligent transport management systems and various seat layout configurations, depending on the BRT system. Universal access is also an extremely important feature and includes boarding ramps for wheelchairs as well as dedicated seating for elderly passengers or for those with visual or hearing impairments.

In your view, what are the key points in establishing a successful BRT system, and how well can this be achieved in South Africa from the following criteria: busway alignment, off-board fare collection, level platforms and traffic management?
In my opinion, it is important to have an integrated system that includes other modes of transport. It’s also very important to involve the various stakeholders (taxi operators, community, passengers) if one is to roll out a successful BRT system, broken into trunk on the main routes and feeder support via minibus taxis, etc.

South Africa has some unique transport challenges. For example, dedicated bus lanes are indeed important to an efficient transport system, yet the common minibus taxi has been around for decades, still with no lanes. In cities like Sydney, Australia, taxis are given rights to share some bus lanes. What are your thoughts on this important issue, and how best can it be dealt with from a social, economic and political perspective?
There definitely is a place for the taxi across the integrated passenger transport network as feeders to the BRT. I also believe that the inclusion of the various stakeholders from concept stage will go a long way in ensuring the smooth layout of BRT and its ultimate success.

How important is the BRT roll-out in South Africa to MAN Truck & Bus’s strategy in the country?
The South African bus market is fairly stagnant, with total volumes of between 1 000 and 1 200 units per year. This is mainly due to most operators being on monthto- month as opposed to long-term contracts, which results in a reluctance to invest in new fleets. The differentiator – or opportunity – is BRT, with most metropolitans having commenced the roll-out of their various BRT operations. It is important that MAN distinguish itself not only as the preferred supplier for commuter type buses in South Africa, but also as the preferred supplier for BRT products. So to answer your question: It is a very important component of our strategy.

What are the fundamental elements of a truly modern, sustainable bus?
Low fuel consumption, low emissions, reliability, lowest possible total cost of ownership (TCO) and a service and parts network dedicated to keeping the wheels rolling and offer highest uptime.

What makes MAN Truck & Bus vehicles so successful in this country?
In my opinion, it’s a combination of the following:
• being the only OEM in South Africa to offer a complete bus (body and chassis); customers prefer dealing with one point of contact as opposed to two suppliers – a one-stop shop, so to speak
• although MAN is a premium product, it has proven itself repeatedly to have the most competitive TCO in the various segments that MAN competes in
• an extremely experienced and dedicated bus team that understands our customers and their requirements and strives for superior customer service and added value.

How are BRT systems developing in the rest of Africa?
BRT is still relatively new to the rest of Africa, with Tanzania being the most advanced, with apparent ongoing plans for a system in Dar es Salaam. To my knowledge, other countries considering the option of BRT to alleviate traffic congestion are Nigeria and Egypt.

Which African markets does MAN Truck & Bus see as having high potential?
Mostly sub-Saharan Africa, where the South African product offering is also suitable for these markets. These include Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique. Although these are important markets for MAN, the country with the highest volume in the region is Kenya, which has a strong manufacturing culture and is the hub for the rest of the East African Union. North and West Africa are also considered as having high potential, with Morocco, Egypt and Nigeria being the focus areas for MAN.