Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Is CBS being wooed by a Souter?

A public preference for the higher standard Designline buses?

I have to say in my years as a bus driver there were many times I heard the news first at the bus depot, including some of the stress lines and fractures underlying an action that didn't reach the papers for several days afterwards. Bus drivers get around! It is interesting that a regular Redbus driver who chats to me from time to time said "A lot drivers reckon Redbus is being set up for a take-over". He thought it possible Redbus was deliberately being weakened to make it a better bargain for a big operator to move in and buy out the operation.

Of course Redbus being a City Council owned operation (and one that made a massive jump in profit last financial year) this seems unlikely. But the opposite side of the coin seemed more than possible - another bus company bidding low enough to get sufficient route contracts and, a big enough base of operations to provide the necessary foothold for another large operator to buy them out.

So it was most interesting to read in The Press this morning (10 November 2010) in reference to Christchurch Bus Services "The Press understands a sale to an unknown buyer may be close. Hamilton based Go Bus commercial director Craig Worth said it had been talking to to CBS, but would not comment further." .....CBS managing director Clive Peters said "As a result of our increased market share we have been of interest to a number of companies and held discussions with them." Now I want to throw in a joker, a wild card with absolutely no factual evidence but a trend! Good for gossip and of course the irresistible headline above.
One of the biggest private bus companies in the world Stagecoach for a relatively short while operated almost all the urban bus services in Auckland and Wellington. Stagecoach was started by a brother and sister, Brian Souter and Anne Gloag, in Perth, Scotland, as a very small operation using the redundancy money of their father as conductor, at a time when many public authority bus systems were being privatised. Its record of industrial relations and aggressive business style made Stagecoach few friends but built up large transit operations in the UK, USA and elsewhere. This included eventually buying out the former Auckland Regional Authority (ARA) operation in Auckland and former Wellingtion City Council bus operation in Wellington. When Stagecoach over-reached itself in the USA and lost badly it decided it had expanded too far and too fast and withdrew from many of its smaller operations around the world, New Zealand included in 2005. Stagecoach in the UK etc has survived and now also operates trains and is now a listed company on the stock-market but Brian Souter remains the chief executive.

A couple of years back I found it rather strange, in light of the Stagecoach withdrawal from New Zealand's biggest operations in 2005, that only three years later Brian Souter was buying out Mana Coachlines. a large but not huge operation in the Wellington area. Souter bought a 74% with Infratil/NZ Bus buying the other 26%. Not long after Brian Souter Holdings bought out another, similar, large suburban private operator, this time in Auckland, the Howick and Eastern Bus Lines company until then owned by the Dalbeath family trust. In this case he gained 100% control with a NZ director in charge but Souter funding and exercising ultimate control.

It is hard to figure this out without inside info, but why pull out of New Zealand because the two biggest operations, Auckland and Wellington's former city operated fleets were considered too small but then come back in again at such a low level? And is Souter Holdings Stagecoach itself or Brian Souter's private interests [I haven't time to track this yet]. Is Souter looking to "retire" to NZ?
I have nothing to support this suggestion but a rabbits twitching nose, but is it possible Christchurch Bus Services (which also operates Magnetic Sweeping in Auckland and other infrastructure contracting companies) has already been wooed by a Souter? And the dowry price is obtaining sufficient contracts/routes to give Souter Holdings foothold in all three cities?

Yes. It is possible. Probably spurious but possible!

A Parklands woman said to me yesterday "Do you notice how the eastern routes get all the cheaper and older buses - the 70 route buses we have had for the last few years are such old rattlers and they are so noisy". I think it is probably an overstatement, many eastern routes before November 1st were still getting services delivered with the very high quality Designline buses - even the old ones don't rattle and engine noise is minimal. But YES!!! - isn't it wonderful to hear bus passengers EXPECTING high quality buses! It is not a matter of being spoilt - it is a matter of getting the service for which we pay, in taxes, rates and fares. Allowing cheaper buses in is huge retrograde step in trying to make buses more competitive with cars.

And let's face it - this business of granting contracts to firms that so exceed their existing fleet in new buses required is intrinsically a recipe for system breakdown and shoddy fill-ins (such as transferring better buses out of Timaru??) and leading towards use of low budget new vehicles.


  1. Well i find it interesting that CBS have no routes that operate up hills, lol. Leopard have the 12, 15, 18, 21, 35 and Red Bus have the 10, 11, 14, 28, 77.

  2. Actually those CBS buses have gotten worse, the Zhongtong buses they use are terrible. being over 6ft i cant fit my legs or feet in the seating areas, its embarrassing to be honest. Also the Opare buses from the UK keep burning out! whats wrong with CBS? i think its good that GO Bus from Hamilton has brought them out and maybe we will get a better quality service all round