Gavin Myers
It’s often said that any type of successful relationship in the transport industry needs to be based on mutual trust and confidence. The recent handover of the 1 000th MAN bus to Golden Arrow Bus Services (GABS) proves this beyond any doubt. GAVIN MYERS reports.

In March 2011, the 500th MAN bus was handed over to GABS. Since then, the company has procured an average of 100 MAN buses a year – which accounts for approximately 20 percent of MAN bus sales in the local market.

“It was 15 years ago that we took delivery of our first MAN bus, but the relationship actually started two years earlier,” explains Francois Meyer, CEO of GABS. “Relationships such as this don’t happen overnight, and there are four essential components necessary to reach the milestone of 1 000 buses.”

With an investment approaching R1,4 billion over the 17-years, the most obvious component is a sound relationship.


“MAN has gone out of its way to build this relationship. No company would spend the money if that relationship isn’t strong,” says Meyer.
Special guest at the handover event was MAN senior vice president for international markets, Jeroen Lagarde, who agreed unequivocally.


“At MAN there is a philosophy of collaborating with our clients to produce efficient and safe transport solutions. Our relationship with GABS is an excellent example of this. We have a dedicated team that interacts with the engineers at GABS on a regular basis ensuring the company gets the bus it needs.


“This relationship also involves over a dozen self-service centres operated by GABS. They are all MAN accredited and supported by our MAN parts centre,” explains Lagarde.


According to Meyer, the second important component is the product itself. “The Lions Explorer is the workhorse of the South African commuter bus industry. It is a wonderful product that works well,” he says.


Lagarde adds: “With 14 models and 26 derivatives offered to the local market, MAN offers more than just seats on wheels.” (See “Constant Collaboration” for more details about the 1 000th HB2.)


The third essential component – the passenger – is, according to Meyer, the most important one for GABS.


“We wouldn’t need 1 000 buses if we didn’t have the passengers. I do hope that we continue to improve the product and the service for the passengers. Every GABS employee does their best, 365 days a year, to make this happen,” he beams.
Beyond this, it is necessary to ensure that each passenger has a safe and reliable journey – this is a priority that both MAN and GABS place above all others.


“We continually provide innovative technology to make our vehicles as safe as possible. However, technology alone cannot compensate for well-trained and competent drivers, and I’d like to congratulate GABS on its commitment to training its staff. We need to tip our hat to the company’s bus drivers for the important job they do,” Lagarde adds.


Meyer continues: “The last component is our provincial Department of Transport. We really have to work closely together. If our combined focus is to make the best decisions for the passenger, not much can go wrong.”


Keynote speaker at the handover was, in fact, the Western Cape Minister of Transport and Public Works, Donald Grant.


“In over 150 years of operation, GABS has remained true to its mission of ‘operating safe, reliable passenger transport services, designated to meet the needs of customers, by applying sound business principles to create a secure future for the company and its people’. The company’s longevity and service record is testament to its record of realising this mission.


“GABS provides an absolutely vital service for the people of Cape Town, and has solidified its place in the city. GABS will continue to be a crucial partner in our ongoing efforts to realise safe, efficient and reliable public transport for the hundreds of thousands of daily Cape commuters,” Grant concludes.

Constant Collaboration
The MAN Lion’s Explorer 18.240 4x2 BB – bus number 1 000 in the GABS fleet – has some distinctive features that place it above the class for commuter buses in South Africa.


According to Philip Kalil-Zackey, head of bus sales, MAN Truck & Bus SA, these extend to bonded windows, coach-style mirrors, side destination panels, daytime-running lights, USB chargers for each row of seats, on-board Wi-Fi and a full-GRP interior.


“The structure is 3CR12, which is a mild-grade stainless steel. It doesn’t rust and the body will outlast the vehicle’s life without being refurbished,” he explains. “It’s also stronger than mild steel. This means less steel is used, which reduces the weight by a tonne. Today this is a standard at MAN, but it was something that GABS pushed for in the beginning.”


Gideon Neethling, divisional engineer, GABS, explains that the company still has over 230 vehicles older than 15 years on the road. “Some have covered more than a million kilometres. We do 60 000 km a year across the fleet, of which MAN vehicles account for between 93 and 95 percent.”


The two teams work closely together. “There is a lot of collaboration – monthly and weekly meetings in some cases,” Kalil-Zackey explains. From driver training, to workshop competencies, uptime and fuel consumption, the teams are constantly looking for enhancements.


“We believe that you can only manage what you measure – so we measure the operation of everything on the bus. If we see there’s an area to improve, we then collaborate with MAN and the end result benefits both sides. That’s the beauty of the relationship,” Neethling smiles.

Article courtesy of Focus on Transport:




Road Safety is a major focus point for Golden Arrow and underpins every operational activity. Chief Executive Officer Francois Meyer wants it to play an even bigger role within organisational culture and as such two major projects are on the cards for 2017.


The Road Safety Pledge Campaign was rolled out during the last week of February across all company depots. It comprised a hard-hitting but also extremely entertaining industrial theatre production performed by a talented group of four actors from Karos and Kambro. The production cleverly portrays the working lives of bus drivers and delves into the consequences of lapses in judgement. Drivers were encouraged to connect emotionally to what they were seeing and audience reaction certainly indicated that the message was hitting home.


Thereafter drivers were asked to take a pledge, which comprises a number of driving traits that together embody what a Golden Arrow driver should strive to be. The individual pledge components were designed based on statistical information and focused on positive reinforcement rather than a punitive tone. Each driver was also given a badge which should be worn to signal to passengers and colleagues that they have taken the pledge.


Feedback from the drivers was very positive with many taking time to process what they were seeing. Duty bus driver Jacobus George stated that “if watching this play does not change the attitude of drivers and their driving behaviour, then nothing will”. Driver Satyelwa Citwa left the activation feeling inspired: “Since watching the play, I know why I am here at GABS, I am here for my family. I love my job, I love my passengers and I respect them.  There were so many things to think about, such as even If I have right of way I should exercise care not to collide with a third party vehicle. As from that day I promised myself I will not do anything that will put me or my job under pressure. I took the pledge and I want to live the pledge”.  Driver Xolani Nake says the play was really a big wake-up call. “They illustrated that the importance of safety and passenger care, I am more alert after the show, it gave me a reality check,” he says.


 According to GABS CEO Francois Meyer, this campaign is just one strategy to increase awareness around road safety. “This is just the beginning. We are constantly looking at innovative ways to entrench a culture of road safety in every Golden Arrow employee and this filters through to every meeting and every training session,” he says. For Meyer it’s not just about paying lip service. “At Golden Arrow we are not just a bus company, we take our responsibilities very seriously. I want every passenger to know that they are precious cargo and every bus driver to live our ethos every time they get behind the wheel,” he says.




The safe driving pledge:


  1. I am a Golden Arrow Bus Driver and I have taken the pledge.




  1. I am a Golden Arrow Bus Driver and every one of my passengers is precious cargo.




  1. I am a Golden Arrow Bus Driver and I don’t allow anything to distract me.


  1. I am a Golden Arrow Bus Driver and I practise defensive driving.




  1. I am a Golden Arrow Bus Driver and I know when to stop.




  1. I am a Golden Arrow Bus Driver and I don’t use my cell phone when I’m behind the wheel.




  1. I am a Golden Arrow Bus Driver and I always maintain a safe following distance.




  1. I am a Golden Arrow Bus Driver and I know that safe driving begins with me.




  1. I am a Golden Arrow Bus Driver and I am considerate of other road users.




  1. I am a Golden Arrow Bus Driver and I watch out for children and pedestrians.




  1. I am a Golden Arrow Bus Driver and I don’t have a need for speed.




  1. I am a Golden Arrow Bus Driver and I only change lanes when it is safe to do so.





The Biannual Safety Refresher Course was re-introduced late last year after a thorough redesign. The course encourages  drivers to experience a sense of belonging and pride when they get to say that they are not just drivers, but rather that they are Golden Arrow Bus Drivers. It offers a mix of updated information and reinforcement of basic driving behaviours.


The course runs over a span of two-days, starting on a Tuesday/Wednesday. Drivers  then get back behind the wheel and begin to process what they have discussed. The following week, drivers return to reflect and provide feedback.


The course is presented as collaboration between two instructors. One of the instructors focuses on soft skills such as emotions, feelings, attitudes and behaviours, while the other focuses on practical driving behaviour and experiences. The elements covered in the course content include: personal emotions, passenger emotions, developing an excellent customer service mindset, chain reactions and how easily they are set in motion, valuing oneself as a driver and a person, company policies, national legislation, accidents and DriveCam training.