IN TRANZIT

Seven months since its first fully bat­tery­pow­ered elec­tric buses hit the road in Auck­land, 90-year-old-plus Tranzit Group is proof that age has no limit.

ABC (Australia) - - CONTENTS - WORDS RUZA ZIVKU­SIC-AF­TASI IM­AGES TRANZIT NZ

One of New Zealand’s longestrun­ning trans­port op­er­a­tors shows no signs of slow­ing down af­ter nearly 95 years. New tech ad­di­tions and win­ning at­ti­tude are key. Ruza Zivku­sic-Af­tasi re­ports.

BE­ING ONE of the first bus com­pa­nies in the south­ern hemi­sphere to in­tro­duce the first fully elec­tric bus fleet comes as a re­sult of a decade of re­search and de­vel­op­ment by the Tranzit Group.

The third-gen­er­a­tion busi­ness is led by broth­ers Keven and Paul Snel­grove, who have al­ways had eyes on the long-term fu­ture.

The pair has been busy rein­vent­ing the com­pany for the long-term; an im­por­tant step in the evo­lu­tion of bus trans­port in New Zealand.

They’ve got into the field of elec­tri­cal buses while ev­ery­one else is just think­ing about it.

The rea­son the fam­ily-run busi­ness has been in op­er­a­tion for 90 years is be­cause it’s “not stuck do­ing the same thing”, Keven ex­plained. “Our com­peti­tors prob­a­bly think we’re pretty bloody game to be do­ing what we’re do­ing as no one else has done it; we’ve re­ally pushed the bound­aries,” Keven said.

Team­ing up with the Greater Wellington Re­gional Coun­cil, whose vi­sion was to be the first re­gion in New Zealand with an all-elec­tric bus fleet, Tranzit Group now runs 10 elec­tri­cal buses and will in­crease the num­ber to 32 by 2020. The new low-emis­sion dou­ble-decker buses re­placed the older diesel and trol­ley buses, which were phased out last year due to their un­re­li­a­bil­ity, the high cost of up­grad­ing and main­tain­ing the in­fras­truc­ture, and in­com­pat­i­bil­ity with new bus routes, ac­cord­ing to the Greater Wellington Re­gional Coun­cil.

Poised to lead the coun­try to a cleaner, smarter trans­port fu­ture, the coun­cil se­lected Tranzit Group for eight con­tracts be­cause of its com­mit­ment to em­ploy as many bus driv­ers as pos­si­ble from the re­gion’s ex­ist­ing work­force.

Tranzit Group has hired 165 new driv­ers over the past two months, with a plan to em­ploy another 215.

“When we kicked off we were about 70 driv­ers short, but as of the last two months we’re on tar­get to be­ing 100 per cent,”

Snel­grove ex­plained. “We’ve had a lot of Uber, taxi and truck driv­ers ap­ply; be­cause we’ve been in the spot­light lately we’ve had a pretty good up­take.”

The en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly bus fleet is set to im­prove air qual­ity and re­duce emis­sions of harm­ful pol­lu­tants by at least 38 per cent in Wellington.

With 1,000 buses in their fleet, Tranzit Group aims to re­place them all by elec­tri­cal ve­hi­cles.

“That will ab­so­lutely hap­pen, I’ve got no doubt about that,” Snel­grove said. “Over the next 10 years in ur­ban buses you will see a mas­sive shift from diesel to elec­tric and the big­gest point will be the in­fras­truc­ture.

“If we’re charg­ing buses in seven min­utes and we’re do­ing 70 to 150km on those type of charg­ers it’s not too far in the dis­tant fu­ture we start look­ing at long-dis­tance ve­hi­cles,” he added.

It wasn’t hard con­vinc­ing the com­pany’s driv­ers to ac­cept the new fleet, say­ing, “once you’ve driven one you don’t want to go back to a diesel”.

“It’s like driv­ing a man­ual car to an automatic car, all of a sud­den ev­ery­thing is easy and it slows down at a good pace,” Snel­grove ex­plained. “And, on a hilly route it’s got a much bet­ter ac­cel­er­a­tion than what a diesel has; to be hon­est, the dou­ble-deck electrics are much eas­ier to drive around the city be­cause they are smaller and shorter.”

MORE THAN MONEY

Once known as the Royal Blue Bus Ser­vice in the 1950s, Al­bert Snel­grove es­tab­lished the com­pany with an 18-seater Graham-Paige Spe­cial Dodge bus he bought with a loan, run­ning ser­vices be­tween Carter­ton and Master­ton. Now, 90 years later, the group has a fleet of 1,000 buses around New Zealand and is still owned and op­er­ated by the same fam­ily with Al­bert’s grand­sons Keven and Paul at the helm.

The first bus was painted grey, the only colour avail­able at the time, and op­er­ated as Grey Bus Ser­vice.

When petrol ra­tioning hit be­cause of World War II, the de­mand for public trans­port grew along with Al­bert’s bus fleet. The buses were painted blue and trans­formed into the Royal Blue Bus Ser­vice.

One of Tranzit’s suc­cesses was gain­ing a con­tract for the Rugby World Cup 2011. It op­er­ates ur­ban ser­vices for var­i­ous re­gional

…set to im­prove air qual­ity and re­duce emis­sions of harm­ful pol­lu­tants.

coun­cils around the North Is­land and of­fers bus and coach hire.

The com­pany’s very first ser­vice in 1924 was a school bus run and, to this day, it trans­ports stu­dents to and from school ef­fi­ciently and safely.

“At the end of the day, if we’re here just for the money we’re in the wrong game,” Snel­grove said. “My brother and I look at the com­pany as we’re the care­tak­ers, so it’s all about long-term goals; it’s not about the short-term prof­its.”

With chal­lenges turned into op­por­tu­ni­ties, Snel­grove says the com­pany prides it­self on its team.

“Hav­ing a good team be­hind you is your num­ber-one chal­lenge in life; if you don’t have a good team within your work­shop, driv­ers, man­agers [etc] … every sin­gle per­son in our place is key and that’s the big­gest chal­lenge in life mak­ing sure you’ve got the right one,” he added.

“We’ve got awe­some peo­ple work­ing for us and with us and be­cause we work on the front­line we in­volve them.

“We’ll be in the work­shops work­ing out what is­sues we’ve got and we get down to the nitty-gritty and find out what the real is­sues are and I think that’s the key thing: it’s be­cause you know how ev­ery­thing works.”

Tranzit Group now owns and op­er­ates six work­shops.

THE SKY’S THE LIMIT

Cur­rently in talks with a cou­ple of cus­tomers in­ter­ested in elec­tri­cal ve­hi­cles, Snel­grove says the com­pany’s in a good po­si­tion thanks to its for­ward­think­ing board.

“We’re pretty for­tu­nate be­cause we have a proac­tive board that have stuck with us on the project and it’s not a cheap ven­ture; the dou­ble-deck­ers have cost us close to a mil­lion dol­lars try­ing to get them on the road,” he added.

“The charg­ing in­fras­truc­ture has prob­a­bly cost us another $2.5 mil­lion.

“We had to put charg­ers [in], which we had to con­nect to and we needed a se­ri­ous amount of power in short pe­ri­ods;

We’re just lucky that we have an awe­some fam­ily…

there’s been a hell lot of work just putting that to­gether. We’ve got another cou­ple of cus­tomers who are talk­ing to us at the mo­ment about pos­si­bly run­ning an elec­tri­cal ve­hi­cle fleet for them, so it’s a good place to be.”

Be­ing in­no­va­tive is the only way for­ward, he adds.

“Ev­ery­thing gets down to price in this in­dus­try and some­times you can’t al­ways win on price and you have to have some­thing else and I think be­ing able to de­liver elec­tric ve­hi­cles to the city at a re­al­is­tic cost was at­trac­tive to the re­gional coun­cil and it’s prob­a­bly why we’re here do­ing the runs now,” Snel­grove ex­plained.

“It’s very hard get­ting re­turns as it’s a very com­pet­i­tive in­dus­try. If you’ve a small busi­ness and you’ve got a high cap­i­tal out­lay and you’re pay­ing bank debt it be­comes very hard.

“We’re just lucky that we have an awe­some fam­ily that are here for the long-term goals.”

Above: The pol­lies loved it. Let’s cut that rib­bon al­ready.Left:Sounds like a plan!Be­lowHappy Tranzit peo­ple.Op­po­site:Pic­ture per­fect; Broth­ers Keven and Paul Snel­grove.

Top (L-R): The elec­tric dou­ble-deck­ers launch was a huge af­fair; No en­gine here, just bat­ter­ies and mo­tors and stuff.Above:‘All aboard! And so they are...

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