Running a commuter bus company in South Africa is fraught with challenges. But a recent decision by Buscor to partner with Freeway means that fleet management isn’t one of them.
Buscor is a privately owned commuter bus company in the Mpumalanga/Lowveld area. Since 1984, it has been contracted by the South African government to transport 180 000 passengers daily between their places of residence and work. At present, the fleet comprises 452 commuter buses, of which 411 are articulated bus trains.
According to Leon Grobbelaar, general manager (technical), the company has to contend with many challenges. “We are faced with poor road conditions, competition with the taxi industry, and constantly changing passenger travel times. Then, of course, there are the ever-increasing prices of fuel and parts. These increases – usually well above Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation – place us under immense pressure as an operator because our increases from government are usually CPI-based. We have to be cost-efficient to remain profitable and to survive,” he explains.
In order to be as efficient as possible, Buscor started using Freeway early in 2022 at its Nelspruit, White River, and Malelane workshops. “Freeway is used for everything to do with the management of the fleet, including vehicle asset management and tracking of intercompany asset movements, service scheduling, workshop reporting, and defect management, as well as stock control and purchasing,” says Grobbelaar, adding: “Freeway provides our technicians with digital job cards and guided inspections through a mobile app.”
The software is also used for cost control and the identification of reasons for high expenditure, invoice matching and processing, stock level management, part and vehicle warranties, and staff productivity management.
Before the introduction of Freeway, Buscor used a combination of paper and computerised systems. This was far from ideal. “All the job cards and part requisitions were done on paper, which then had to be manually captured on the electronic system – and the job cards often got lost together with the history of what was done to the vehicle,” recalls Grobbelaar. “We really needed a system to eliminate paper-based job cards. Reporting on our old system was very rigid and it was difficult to extract information.”
Freeway’s strong reporting functionality was a major consideration when Buscor decided to migrate to a new system. “Measuring staff productivity was extremely difficult beforehand, as it relied on paper and then entry into a spreadsheet, but Freeway has automated this functionality. So, we have good insight now into staff productivity,” he says.
Preventing overdue services was also previously a very labour-intensive task. “We didn’t have an automated process of importing the vehicle kilometres and comparing them to the next due service. It was clear that we needed a system which could automatically indicate when a service was due,” Grobbelaar explains.
Buscor also relied on technicians to say if a part was under warranty or not. “We really had no idea whether or not a part was still under warranty; Freeway now prevents parts from being purchased if the old part is still under warranty,” he reveals.
Implementation of Freeway has delivered many benefits to Buscor, from accurate and improved cost control – due to the ease of extracting reports – to a faster job card closure time. The latter is so much faster because the workshop managers can see when the work has been completed on the system. They do not have to wait for physical papers from the foreman before closing the job card.
Inspection sheets are far more accurate and complete than before. “The Freeway mobile app ensures all the questions must be answered during an inspection, and it is 100% clear who has done the inspection. A lot of valuable information can be extracted for a properly set up inspection list,” says Grobbelaar.
“Furthermore, services are now done on time, as Freeway automatically imports each vehicle’s mileage from our telematics system and then alerts us when a vehicle is due for its next service,” he adds.
Staff productivity has been improved, with Grobbelaar pointing out that reports can easily be extracted for each staff member to see productivity over a requested period and how much time was spent on jobs. Issuing time at the stores is also faster than ever before, as the storekeeper already knows what parts are required before the technician arrives at the store to collect the parts. Additionally, Buscor is experiencing an increase in warranty claims.
“Freeway automatically flags the storekeeper when a part is requested to replace an old part which is still under warranty. This saves us lots of money because we can easily identify parts which fail under warranty and are eligible for a claim,” notes Grobbelaar.
With the introduction of Freeway, Buscor’s admin department has become more efficient, enabling the company to redeploy employees to other positions within the organisational structure. Expenditure on stationery and photocopying has also decreased drastically with Buscor’s paperless operations.
It seems as though things are now going swimmingly at Buscor, but is there any other room for improvement? “I believe the ‘next big thing’ in managing vehicle fleets and workshops will be the importing of onboard vehicle data directly to a maintenance system. This will vastly assist workshops in identifying vehicle problems, possibly even before the driver becomes aware of an issue,” predicts Grobbelaar.
Meanwhile, he and his team are enthusiastic about the support they have received from Freeway. “It has been very good. The transition from one maintenance system to another can be a very daunting task. The Freeway support team made it very easy by guiding us step-by-step through the setup of the program before we went over to the new system,” enthuses Grobbelaar.
“Freeway also has a service desk where tickets can be raised if there are queries or problems once the system is in use. This has been very helpful in resolving problems,” he continues. “The Freeway team is also always open to any suggestions that could lead to an improvement in the overall system.”