Tauranga company Kiwi Bus Builders has secured another multi-million-dollar contract from a company co-founded by international transport investor Sir Brian Souter, winning an order to assemble 13 of 15 new high-spec double-decker citybuses for routes in Auckland.

The 15 new buses represent a total investment of $12 million, and will be built through Kiwi Bus Builders' partnership with European bus builder Alexander Dennis. The buses will join routes operated by Howick & Eastern, predominantly on east Auckland commuter routes between Botany and downtown Auckland. Howick & Eastern is a subsidiary of Souter Holdings, the New Zealand arm of Souter's interests.

Richard Drummond
Richard Drummond

"All but two of the 15 buses will be built in Tauranga by Kiwi Bus Builders and Alexander Dennis, who are leaders in high-spec coach builds," said Sir Brian. The new buses would be among the most efficient on Auckland's roads, he added.

"We are really pleased to be bringing a new style of bus to east Auckland passengers, and to support the local bus-building industry. These double-deck buses are shorter than a regular Howick & Eastern commuter bus, yet can carry nearly twice the number of passengers. That means fewer buses on the roads, and reduced carbon emissions per passenger."

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Kiwi Bus Builders managing director Richard Drummond said the new buses would be significantly bigger and higher-specced than existing citybuses.

"There are different double-deckers that have been tried, but this is the biggest order of dedicated in-town double-decker citybuses," he said.

The Enviro200Dart citybuses built by the Kiwi Bus Builders/Alexander Dennis partnership for NZ Bus carried 37 people, for example, whereas the new double-deckers could carry 90.

Two of the new buses for East Howick were being brought in fully assembled because one had to be tested to meet European regulatory requirements, while the other was a prototype to form all the components, said Mr Drummond.

Souter Holdings last year contracted Kiwi Bus Builders to build six high-spec double-deckers for its new inter-city subsidiary ManaBus.Com. Those buses were built directly by Kiwi Bus Builders using a Volvo wheelbase and engine, which was more economical for longer distance journeys.

Sheryll Otway, general manager of Howick & Eastern Buses, said the company's new vehicles would have the same free Wi-Fi, power points and USB ports at every seat as the ManaBus.Com buses.

"To be able to charge a smart phone and stay connected while travelling is a fantastic development for our customers," she said.

Dr Lester Levy, chairman of Auckland Transport, said urban double-decker buses would almost certainly become more common in the future.

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"It's a smart way to add capacity without adding pressure on roading infrastructure."

Company aims to keep an 'even flow' of staff

Kiwi Bus Builders' latest contract, for 13 buses for Howick & Eastern, was not expected to have an immediate impact on staffing levels, managing director Richard Drummond said.
The company employs about 150 people at its Tauriko-based operations.

"On its own, there won't be much impact on staffing," Mr Drummond said. "It depends on our other workload - if it's on top of our normal workload, then substantially more jobs would be required, but we're trying to manage it so we keep an even flow."

Mr Drummond said the company was keen to avoid the same situation when it gained an order to build hundreds of vehicles for NZ Bus through its new partnership with Alexander Dennis Ltd (ADL) in 2011 and had to hire more than 60 people very quickly.

"We wouldn't want to go through again," he said.

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"It's not something you want to do every couple of years."

Coach-building required skilled staff, he said, and it took time to get the workforce up to speed and ensure they were qualified to handle warranty and repair requirements.

"You can't have too much ebb and flow, turning people off and trying to get them back on," he said.