Competition has increased in the long-distance bus market with the launch today of a new city-to-city express service, ManaBus.com.
Prices for the new service, which plans to operate five new express routes between eight North Island destinations, will start from $1 plus a $1 booking fee. That's similar to the lowest fees charged by major competitors, the InterCity Group and Naked Bus. The Auckland-based company is owned by Souter Holdings, which also runs Fullers Ferries, Howick & Eastern buses and the Wellington-based bus service, Mana Coach Services.
Transport entrepreneur and company owner Brian Souter said their experience from many successful years of operation in the UK, North America, Poland and Finland has demonstrated there is a demand for fast, modern and innovative city-to-city express coach travel.
"We firmly believe that the introduction of new products and services, offering the consumer more choice at affordable prices, will grow the total transport market and encourage modal shift from the private car," he said.
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Souter Holdings is part of the global transport company Highland Global Transport and the Souter Investments portfolio of companies. Souter's sister, Ann Gloag, co-founded the Stagecoach Group, starting in Scotland with two buses in 1980. Today the listed company has a market capitalisation of more than 2.2 billion pounds and operates nearly 12,000 buses and trains in the UK, Western Europe, the US and Canada.
The Stagecoach Group has had close ties with New Zealand infrastructure investor Infratil over the years. In 2005 it sold all of its NZ operations, including the Fullers Group, to Infratil. Four years later Infratil, in turn, sold Fullers to Souter Holdings, which also bought ferry operator 360 Discovery Ltd the same year. Fullers is now facing competition from newcomer Explore Group on the Auckland to Waiheke ferry sailings. Souter Holdings owns 74 per cent of Mana Coach Services, with the remainder held by Infratil.
The launch of ManaBus.com has created 70 new jobs across the North Island while the fleet of new luxury coaches were purpose-built by Tauranga-based Kiwi Bus Builders. The company wouldn't say how much it had invested to start up the venture, other than "a considerable amount".
The country's largest long-distance bus operator is the InterCity Group which eight years ago faced another new market competitor, Naked Bus. Naked Bus founder Hamish Nuttall said his company grew 25 per cent last year, from a mix of expanding the market and taking customers from competitors. "A new entrant into the market will grow awareness which is good for us," he said.
Last month it said it would trial a "lie-flat" Sleeper bus, a first for New Zealand, for $50 or less from December. ManaBus.com said its new coaches offer free Wi-Fi, at-seat power and USB points for charging mobile devices, and reclining seats, but no lie-flat option.