Safe, Smart Bussing Solutions


Carbridge is Australia’s largest airport bussing company with operations at Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. In the business of operating route services for more than 25 years, the company principals moved away from the open road in the mid 90’s towards the corporate bussing sector. The first contract was with Star City Casino at its original site, and involved shuttle bus services for staff and patron connect services from regional areas around Sydney. This initial step eventually led to airports and the large operation of today.

This transition from public route to corporate service does take a certain readjustment in business thinking. As all bus operators know, the business can be quite frantic at times. While Carbridge’s operations generally run smoothly, a lot of effort behind the scenes goes into ensuring they do. As CEO Luke Todd explains, the old adage of the swan gliding over the surface of the water, while below the legs are working frantically sums up operations. The corporate sector can be demanding, so the pressure to perform is constant. “We put every effort into ensuring we play our part in making the airport experience run smoothly.” This, Luke explains, is the vital difference in the corporate sphere – “the willingness to make it all happen, in our particular area, for the airport or an airline, with the expertise and commitment to back it up.”

With route services, though operators perform wonderfully, a certain amount of lateness or reliability problems are a fact of life and the occasional complaint is par for the course, Luke says. It would take an enormous number of complaints for a route operator to lose his Government contract. For Carbridge, every single complaint, whether legitimate or not, does have the potential to damage reputation and credibility. Luke goes on to stress that the aim is 100 per cent reliability, something most difficult given the challenging airport environment, whether airside on the apron or landside in terminal precincts. “Without doubt, airports are one of the more challenging environments to run a fleet of buses.”

As for Carbridge’s story, the movement from Casino to Airports was bridged via a tender at Sydney Airport, as the facility ramped up heading toward the 2000 Olympics. A lot of airside bussing was part of the plan, as there were never going to be enough piers to handle the hugely increased number of flights. This change to apron bussing, although common overseas, was to be something new for Australia and Sydney Airport was on the lookout for the right people to handle the challenge.

Carbridge took a full-blooded leap into the task, and tendered to not only undertake the bussing but to do so with a fleet of apron busses, to be purchased from Hong Kong. These used airport-specific buses were surplus to requirements when the transition was made from the old Kai Tak airport – where many readers will have experienced the crazy approach to the single runway in the centre of the city, passing at rooftop level between high-rise apartment towers, then to hit the ground and slamming on the brakes to avoid running into the harbor – to the new Chek Lap Kok facility. These buses were ‘dual drive’, kitted out to run forwards or backwards, with a cab and controls at both ends, essential for movements across the impossibly cramped apron of Kai Tak, but not so necessary at the newer and much larger facility (which nowadays regularly wins gongs as one of the world’s best airports).

With these buses, Carbridge won the Sydney contract. They were imported to Australia and have been in service at Kingsford Smith ever since, though on a reduced scale as other, newer apron buses were added to the fleet. At the height of the Olympic program, says Luke, Carbridge moved in excess of one million passengers in a year, and running up to 20 buses on tarmac daily. “This gave us a great level of experience and we realised we had tapped into a niche market, with us being the company that had the expertise and understood airport operations, in fact the only such company in Australia that really understands airports. We approached other airports on that basis, on the understanding that whatever they may need and want, we could say yes, apply our expertise and get it done.” Constant expansion and remodelling of airports provides both a challenge and an opportunity, while the growth of low-cost carriers and their much tighter schedules has necessitated even closer attention to on-time bussing.

Now, the Sydney fleet of dual-drive buses is coming to the end of its useful life and their German manufacturer no longer builds them (Neoplan was acquired by MAN in 2001 and the new business model had no room for such a niche vehicle). So Carbridge, sensing not only a substantial requirement for such vehicles but also a market opportunity, got moving – and designed one of its own. The key to the dual drive bus is safety, says Luke, for not having to reverse is an absolute bonus in tight surroundings. Consider even a well run and efficient airport apron where aircraft are parked and away from a pier for unloading and boarding. The area around the plane is crowded and in a lot of instances pressure is increasing as turnaround times are shorter and shorter, particularly for the low cost carriers. The bus with its passengers has to share this space with refuelling trucks, baggage and cargo handlers, caterers, the engineers doing their thing, and the towing tug to move the plane, and it seems at times, a lot of others. The safety implications of every single vehicle movement need to be weighed. Any reversing must be accompanied by a marshal to direct the driver and warn others behind the vehicle – an onboard camera is just not enough. Luke adds, “As an operator that uses both single and dual-drive vehicles at many facilities, we stand by our view that dual-drive is much safer.” To state that there is a positive cost factor to all of this needs no emphasising as any incident would surely be an expensive one.

Luke goes on to state the obvious: “Any airport with a tight apron area is a potential customer for the purchase of dual-drive buses.” With this in mind, Carbridge toured the world looking for the right manufacturer to build this new dual-drive apron bus. A contract was signed five years ago with a Chinese company owned at the time by Beijing Airport to develop and construct in partnership a dual-drive apron bus to the highest standard. The result is the Carbridge DUO; the first production model was ready for shipment at the time we spoke to Luke, heading for use at Perth’s bustling airport.

Carbridge has global sales rights to the DUO, (outside of China) and has already tendered for approximately 20 units at various airports. Whilst assembled in China, parts for the vehicle come from all over the world – an air conditioning unit from the Czech Republic and a transmission from the US, for example. “We had to source a unique transmission derived from agricultural operations, because this type of vehicle is actually more akin to a tram than a bus with its two-way running, and a design for crop dusters, which operate in a similar manner, was the basis.

“We are very optimistic about future prospects, with rapid growth for our operational management business, and the market to supply these new buses globally is a new opportunity,” Luke believes. The bonus is that in supplying DUO buses the potential exists to secure management (and maintenance) contracts as well, so every call to an airport is a double opportunity and Luke forecasts the company will be in discussions with many airports worldwide in the next 12 months.

Carbridge is also involved in negotiations to supply mining operations with transport for their workers as this field is rapidly growing. The uniqueness here is to engage the mining companies with Australian built buses, in line with the theme of sourcing locally built products. “A further area of business growth is consultancy,” explains Luke, “as we do have an exceptional bank of knowledge in regards to airport transport needs, and opportunities are opening up in that area.”

Carbridge continually reviews operational requirements, assessing problems and coming up with solutions. Most airport precincts experience vehicle gridlock due to the pressure on the tight environments and simply because demand has grown. “We have done a lot of work in utilising GPS technology to enable us to predict problems, and as it were, jump buses over other vehicles with alternative routes and trigger points to keep buses moving.”

Carbridge remains a family business, and like others, this brings strengths and at times difficulties. The company continues to grow, never forgetting each client is special and never to be taken for granted. It is, Luke concludes, “never dull.”

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

December 16, 2018, 6:44 AM AEDT