TYRES: Transit Australia Group


Queensland-based operator TAG is working towards improved tyre management

TYRES: Transit Australia Group
Manager Fleet Services Jason Wilkinson with some of the 70 tyres kept at Molendinar

A Queensland bus operation mindful of the importance of a good tyre has been undertaking its own tyre testing to work out which products best suit the fleet.

Transit Australia Group (TAG) has been undertaking its own tyre testing for some time, and has seen some improvements in the lifespan of tyres.

Manager Fleet Services Jason Wilkinson, who has worked for TAG for about 15 years, is responsible for all workshops in the group.

This includes Surfside Buslines – based on the Gold Coast – and Sunbus operating on the Sunshine Coast, through to Cairns in far north Queensland.

"Anything without a heartbeat — I look after," he explains.

There are over 630 buses in the entire group, with 153 buses at the Molendinar Surfside depot alone.

Jason, who started with the company as a mechanic and worked his way up the ladder, says the company has seen a host of changes as it has grown over the years — particularly with the acquisition of Sunbus around 2008.

"I think when I first started Molendinar was a tiny, tiny depot — it would have been lucky to be 100 vehicles," he says.

"There have been quite a lot of changes. The fleet’s grown a lot.

"Obviously over the years processes have changed. It’s a lot more controlled now than it used to be."

Jason says the company now has a heavy focus on safety and procedure.

A recent overhaul in process has seen all the depots and workshop come into line with each other.

"Things that you used to do 15 years ago, you can’t get away with that sort of stuff now," he says.

"Safety’s obviously the number one thing."

As the business has progressed, the role of those in the workshop has also changed with it.

"Mechanics are no longer just mechanics," Jason says.

Computers have taken on more of a role in the workshop, although are used for diagnostic purposes only.

"It’s pretty amazing what you can do with these things now," Jason says.

While the older guys are taking on board the new technology, their "skills and knowledge" are being passed on to the young fellas who tend to pick up the computer work with ease.

"We’re finding some very good mechanics for that very reason," he says.

Jason says there has been a change with the vehicles in the last 15 to 20 years.

"All those European-designed ones can be overcomplicated for what we need it for," he explains, adding they have an ongoing relationship with bus builder Bustech — which is also part of the TAG group.

"There are a lot of things that are there that we don’t need in Australia."

This can include buses which are designed for colder climates, for example.

He says they tend to use the "simplified" Bustech vehicles as "they’re a lot easier to work with".

Although the relationship is ongoing, Jason stressed they do not exclusively use one supplier and says they recently welcomed a Scania vehicle into the fleet.

"We don’t really know how it’s going to perform yet."

The buses are turned over quite regularly to keep the average fleet age of seven years.

"Those vehicles are getting up to seven years of age now and I can remember when the first one rolled through the gate," he says.

"You would be quite surprised at how quickly seven years comes around."

Vehicles are serviced every 10,000km and all vehicles within the fleet are Euro5.

TAG’S TYRE TESTING

With such a large fleet, the company is spending millions of dollars on tyres each year — but it is not a decision taken lightly.

TAG tends to undertake its own tyre testing to ensure it gets the best value for money.

"Ever since I’ve been here, we’re always looking for the next best tyre," Jason says.

The "long drawn out process for testing" can take between six to eight months on different vehicles.

As vehicles are not exclusively assigned one run only, it means they can be driving in all sorts of conditions.

"You can’t just have one vehicle running around and have all your testing figures based on that," Jason says.

 "We’ve done testing on all types of tyres."

Although most suppliers tend to present their own facts and figures about how particular products perform, Jason says he prefers to rely on TAG’s internal testing to ensure the product hasn’t been "babied".

Suppliers are always informed when TAG is undertaking its own testing, and suppliers have never objected to the practice.

"What works for them might not necessarily work for us," Jason says.                   

"We just find it’s better to get our own response."              

Jason says major brands may not be happy with TAG using other brands, which is why they have not opted for exclusivity.                                  

While the company does not deal exclusively with one supplier, it does have a long-term relationship with national tyre distributor Tyres4U.

"The only reason we have had an ongoing relationship is they do have access to all different brands," Jason says.

"At least this way we have the option to change and test other things.

"That’s the beauty of not being tied to one supplier."

Jason says there are many factors to take into consideration when choosing a particular tyre.

"The tyres that we are using now, we’ve also found we’re seeing up to two and a half times more life than the tyres we were using previously."

Factors can include the type of run, the type of driver and even the type of guttering on the route — stating Gold Coast streets are much tighter than the streets of Rockhampton, for example.

"Some things work better here than they do in the Sunshine Coast. What works here might not work in Cairns."

While most workshop mechanics within the group tend to do a little bit of everything, the Molendinar workshop has its own dedicated tyre fitter, Richard Jensy.

"Richard is the guy who does all the footwork," Jason says.

The company has also taken to re-capping tyres where necessary, although they have found this is unsuitable for the conditions in north Queensland.

The company prefers to use "clean skin" tyres in the hotter tropics.

"What we have found is the re-caps were coming apart," he says.

The Molendinar depot alone sends about 20 tyres away each week for re-capping.

 "The re-caps that we’re using now, they’re basically double the life than we were getting previously," he says.

The tyres tend to last an average of 40,000km to 50,000km, and it is estimated about 30 million km a year are covered across the entire fleet.

The depot receives three to four fuel deliveries each week for its 35,000 litre storage tank.

Jason says the company spent about $1.6 million on tyres in the last financial year.

"In the scheme of things, tyres are one of the largest costs we have each year," he says.

The smaller depots have also brought most of the workshop duties back in-house.

Previous tyre suppliers would tend to be the "local" supplier who would also charge to change the tyres and determine how often this should be done.

Equipment was purchased and now all the work is able to be done in-house, bringing more control back to the company.

 "We know what we’re doing and how we want it done," Jason says.

"It has been quite successful so far."

Jason says TAG will continue to look for the best quality tyre for the fleet.

"Everyone likes to save money but for us, obviously, we need a tyre that meets our safety standards first and gives us the best quality," he says.

"Obviously we’re not going to compromise quality and safety for cost."

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