Driver targets peninsular with bus buy-out

Melbourne-based Driver Group – the Australian operator of Gray Line – has expanded into the Mornington Peninsular with the acquisition of four smaller bus companies – now trading as Driver Coastal

Driver targets peninsular with bus buy-out
Driver targets peninsular with bus buy-out

By David Goeldner | October 18, 2010

Australia’s newest bus company – Driver Coastal – was launched this month following Driver Group’s purchase of four regional operators in Victoria’s Mornington Peninsular.

The Driver Group acquired Balnarring Bus Lines, Coolart Bus and Coach, Mawson’s Bus Lines and Old Tyabb Coaches in a simultaneous buy-out coordinated through Heritage Finance.

Driver Group General Manager Dave Nickels says the acquisition is part of the Group’s diversification plans into regional school contracts and charter work.

"We are a midsize bus business operating a bit of everything," Nickels says.

"It was decided we should look south-east of our headquarters at Mt Waverley, and somewhere with growth opportunities."

The Driver Group entered into discussions with Mornington Peninsular bus operators earlier this year, opting to buy bus operations covering the entire region, rather than settle on one or two operators.

"Buying one company with ten vehicles wasn’t going to do it," he says.

"We decided in conjunction with Heritage to bring together four operators and settle them all on the one day."

Driver Group currently operates route services in Melbourne’s south-east, mixed with metropolitan school and charter work, but significantly it has the Australian licence for American ‘sight-seeing’ coach company Gray Line.

Through Gray Line, Driver Group operates charter and tour coach packaged travel across Australia.

Driver Group’s Managing Director Gary Driver is also current Chairman of the Gray Line Board in the United States – the first non-American to hold this position.

Nickels says prior to the Mornington Peninsular acquisitions, Driver Group had about 80 vehicles across their diverse fleet, which now extends to 110 with 30 buses bought across the four peninsular operators.

The acquisitions include a purpose-built bus depot at Hastings, formerly owned by Coolart Bus and Coach.

"Being smaller companies they didn’t have their own maintenance teams," Nickels says.

"We’ve now placed our maintenance supervisor from Mt Waverley down to Hastings at the Coolart depot."

He says all major repairs to the Driver Coastal fleet will be done at Mt Waverley, with servicing and minor repairs handled at the Hastings depot.

About a third of the acquired buses will transform into Driver Coastal livery over the Christmas period, with the rest to follow at a later date.

"We are mindful that the former companies are household names with schools in the Mornington Peninsular, and we will still maintain most of the names, but over the next few years will gradually change to the new company name – Driver Coastal," Nickels says.

The former owner of Coolart Bus and Coach, Brad Johnson, will manage Driver Coastal at Hastings.

Nickels says it’s an exciting new chapter in the history of the Driver Group.

"It adds another piece of the jigsaw puzzle into the diversification of the businesses we operate."

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