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Melbourne hops on citysights bandwagon

A red-decked reminder of the ‘old dart’ has launched in Melbourne, with competition aplenty

By Ian Porter | May 9, 2013

Melbourne’s status as a world-ranking tourist destination has been validated by the start of a hop-on hop-off tourist bus service featuring red, open-topped English double-deckers.

The new service will operate seven Leyland Titan Alexander vehicles acquired from Cardiff says co-owner and director Charlie Abela.

“We wanted to blend in with the old concept of the city,” Abela says, explaining why the company opted for used vehicles.

“We thought it would be a great idea. They are in very good condition. They were operated by a company called Stagecoach.

“We refurbished them and they came up very nicely.”

Abela says Melbourne was a good place for a tourist-based operation adding it’s unusual as tourist destinations go because there is not such a pronounced difference between the summer peak and the winter low.

“If you have a look at the Government statistics, Melbourne is a very funny city. It is a city that attracts people all year round and has got a 7 to 12 percent fluctuation.

“In winter it’s not going to be as busy but we still think the average difference will be 9 percent.”

Abela says all the buses will be on the road through the winter.

“If you are going to give a service, you have to give a service. But, in summertime, we will add more times, start a bit earlier, and finish a bit later.”

Abela says he and co-director Joseph Spiteri were confident the new operation, which will cost $35 for a 24-hour ticket, would be successful even though there is already a free tourist shuttle bus service and the free City Circle Tram in Melbourne.

“Yes, there is a free shuttle bus, and some people who are on holidays will want to go on a free shuttle bus. But other people want to go on an open-top because they want to take photos. There is more to see from an open-top than from a closed bus.

“We are giving people a choice. It’s a beautiful thing to see Melbourne from the top.”

The Melbourne operation is a franchise obtained from the City Sightseeing company that originated in London and is now based in Spain. There is no direct link between the Melbourne project and the City Sightseeing operations in Sydney, the Blue Mountains or Perth.

Abela and Spiteri are partners in a City Sightseeing operation in Malta, from where Abela’s parents migrated to Australia in 1964. The Abela and Spiteri families have been in buses since 1992, when they started a coach run between Malta and northern Europe.

Melbourne City Sightseeing has acquired seven Leyland Titans with Alexander bodywork and will have six of them on the road every day.

“They (the buses) have been very successful in England,” Abela says.

“They are comfortable to sit in, and we have mechanics that know all about the Leylands and their Gardner motors and the automatic gearboxes. We are comfortable with them.”

Abela says the company had no trouble finding drivers, and even managed to attract a couple who have driven Titans in the UK.

“There’s a lot of drivers who love double-deckers. We have a couple of English and Irish drivers who love the buses because that’s what they used to drive back home.

“They thought it was a dying thing and they are happy to see them still on the road because it is something that you fall in love with, as well.”

He says safety was a critical issue for any bus operator and that was reflected in the company’s hiring policy.

“I want 100 percent people who are experienced. We are still training because I believe in safety and I want to be 100 percent sure that the driver is very comfortable and that he knows what he is doing.”

The initial route will comprise 14 stops around the central business district, including the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the Shrine of Remembrance and the new Waterfront City Development where the Southern Star observation wheel is being rebuilt.

Abela says the directors were already planning a second route, which would interchange with the first route and take tourists a little further out, to places including the Chapel Street shopping precinct, the Albert Park grand prix site, Princes Pier and the Casino.

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