For Melburnians, the iconic red SkyBus has been a staple of airport and CBD transport since the first single shuttle bus service began in 1978. Transporting people to and from Melbourne Airport in Tullamarine, it quickly became a key transport link for a major airport without a dedicated rail line.
In the years that have followed, the red buses have become a centrepiece on Hobart streets too. On the fifth anniversary of the SkyBus service in Hobart, Kinetic, who owns and runs the SkyBus services in both Melbourne and Hobart, has expanded on a well-known brand in south-east Australia.
“At the time we saw tremendous opportunity in Tasmania for a SkyBus service as tourism in Hobart was growing every year and Hobart Airport was expanding with plans for international flights,” Kinetic co-CEO Michael Sewards told ABC.
“We knew SkyBus was already a well-known brand in Tasmania with strong brand affinity because almost one in four of our domestic passengers on our Melbourne service came from Tasmania.”
Back in 2018, SkyBus, through Kinetic, acquired the local Hobart Airporter service to bring its modern airport bus service to the Apple Isle. With more choice added to the service, which includes free Wi-Fi, reliable running times and plenty of ticketing options, SkyBus also launched in Hobart with an express service that allowed kids to travel onboard for free.
“In our first year of operating we carried more than 100,000 passengers,” Sewards says.
Yet the SkyBus momentum ground to a halt when COVID hit and planes were left on the tarmac. In Tasmania, this left SkyBus to suspend the service from March 2022 until October that year, while the return of the service saw a temporary timetable that met flight arrival and departure times.
“We had to make some extremely tough but necessary decisions and it was one of the most difficult things we’ve ever had to do,” Sewards says.
“These decisions impacted people who we cared for, who were part of the SkyBus family and were integral in helping us build this brand that people know and love.”
Despite these tough days, SkyBus found a way to bounce back in both Melbourne and Hobart. In the first half of this year, the Hobart services have done more than just return to pre-COVID levels.
More than 75,000 customer journeys in that time was the highest ever half-year patronage figures recorded by SkyBus, while the Peninsula Express in Melbourne carried 50,000 passengers in the first six months after its relaunch.
“It felt great to be able to return to full service,” Sewards says.
This relaunch of SkyBus also let the brand launch Tasmania’s first electric buses into service, allowing Tasmanian visitors to receive a green and clean welcome.
“The reception has been overwhelmingly positive from customers, government and key Hobart Airport stakeholders,” Sewards says.
“In the first six months of operating, the buses displaced more than 79 tonnes of CO2 emissions.”
A renewed customer experience focus has helped SkyBus surge, while the SkyBusk initiative and its first ever Tasmanian Pride Bus has made an impact on local communities. Sewards says to keep an eye on the popular red bus in the near future as more features continue to be rolled out on the thriving SkyBus services.
“In October our Hobart Express service was the first location in Australia to trial tap and go contactless ticketing,” he says.
“This is just another way we’re creating convenience for our passengers and we’ll be looking at extending the pilot across all SkyBus services later in 2023.
“We will never stop innovating and investing in customer-first initiatives.”