BY JULIAN RICHARDSON Assistant Business Co-ordinator firstname.lastname@example.org
KNUTSFORD Express has acquired the routes and operations of South Coast Express, giving the luxury bus service provider control over Jamaica's two major corridors for ground travel.
The transaction involves Knutsford taking over South Coast's outlets and back office assets, including equipment and client databases in Mandeville, Santa Cruz and Savanna-la-Mar, but not its fleet of buses.
Importantly, the deal provides Knutsford with access to luxury bus service routes across the south coast of Jamaica and connects customers to major points around the entire island. The seven-year-old company already offered services to and from Kingston, Ocho Rios, Falmouth, Negril and Montego Bay.
"People on the south coast now not only get to Kingston as they did before, but Montego Bay, which is rising in importance in terms of travelling," Oliver Townsend, principal of Knutsford Express, told the Business Observer yesterday.
"We are excited by it because what it is essentially doing is connecting the island," he said.
Townsend stated that the seven-year-old company figured it was in an ideal position as it could leverage on operations it already has on the two ends of the island — Kingston and Montego Bay.
"We approached South Coast because they had kind of eased back on their services. We had discussions and decided to move with an agreement," Townsend said.
"Our take on it was that if anybody could make it happen, we could because we have been doing it a while. We could leverage our management, our software, our reservation systems, back office management etc," said Townsend, who did not disclose the purchase price in the transaction that was completed in April.
With the deal, Knutsford has increased its staff complement by 14, bringing its employee count to in excess of 60 members.
Knutsford operates a fleet of more than 14 luxury buses, ranging from 31 to 45 seats, which include restrooms, air suspensions and Wi-Fi. The company opted not to acquire South Coast's bus stock as they did not fit the company's fleet profile, according to Townsend.
"Their stock would not fit in with our mission. What we achieved with the fleet we have, it was important that we not take them," Townsend said.
Knutsford has so far added just one new bus — a 37-seater luxury coach — specifically for the south coast route as it determines the ideal fit for the corridor's relatively rough terrain.
"What we are trying to do is learn more about the route and which vehicle is ideal for around there," Townsend said, adding that the company is looking at adding a mid-day departure service from Kingston to complement the existing two at 5: 30am and 5:30pm daily.
Knutsford Express emerged amid a fallout in the availability of domestic airline service in June 2006, Air Jamaica Express' last year in operation. It has capitalised over the years on growing demand from cross-island commuters seeking a better value proposition than driving their own cars, Townsend said.
"We really try to work on providing an alternative to the person driving their own car. As things get a bit tougher, I believe that if we continue to offer value and keep stepping up the standard, we will be able to get even more motorists on board," Townsend said, arguing that the cost difference between consumers driving themselves and going on the bus is "significant" in favour of Knutsford's coach service, taking into account fuel and maintenance. A one-way trip from Kingston to Montego Bay and vice versa on Knutsford Express cost as low as $2,150, according to the company's website.
At the same time, Townsend noted that Knutsford has been able to effectively manage potentially volatile operating costs through modernisation of its fleet.
"Our success, in this environment of rising rates, is largely through using the entire fleet of the particular King Long bus that we use; it has allowed us to survive and thrive. While we have modernised our fleets, our efficiency has gone up tremendously," he said.
South Coast Express was launched in July 2011, reportedly with a fleet of six buses offering service from Kingston to Negril with stops at Savanna-la-Mar, Santa Cruz and Mandeville.