PUTCO Ltd: On the road to meeting changing customer expectations

South Africa’s transport system has a long and varied past but with infrastructure upgrades in motion and advancements in technology, this sector has a bright future.

One of the foremost companies when it comes to bus transportation is PUTCO Ltd. The Sandton-based company operates a fleet in excess of 1,800 buses and according to its website, travels 90 million kilometres each year, transporting some 73 million passengers.

driver-south-africaThe company was formed out of adversity; originally called the Public Utility Transport Corporation (PUTCO), the organisation came to fruition in 1945, following a dramatic bus strike in the preceding year. The business was run by visionary men like Tom Frith and Jack Barregar until it was renamed PUTCO in the 1970s.

As PUTCO was becoming established, a family, consisting of Gaetano, Luigi and Albino Carleo started their own small bus operations out of Wynberg in 1948. As their business grew they took control of PUTCO in September 1971.

At that time, there were a number of challenges not entirely unfamiliar with the current landscape: increasing diesel costs and maintenance challenges, including a lack of spare parts, which of course put a premium on prices.

The company describes its significant history through its website, as such:

“PUTCO has been part of the South African history, trading on the Johannesburg stock exchange for over six decades; surviving the penny fare increase of 1954, the 1976 riots and the upheavals of the 1980’s.

“We are the only public passenger company previously listed on the Johannesburg Securities Exchange SA and have grown into the biggest commuter bus operator in the country, operating 1,600 buses, employing just over 4,200 people, transporting more than 230,000 commuters daily in Mpumalanga, Gauteng and Limpopo and travelling over 90 million kilometres per annum.”

Along the way, PUTCO’s ownership structure has changed significantly and today the company claims to be 42.6 per cent black owned – 11 per cent of which are by black women.

“We employ just over 4,450 people, 95.2 per cent of whom are black and 53 per cent of management are Previously Disadvantaged Individuals (PDI’s). We have 2,223 drivers, 55 of whom are women,” the corporate website states.

Despite its ownership changes over recent years, the Carleo name remains indelibly linked to PUTCO and Franco Pisapia was appointed as Managing Director in September 2004. Pisapia is a director of Carleo Entreprise Limited and Carleo Investment Limited.

The company operates a number of Business Units at Selby, Tshwane/Mpumalanga, Soshanguve, Mamelodi and PUTCOTON/Soweto. Each operation has an advanced workshop.

In addition, the company has its own bus building facility at Brits, called Dubigeon Body and Coach and runs VOMS, an engineering site located at Roodepoort.

PUTCO places strong emphasis on its staff both in regards to recruitment and training, as the website outlines:

“Part of our vision is to employ happy, proud and passionate people and truly be a “PUTCO family”. This company has a long history of family values and we would especially like to see our more than 4,450 employees continue this into the future.

“We believe that it is important to anchor our recent empowerment transaction around our workers, because of our strong PUTCO family values. Our empowerment deal outlines the basis of true Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment scheme, we hope to achieve not only monetary benefit for them but an improved sense of ownership and responsibility, which should become embedded in all our employees.

advertising-bus“PUTCO Driver Training is based on the Certificate for Professional Driving registered with the TETA. Training material and content has been accredited with the TETA and the Standards Generating Body (SGB). We follow a stringent and scientific driver selection process so that we employ high calibre drivers: The selection process is conducted by a dedicated team of Human Resource Practitioners and qualified Psychometrists.

“The Vienna Dover System is used to asses driver candidate’s decision making speed, correctness of decisions, hand-eye-foot coordination, auditory and visual discrimination, reaction speed, concentration levels, stress tolerance and stress recovery.

“The Vienna Dover System is a computerized assessment that was developed in Austria. Since its introduction to South Africa in 1982 South African norms were developed based on the general South African population.

“Driver candidates also undergo a 20 minute practical bus driving assessment by a Driving Instructor to ensure that they will be able to master all the driving skills successfully during the training period.

“Candidates who successfully complete the practical driving test and the Vienna Dover assessment are sent for a pre-employment medical examination and their previous work references are contacted. Their criminal records, driver’s licenses and Public Driver’s Permits (PrDP) are also verified by using the services of Kroll background screening services.

“Statistics show that for every 10 candidates that go into the selection process only 1 successful and fully trained driver will be released to the Business Units. PUTCO strives to provide our clients with only the very best drivers.”

The company runs a course with is accredited by the Transport Education and Training Authority (TETA) for Driver Training – and also has secondary accreditation via Merseta for Technical Training and MICT, the IT Seta for IT Training.

During the 2012/2013 financial year the company had a training budget of R10.3 million and provides education from the PUTCO Training Academy and Selection Centre, located in Lea Glen, Roodepoort.

Presently PUTCO runs a number of passenger services: City to City transport; Private hire and Commercial contracts with both public institutions and the corporate sector. In addition, the company runs operations from Gauteng to Limpopo and the North West Provinces.

Investment in the company’s extensive fleet is of course ongoing and since the beginning of 2002 PUTCO has reportedly spent nearly R400 million on new buses.

In recent years the company has started introducing double axel buses and train buses with higher passenger carrying capacities of up to 85 people. These have the dual aim of providing additional comfort for customers and addition safety. Safety and security inspections form an important and compulsory part of the operational process before any vehicle leaves the depot.

PUTCO’s story continues to evolve as customer expectations change into the 21st Century. The company website underlines a strong business commitment to its clients:

“PUTCO will continuously endeavour to add value to the lives of commuters, shareholders and other stakeholders well into the future. We will also work on improving the quality of service and inculcate a customer-centric approach to service provision.

“PUTCO is continuously working on improving the quality of service and instilling a customer-centric approach to service provision. We will work closely with all role players including government in finding lasting solutions to transport challenges.”