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New luxury bus service to roll out in June

Published:Sunday | May 24, 2015 | 5:00 AMNeville Graham
A Corporate Express bus.

A second luxury bus service called Corporate Express is about to enter the market, starting with one route from Kingston to Port Antonio and two buses, which will eventually grow to a fleet of four.

Businessman and hotelier Ernest Constantine 'Charlie' Hinds, who is already in the transport business as a freight hauler and operator of a car service for airport shuttles, plans to launch into the movement of commuters in another two weeks.

"We are settling on either the 5th or the 8th of June; we just have to decide on whether we go with a Friday or a Monday," said Hinds, managing director and sole shareholder of Corporate Transport Services Limited, the operating company for the bus service.

Corporate Express will join a market segment that has just one other player offering scheduled services - Knutsford Express Services Limited - but Hinds has tapped a route heading through the Junction that is served only by public transport operators, to make his debut. Knutsford Express plies routes on the opposite end of the island, the south and north coasts.

Port Antonio to MoBay

But Corporate Express will "soon" add a route from Port Antonio to Montego Bay, which will overlap with territory served by Knutsford Express.

Hinds is essentially making a $60 million bet on the transport market, though he is not saying how much of those funds are being poured into the luxury bus service.

His decision to launch Corporate Express rests, he says, on a market survey done between October 27 and November 21, 2014 and field tested in December 2014.

"The survey covered Port Antonio and several key adjacent communities. In addition, it covered downtown Kingston, Half-Way Tree, Buff Bay and Annotto Bay in Portland. We garnered a lot of information from it covering everything from estimates of buses on the routes to number of passengers and even the fares they would be willing to pay," said Hinds.

The survey estimated that about 2,500 commuters travel the Port Antonio-Kingston route daily. That figure does not include those who drive themselves. The reasons for travel range from regular commuting workers to professionals who operate between Kingston and Port Antonio and the towns in between. His service will be targeted mainly at the latter group.

"Ninety-nine per cent of those polled said that a service like ours is needed and 98 per cent of those persons said they'd use it," Hinds said. "They are begging for it ... these are people who would like to park their cars or who are suffering with the present system and want a comfortable alternative."

Hinds estimates that for the service to be viable, Corporate Express has to maintain at least a 40 per cent load factor.

The Kingston-Port Antonio service will operate a schedule of eight trips - four trips either way - starting at 6 am daily with stops at Annotto Bay. The starting fares are set at:

n Kingston to Port Antonio: $1,400

n Kingston to Annotto Bay: $850

n Port Antonio to Annotto Bay: $550.

Corporate Express will be using two leased 40-seater luxury buses equipped with wi-fi and luggage racks to launch the service. The other two buses - both 37-seaters with wi-fi and onboard movies - are on order from China and will be added to the fleet in two to three months.

"We will even have USB outlets in the seats for those who want to work while they travel. The aim is to have our clients travel in comfort and style and to work if they want to," Hinds said.

Corporate Express is an extension on the services offered by Corporate Transport Services. The company has three divisions dealing with a car service for airport transfers, meetings and long trips, a messenger service, and express freight services.

Hinds said that by the time the other buses arrive, he would have invested $60 million in Corporate Transport Services overall, financed by 70 per cent equity and 30 per cent debt. He has been investing in the company for the past two years, he said.

He estimates that the luxury bus service will break even immediately.

"That's from an operational standpoint - when you take out the capital costs and so on," Hinds reasoned. "Our checks show that within the first 90 days we will be having load factors in the order of 60-65 per cent. Within a year we will be doing over 75 per cent," he said.

The service will terminate on leased premises at Oakton House, 5-7 Hagley Park Road in Kingston. In Port Antonio, it will terminate in the town square near the Old Courthouse. And when the service is extended to Montego Bay, it will terminate at a location on Gloucestershire Avenue.

Corporate Transport now employs 25 persons. Hinds says that by the time Corporate Express is fully operational, he will need another 19 workers covering ticketing, drivers and maintenance.

He has not said when the Montego Bay route will begin to operate, only that it would be soon.

neville.graham@gleanerjm.com