COVID-19 has hit the bus sector hard. How is Daimler Buses helping its customers? What protective measures are there for drivers and passengers? Till Oberwörder, Head of Daimler Buses, provides an overview.
“Keeping an eye on the concerns of our customers”.
Interview with Till Oberwörder, Head of Daimler Buses.
Mr Oberwörder, the COVID-19 pandemic is clearly palpable in all sectors of life. Economically speaking, the bus sector has been especially hardly hit, with tourism being forced to a complete standstill. How is Daimler Buses handling this difficult situation?
As you can imagine, the second quarter of the year from April to June 2020 was anything but an easy quarter for Daimler Buses. The slump in the international bus markets was clearly felt. Almost all of our core markets, e.g. Europe, Brazil or Mexico, experienced a tough market crash and a slump in sales as a result of COVID-19. In our manufacturing facilities in Germany, we implemented short-time work in spring. At the same time, we also drew up a plan for protective and hygiene measures in advance of production restarting from Easter and accordingly adapted our workplaces. But we don't just want to look at our own situation, rather we've always had the needs and concerns of our customers firmly in sight.
“But we don't just want to look at our own situation, rather we've always had the needs and concerns of our customers firmly in sight.”
Can you go into a little more detail on that? How does the situation look in the touring coach and regular-service bus sectors?
Depending on whether our customers operate in the touring coach business or the public transport sector, their situation is likely to be very different. As you already said, the touring coach sector was at a complete standstill for several weeks. In the case of imminent deliveries of touring coaches to our customers, we therefore spoke with our customers to determine the right point in time for their new vehicle to actually be handed over and also provided further help in the form of financial solutions. In local urban public transport, a completely different topic was in central focus, namely how safe drivers of urban buses are and how they can be best protected. Drivers of urban buses are critical workers during the COVID-19 pandemic: without their commitment, it wouldn't be possible to run public transport systems at all. At the same time, their contact with numerous people on a daily basis puts them at greater risk of infection. For this reason, we recently started supplying driver protection doors with full-surface partition glazing. These retrofit solutions made of safety glass or high-quality polycarbonate plastic were initially made available for the Mercedes-Benz Citaro and the Setra LE business. The driver protection doors are now also available for Setra touring coaches of the 500 model series and the Mercedes-Benz Tourismo. Solutions for the Intouro and the Sprinter City 75 minibus will soon be following.
And how safe is it for passengers to travel by bus? For example, what's the situation as concerns air-conditioning systems and fresh air? In the case of people in enclosed environments, is it inevitable that concerns arise about the risk of infection?
We've been trying for a while to ensure that there is no risk involved in travelling by bus. In urban buses, the doors are opened almost every two minutes and fresh air from the outside purges the air inside the vehicle. But also in a closed bus, passengers needn't worry: our vehicles are equipped with powerful climate control systems with high air throughflow levels which are at their most efficient when the doors and windows are closed. Depending on the air conditioning system, a complete change of the inside air within less than a minute is possible. Plus, depending on the type of bus, external temperature and type of air conditioning system, a 100-percent level of fresh air in the passenger compartment is possible. But we weren't happy to just sit back and accept this current state of affairs. That's why we immediately created a taskforce which has rapidly developed a concrete set of measures.
“Our vehicles are equipped with powerful climate control systems with high air throughflow levels which are at their most efficient when the doors and windows are closed.”
Can you give us an overview of the measures? What have you done in terms of the passenger compartment?
Besides the driver protection doors already mentioned being available as a retrofit solution, we have already established a practical set of guidance for purging the air inside buses with fresh air as well as information on how to operate the climate control system most effectively. For some time now, we've also been using new active filters in the air conditioning systems of our touring coaches. The high performing multi-ply particulate filters are built up in successive layers, one of which has an anti-viral functional layer. It filters out even the finest of aerosols which can carry viruses. The active filters are available for retrofitting in all touring coaches and are now also included as part of the standard equipment of new vehicles. Active filters will be available for the Citaro before the end of the year. Passengers will recognise buses equipped with active filters by an easy-to-see sticker in the entrance area. Upon request, businesses can increase the air exchange rate within the interior. And finally, sensor-controlled, contactless disinfectant dispensers have been added to the equipment portfolio. What's more, we are also intensively researching and working on various other topics.
Are there also hygiene stipulations when a bus is brought into the workshop for a service?
We've also looked after that point. It starts with reception of the vehicle outdoors without direct contact in the OMNIplus Service Centre's yard. In the building, floor markings and disinfectant dispensers also help. Ordered spare parts are handed over by placing them on a counter. No matter whether it's the vehicle key, the steering wheel or operating buttons – all of the bus components that are touched are cleaned thoroughly. Above all, the employees ventilate the vehicles thoroughly – for 20 minutes outdoors prior to moving the vehicle and also before handing the bus back over to the customer. Anyone who wishes to dispense with the journey to the Service Centre can use the collection and delivery service.
One effect of the pandemic is that the digitisation of the economy has been driven forward. Is that also true of the bus sector?
Definitely. Now especially, the digital services of OMNIplus ON are of great relevance. My tip for bus companies with their own workshop: use OMNIplus ON commerce and the OMNIplus eShop within it. It offers direct, rapid and reliable access to the entire range of parts and automatically shows the availability of parts at the respective service partner. In using this system, the procurement of replacement parts occurs entirely contact-free, plus it is accessible around the clock and even on a smartphone while you're on the road – a clear advantage during times of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our hygienic measures
Greater safety in times of COVID‑19.
Daimler Buses offers highly developed air-con technology for your buses and coaches, and is working on further innovations to make driving buses even safer.