Hansea: taking the bus on a growth ride toward a more sustainable future

Hansea: taking the bus on a growth ride toward a more sustainable future

Belgian traffic congestion is growing and environmental concerns are becoming more pressing. How will Hansea, the leading private bus operator in Flanders meet these challenges? The company is determined to play a key role in the future of environmental friendly public transport. Will we soon travel on e-buses?

Hansea operates daily urban and interurban connections under the authority of two regional public transport authorities: De Lijn (Flanders) and TEC (Wallonia). It is also active in school transport, employee transport and bus chartering.

Watch a short movie to learn more about Hansea and our partnership.

Growing through buy-and-build

Flanders was the first region in Belgium to liberalize public bus transport. In Wallonia, this hadn’t occurred yet when we invested in Hansea in 2014, explains Ruben Monballieu, Principal with the Gimv Sustainable Cities team. “But the direction was already clear at that time. This created an especially strong growth opportunity. In the meantime, liberalization has been confirmed for 2019, with the first tenders coming out quite soon.”

The company’s strategy for achieving growth has two parts: buy and build. Addressing the first Ruben says, “Since our investment in 2014, the company has made four acquisitions – smaller, family-owned operators – three in Wallonia and one in Flanders. We’ll continue to look at potential targets.” At the same time the company is growing organically, among others by building up its employee transport activities. An example is the Port of Antwerp, where Hansea buses take workers to and from the train station or car park. 

E-buses for Hansea

Like so many countries, Belgium faces tough mobility and environmental challenges. Travel by bus can help address them, explains Hansea CEO Luc Jullet. “Buses take cars off crowded roads and reduce fuel consumption and emissions per passenger." Continuous improvements have strongly reduced emissions from bus diesel engines – the latest ones conforming to the Euro Diesel 6 standard. But the big step will be the transition to hybrid and fully electric buses. The technology for electric buses is less mature than that for electric cars. "Remember," says Luc, "the average private car stays parked 95% of the time. Buses have to run all day."

De Lijn is currently conducting a number of pilot projects, including one in Bruges with several fully electric buses. Hansea is following these trials closely and would like to run pilots itself. Such trials will be crucial to determine which of various competing technologies will prove best.

Luc points to two crucial questions. “First, how do you charge buses? With an overhead charger, a below-ground inductive charger, or a plug-in connection? Second, when do you charge them? Back at the depot after the day is done? This demands a really big battery, taking up space and costing more. Or periodically throughout the day? This would allow smaller, cheaper batteries.

Hansea estimates the switch will begin in three-to-five years when the technology is mature. “We’d like to be the frontrunner in Belgium,” Ruben says. “Hansea has the expertise and the scale to invest in (hybrid) electric buses, which cost up to twice as much as traditional diesel buses.

Empowering ambitious management

The partnership between Hansea and its investment partners, Gimv and Cube Infrastructure Fund, is a perfect fit. It began in 2013, when Veolia made a strategic decision to divest its transport activities in a number of European countries, including Belgium. The management of the Belgian branch saw an opportunity to grow as an independent entity. Gimv saw this opportunity too. In December of that year Gimv and Cube announced their joint acquisition of the Belgian business, with a 49% and a 51% stake respectively.

Together with Cube – which focuses on European infrastructure, including public transport – Gimv has helped Hansea’s management evaluate the business cases and prepare the negotiations for the various acquisitions over the last years. The Sustainable Cities team adds further value by keeping an eye on innovative alternative fuels and charging technologies, and by seeing where the broader market is going. Also, the team gave Hansea access to Gimv’s local network in the sector.

Gimv helped us with their expertise in buy-and-build, and the know-how they have built up during the years. We can rely on their strategic support and local network for making acquisitions.

Luc Jullet - CEO, Hansea

“Hansea has very capable management,” says Ruben. “One thing that has really helped them achieve their growth story is having the capital and independence to make the investments they think necessary for growth. They couldn’t do this as part of a larger, cash-strapped entity. As an investment partner, we aim to act as a thought partner, supporting management in their role to make the most of the company’s potential.” 

Entrepreneurial tip

  • Be independent in making investments you think necessary for growth. This will help you achieve your growth story.

Would you like to know more about this partnership? Don’t hesitate to contact Ruben Monballieu, Principal with the Gimv Sustainable Cities team.

Sustainable Cities

A set of fundamental trends is affecting today’s cities: accelerated urbanization, infrastructure obsolescence, housing shortage, scarcity of resources and environmental awareness. Consequently, urban communities need to become more sustainable, and make more efficient use of resources, assets and infrastructure.

Gimv invests in companies that enable a more sustainable and efficient society, including B2B services, solutions for the energy industry, transport and logistics, waste recycling, functional chemicals, HVAC solutions, energy storage and value added building products.

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