Modernisation in Madeira

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Rodoeste Volvo B10M MD-72-37 was new in 1981 and pictured at the company’s depot in Funchal on 19 March 2023. SHAYNE HOWARTH

Shayne Howarth reports on the changes that are coming to Madeira’s bus services, and takes a look at the interesting variety of vehicles in service on the island

The archipelago of Madeira is an autonomous region of Portugal, covering an area of some 309 square miles. A beautiful, clean, and picturesque island with stunning views for miles on end. Situated in the North Atlantic Ocean, it sits just under 250 miles to the north of the Canary Islands and 320 miles west of Morocco.

Other than expansion as the road network has developed, bus operations have been relatively settled since the turn of the century. The first major shake-up for many years is now due to take place over the summer when the new public transport concessions are due to commence, reflecting a similar situation to that which took place in Malta in 2011.

Modernised fleets

The largest operator in Madeira is government-owned Horários do Funchal (Funchal Timetables) which operates all local bus services wholly within the capital of Funchal. Longer-distance services out towards Camacha and as far north as Arco de São Jorge are also operated as part of its Autocarros da Camacha (Camacha Buses) operation, though the trading name is not used with all buses operating under the Horários do Funchal umbrella.

There has been a massive investment in the Horários do Funchal fleet over recent years with just three operational Volvo B10M types of 1987 vintage remaining in the city, working alongside more modern Volvo B8R, B9M, B12M and B12BLE types, not to mention the truck derived 4×4 Scania P114CB and Volvo FL types for the most extreme gradients!


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The Autocarros da Camacha fleet is more varied featuring Volvo B10Ms from 1983 vintage through to 2001, Volvo B10B, B11R and B12 types alongside various Scanias.

UTIC-bodied Volvo MA-72-37 heads a line-up of buses at Rodoeste Estação (bus station) in Funchal. SHAYNE HOWARTH

Services to the east of the island are provided by SAM – Sociedade de Automóveis da Madeira (Madeira Automobile Company). Twenty services are operated covering the Caniço, Santa Cruz, Machico, Porto da Cruz and Faial areas including the ‘Aerobus’ service which provides direct, fast links between the Airport, Funchal, and the various hotels along the Estrada Monumental.

All-over white modern coaches of various manufacturers, with green fleet names, are pretty much the order of the day now at SAM. However some older Scania L113CLB types of 1995/6 vintage with CAMO bodies still perform sterling service in the operator’s old green, cream and white livery alongside a small number of Volvo B10Ms.

Empresa de Automóveis do Caniço (Caniço Automobile Company), the smallest of the three private bus companies, operates what can only be described as an immaculate fleet of white-based vehicles with grey, red, and black relief on its eight services linking Funchal with the Caniço area just to the south-east of Funchal, with most routes being just eight to 10 kilometres in length. Scania K113CLB and L113CLB types survive from the 1990s with newer Mercedes-Benz and Scania chassis bringing the fleet right up to date.

By far the most fascinating operator on the island and responsible for all services out to the west is Rodoeste – Transportadora Rodoviária da Madeira (Madeira Road Transport Company). Some 31 services are provided covering a vast operational area through Câmara de Lobos to Ribeira Brava, Jardim de Serra, Sao Vicente, Ponta do Pargo, Porto Moniz and Arco de São Jorge.

Rodoeste 07-52-MD at Estrada Dom João V, São Vicente in June 2023. SHAYNE HOWARTH

Depot fire

Unfortunately, the 77 strong Rodoeste fleet was hit by a depot fire in December 2023 when four vehicles were destroyed and another severely damaged. Despite this and without the assistance of any vehicles from external sources, a reliable service remains.

The fleet is as fascinating as the operating area, with two surviving Volvo B58s from 1979 and 1980 still giving sterling service, alongside thirty-five Volvo B10Ms new from 1981 to 2002. Some 33 pre-millennium vehicles still survive with an amazing 20 survivors carrying UTIC (Union of Transporters for Import and Commerce) bodywork, whose factories in Porto and Lisbon closed as long ago as 1990 and 1992 respectively.

Alongside the many Volvos which include B7R, B8R, B10B and B12M types, there are various MAN, Mercedes-Benz and Scania models also in service with various different body types. Vehicles carry many variations of the traditional dark cream, red and white livery whilst the modern vehicles and some more recent repaints carry a white based livery with red and cream artwork first introduced at the turn of the century primarily for the coaching fleet.

In July 2024, the concessions to operate local bus services on the island are to be renewed. Horários do Funchal will continue much as before with most of the older vehicles being replaced by the ongoing recent fleet renewal programme.

SAM, EACL and the Autocarros da Camacha part of Horários do Funchal will become a merged ‘CAM’ operation, whilst Rodoeste will remain in a similar vein to now. Unfortunately for the transport enthusiast, but perhaps not for the travelling public, as part of the new concession, a total of 106 new Iveco saloons have been ordered which will undoubtedly wipe out most of the vehicles of interest operated by these companies, some of which will have up to 44 years of history on the island by the time they are withdrawn from service.

The new concessions will trade under the ‘SIGA CAM’ and ‘SIGA Rodoeste’ titles with a standard livery of white with blue and yellow logos.

Work is also underway to bring one of the earliest B10Ms to the UK for preservation. Anyone who may wish to be involved in assisting with this project is invited to get in touch on [email protected].

Horários do Funchal 55-29-MA is a Volvo B9M-48 with CAMO body new in 2002. SHAYNE HOWARTH
Sociedade de Automóveis da Madeira’s 26-80-MD, a Scania L113CLB new in 1995 and seen in Estação de Machico (Machico bus station). SHAYNE HOWARTH