For Bus Industry Confederation (BIC) national technical manager Dean Moule, he has never witnessed a time so busy in the bus and coach industry.
“This is the biggest change we’ve seen in our industry in the past 50 years,” Moule told ABC.
“This includes the transition to new technology, issues happening around safety and the need for the uptake of new technology systems.”
The amount of change within the local bus and coach sector has given BIC plenty to work on in recent months. Throughout all of its regular work programs and meetings with government departments, ministers and other peak bodies, BIC has discussed a wide range of topics, including vehicle design standards, safety, mass limits and fatigue management.
BIC’s presence over the past few months starts with its industry-based submission it wrote for the NSW Bus Industry Taskforce.
“What happens in NSW by default tends to lead the rest of the country,” Moule says.
“Our members, both operators and suppliers, recognise the need for strong advocacy on a range of issues that the NSW government is addressing that will have national impacts. We work with our state association members to review recent Acts and present to taskforces and push for national harmonisation at federal level.”
Yet recent weeks for BIC have been dominated by safety discussions. Following numerous safety incidents in past months, BIC dropped everything to update safety reform papers and push for regulatory changes.
“This is how the bus safety initiatives paper came out from BIC,” Moule says. “It’s one thing to say that these are the problems, but we think it’s more important to say what we think the solutions are.”
Moule says BIC wanted to make sure the paper was written in such a way that the government saw solutions and recommendations to help the industry at every level.
From an operator perspective, BIC has also been busy pushing for the uptake of new technology. Moule says BIC has asked governments to consider incentives to allow operators to update to new technology faster.
“For every Euro 1 or 2 vehicle you take off the road and put in a Euro 5 or 6 model instead, there’s a huge environmental and emission improvement,” Moule says.
“We’ve been pushing hard for better workplaces for drivers by providing better technology for them.”
Part of these improvements come through BIC’s push for a national harmonised approach to zero-emissions buses. Against government funding challenges and supply chain issues, BIC wants to see all governments revealing longer-term volume plans for introducing zero-emissions buses and securing the supply chain.
“Zero-emissions buses are complex and expensive vehicles,” Moule says. “The industry is currently in a hiatus of purchasing and it’s hurting the supply chain and suppliers enormously.
“We want to see standards introduced nationally that look further into zero-emissions buses than ever before.”
In a sign of the juggling act that BIC is currently completing as it tries to handle numerous industry challenges, Moule’s focus has quickly switched back and forth between zero-emissions buses, safety technology and the local content discussion.
When it comes to the latter, Moule says BIC has had to develop its own stance on the topic and work with a range of operators, suppliers and government bodies to unearth more detail.
“Our view on local content is that it’s a national approach rather than a state approach,” he says.
“It’s a balance between how local content benefits the industry and how it can actually hurt it.”
While state and territory bodies purchasing vehicles call for a certain amount of local content, BIC is trying to establish how these requirements are too demanding for local manufacturers and importers. Moule says that manufacturers can’t be expected to set up multiple facilities in different states and territories just to satisfy local content requirements in numerous areas.
“Part of our plan is to work with the industry and our members on a new major local content strategy that we’re about to start,” Moule says.
“From the assembly to the local jobs and the important aftersales side, there’s plenty of people and considerations for us to work on.
“Local content is important because it’s more than just financial value, it’s about everything else that goes into supplying a bus or coach.”
BIC is set to get started on the local content project in the back half of the year. While doing so, it’s also handling the diverse opinions on width, mass and tyre pressure regulations.
Back in May, BIC put a paper to the National Transport Commission (NTC) advocating for higher mass limits. Now, the NTC has accepted it and agreed to put it into its work plan to evaluate for 2024-25.
Moule says, in reality, it can be up to a five year process from submission to becoming an updated Australian Design Rule for suppliers if it is accepted. This time includes a rigorous impact assessment process.
“Tyre pressure is also an issue, especially with respect to EVs,” Moule says.
“Current regulations restrict tyre innovation. We want to follow what has been done globally to update modern tyre technology.”
The last part of BIC’s regulatory actions in recent months is about the current supply chain issue for suppliers. Moule assures the industry that BIC is also working hard to get answers from governments on how to fix the issue at major Australian ports.
In the meantime, he says suppliers are still having to continue operating without partial payments and long term volume plans while governments decide how or if to fix the pressure on companies.
It all summarises the eventful period that BIC is currently in as the main advocate for the local bus and coach industry. Whether it be pressing safety concerns, harmonised standards or a long-term plan for the roll-out of zero-emissions vehicle technology, Moule and the team at BIC are set to be kept busy in the back portion of 2023.
“The message we want to give to members and the industry is that we’ve been advocating for bus safety initiatives and national harmonisation to be introduced to further improve the industry, and this is an ongoing message,” Moule says.
“We want to see a longer-term higher focus from all governments on bus, so that’s a message we’ll continue to advocate for until we see the fruits of our labour.”