BusNSW, Opinion

BusNSW calls for government assistance to increase Sydney service levels

BusNSW’s executive director says the cancellation of Sydney bus services can be fixed if the new state government comes to the party with bus driver attraction help

NSW state bus industry association BusNSW has responded to previous comments on the reasons behind the decrease in NSW bus services, putting the onus on the new state government to help return services to previous levels.

BusNSW executive director Matt Threlkeld says BusNSW understands the new NSW government is concerned about the cancellation of services in several Sydney metropolitan regions due to the severe bus driver shortage.

“While there is an anomaly in the Transport for NSW (TfNSW) contracts that may have diminished the effect of KPI breach penalties for cancelled trips, further fines and the risk of contract termination continue to incentivise operators to meet targets,” Threlkeld told ABC.

“The TfNSW bus contracts didn’t foresee the record low unemployment and staff shortages that have impacted many industries post-COVID.”

Threlkeld says KPI measures relating to on-time running and cancelled trips have been in Sydney bus contracts for some time, well before the previous state transit regions were franchised by the former state government.

In the meantime, Threlkeld assures the government that bus operators and industry associations are working hard to recruit new drivers, opening up opportunities for the new government to provide assistance.

“We understand that contracted operators in the Sydney metropolitan area have plans to increase service levels as additional drivers are employed in the coming months,” Threlkeld says.

“Operators are offering new starter sign-up bonuses and other incentives to attract drivers.

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“In the lead up to the NSW state election in March 2023, BusNSW provided political parties with an election brochure that included 16 measures to help improve services and encourage a return to public transport post pandemic, thereby reducing congestion and creating more desirable places to live and work.”

A key measure of this included a request for assistance with the recruitment of bus and coach drivers via support for:

  • specific funding for new recruits to upgrade to a HR or MR Licence and obtain a Bus Driver Authority (BOA) at little to no cost.
  • an amendment of the Passenger Transport (General) Regulation 2017 to reduce the age requirement of a bus driver authority applicant from 21 to 20 years of age, and the requirement for an applicant from overseas to have held an unrestricted Australian licence for 12 months.
  • continued consultation with industry, via BusNSW, on the development and execution of driver retention and recruitment strategies.

BusNSW is hoping that a driver recruitment plan promised by the former NSW government prior to the election will be implemented.

The Coalition’s proposed measures included the waiving of the Bus Driver Authority fee, subsidising training course fees, providing free public transport to and from work with an Opal card to be issued to all new and existing drivers across Greater Sydney and the establishment of a recruitment taskforce to attract skilled bus drivers from overseas.

Threlkeld says BusNSW will be discussing bus driver recruitment strategies with the new Minister for Transport Jo Haylen and new Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Jenny Aitchison at upcoming meetings.

“We also look forward to providing input to the new government’s proposed bus industry taskforce,” Threlkeld says.

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