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First Group named in Melbourne’s final five

Public Transport Victoria has named its five contenders to run 500 Melbourne buses from August next year

By David Goeldner | August 27, 2012

It will be almost a year from now until the winner of Melbourne’s metropolitan bus franchise is announced, as the final five contenders – including newcomer First Group – battle it out to run 500 buses on a seven year contract.

Making the shortlist announced by Public Transport Victoria CEO Ian Dobbs last Friday are First Transit of Australia, Keolis Downer Rail, National Bus Company, Transit Systems and Veolia Transport.

While the latter four operators are well-known in Australia, the Aberdeen Scotland-based First Group is planning to make its first foray into local bus operations, and should make waves locally given its expansive public transport interests across the United Kingdom and North America.

Sporting its distinctive pink livery and logo, First Group has several subsidiaries operating a collective 60,000 buses world-wide, and although it comes ‘down under’ with vast northern hemisphere experience, First Transit will be up against local knowledge as the PTV tender process continues.

Keolis Downer Rail (KDR) currently operates Melbourne’s tram system, as well as operating 22,000 buses overseas.

National Bus has been around for some time, recently absorbed into the Ventura Group which collectively already operates 1300 buses in Victoria.

Transit Systems operates about 850 buses mainly in South Australia and Western Australia, and while it recently missed out on the Sydney harbour ferries tender, it continues to dominate vehicular and passenger ferry services in Queensland.

Veolia Transport has extensive bus operations across Australia, running 1200 buses between Perth, Sydney and Brisbane, but as yet doesn’t operate route services in Victoria, although Veolia Transdev’s Australian head office is in Melbourne.

Whichever company wins the tender will operate about 30 percent of Melbourne’s bus network.

That includes running 40 routes with 2500 services a day across the eastern suburbs, the four Doncaster Area Rapid Transit (DART) services, and 106 school-only services.

The winning tender will also operate nine routes running in excess of 700 services each day in Melbourne’s western suburbs and south-eastern suburbs, plus 16 school-only services.

And included in the tender are the high frequency SmartBus Orbital routes, running 545 services each day in an arch-like pattern around Melbourne’s outer suburb.

Dobbs says the PTV’s shortlist was an important milestone in the tender process.

“We received ten excellent expressions of interest from a very strong field of experienced Victorian, national and international operators,” Dobbs says.

“We are confident that the shortlisted group is representative of the best bus operators in the transport market.”

He says the shortlisted parties demonstrated through their EOI submission that they have the necessary experience, expertise, capabilities and resources to run the services and address current and emerging transport challenges.

“We look forward to taking the five shortlisted parties through to the next stage of the tender process, which will result in a value for money outcome and deliver improved bus services for passengers.

Dobbs says local bus services are a vital link in the public transport network.

“In the past year the number of passenger trips on Melbourne buses has risen by more than 15 per cent to 117 million trips per year, and this tender process is an important part of the State Government and Public Transport Victoria’s plan to improve public transport services across metropolitan Melbourne,” he says.

A call for Expressions of Interest (EOI) for the franchise was issued in June this year.

The shortlisted parties will be invited to participate in a formal tender process commencing towards the end of 2012, with submissions closing early next year.

The tender process is expected to be complete by mid-2013 with the successful operator in place by next August.

It is expected that the contract will be awarded for an initial period of seven years.

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