School bus contract uncertainty in South Australia

By: Chris Smith

Long-serving bus operators could be forced out of the industry as a result of the conditions attached to the South

Long-serving bus operators could be forced out of the industry as a result of the conditions attached to the South Australian Government's current round of school contract tenders.

The proposed tender process for the incoming Department of Education and Children's Services (DECS) school bus contracts, due to be finalised by the beginning of next year, was hotly debated in the open forum at the recent SA Bus and Coach Association Conference.

The new contracts require operators to purchase vehicles that are Euro 4-compliant, have lap/sash seat belts as well as air conditioning.

The tender process put forward would throw all contracts up in the air, which is making many operators nervous.

Industry say there are flaws in the tender process and many questions have not been answered by DECS.

"I think, to be honest with you, that it has been dragged out too long. We have been asking the questions for some time and haven’t been able to get answers from DECS," says Sonia St Alban, Executive Director the State's bus association.

"I think DECS are a bit optimistic that they will get everything in place in time for the new contracts go out.

"It’s typical government, when it’s with them, it’s take our time, when it is with the industry its rush, rush, rush and get it through really quickly."

St Alban says she suspects the new conditions of the new contracts are a done deal.

"I don’t think they [DECS] will go back on their word. But I don’t think they will get it done in the time frame that they expect," she says.

"But I certainly think we will be seeing new buses on the roads in South Australia."

St Alban says the new contracts could see a lot of long-serving bus operators leave the industry.

"I think what DECS don’t realise is that they will be loosing some of the long-standing operators they have in the industry, some of the very good and passionate people," she says.

"They don’t understand that operators are hesitant to make an investment in the industry because they don’t have that security for the future. So the provision of depots and infrastructure is always a concern here in SA because of that lack of continuity.

"We tried to point that out to the Department, that if they are prepared to fund adequately and into the future then there would be a lot more investment into the industry, and everybody all round would be the winners, not just the operators, but the Department and the school children that we carry."

ABC will have the full story in the October issue.

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