PREVIEW: Way out west with Centre Bush Bus

By: Jason Whittaker


Alice Springs-based bus company Centre Bush Bus is re-writing the rules of business, providing critical transport services to Indigenous communities

Alice Springs-based bus company Centre Bush Bus is re-writing the rules of business, providing critical transport services to Indigenous communities across central Australia.

Vehicles on Centre Bush Bus’s five regular route services span the red centre, covering thousands of kilometres of track every week, connecting large Indigenous communities living in the region with vital health services in Alice Springs.

The transport service also acts as an important social conduit across the vast inland stretches.

The operation is in a league of its own when it comes to booking passengers.

Centre Bush Bus Office Manager Wendy Quayle says the company can’t be certain how many people will use the service until a bus is on its way out of Alice Springs. Leaving times are variable and no shows are common.

"A lot of people don’t have computers, they can’t access computers, so they ring up," Quayle says.

"We have a reservation system which we enter their details into.

"A lot of Indigenous people don’t understand time. When they ask us what time they need to be ready for the bus, we say sun-up, which is about 7 am."

While a bus might leave the depot at seven in the morning, it’s not uncommon for it to be delayed by up to three hours leaving town.

"The service we deliver is door-to-door," Centre Bush Bus Operations Manager Mick Fletcher says.

"We go to their house and pick them up. The drivers will pull up outside the house. If nobody’s there they’ll go and knock on the door. If nobody comes to the door, they’ll go around the back; they may be in the backyard on their bed. You’ve got to wait for them to get out of their bed, pack their gear and go.

"The bus leaves here at 7 am, but we might not get out of Alice Springs until 9.30 am – depending if it’s really cold and they don’t want to get out of bed."

The booking system is also very fluid. A manifest of 60 names will probably not result in 60 passengers.

Says Centre Bush Bus owner Alan Passmore: "There’s never just a list of people – that’s only a guideline".

When it comes to collecting fares, customers travel first, then pay.

"I’d say around 95 percent of the payments we get for fares are through Centrelink," Fletcher says. "It’s a bit different.

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