BREAKING NEWS: Industry calls for bus-only licence

By: Graham Gardiner

The Bus Industry Confederation (BIC) has called for a dedicated national bus driver’s licence rather than a one-size-fits-all heavy vehicle

The Bus Industry Confederation (BIC) has called for a dedicated national bus driver’s licence rather than a one-size-fits-all heavy vehicle licence being developed by the Australian Transport Council (ATC).

In response to industry concerns about the impact the overly bureaucratic system is having on driver recruitment, in July 2008 the ATC agreed to develop streamlined licensing regulations to be implemented in all jurisdictions this year.

The current process for obtaining a licence can include up to six stakeholders, excluding the employee and employer, the BIC says.

Queensland was tasked with coming up with the scheme and in late 2009 released its proposal for a National Heavy Vehicle Driver Competency Framework.

If accepted, the proposal will establish national competency standards that must be met to gain a licence.

A skills set will be developed for each vehicle class and integrated into the vocational education and training system, with the Transport and Logistics Industry Skills Council responsible for creating the standards.

Because the NSW driver authority module deals specifically with tasks critical to public transport operations, the BIC wants regulators to implement the regime nationwide.

The BIC’s submission calls for the requirements to be slotted into the Certificate III in Transport and Logistics as a competency unit.

But the proposed change is only part of the Confederation’s plan to shake-up the current system.

In a move designed to recognise the bus sector’s specific needs, the group is proposing that applicants have the choice of gaining a heavy vehicle licence or focusing solely on becoming a dedicated bus driver.

It means those wanting to get behind the wheel of a bus will no longer be required to complete training specific to the truck sector – something the BIC considers can’t happen soon enough.

"The creation of a bus-only class of licence will streamline the licensing process and take into account the different nature of bus driving as compared with other heavy vehicle operation[s] …," its submission argues.

But the group says it is important to maintain the existing heavy vehicle option alongside the bus-only licence.

"This pathway is particularly important in rural and regional Australia where large numbers of casual drivers are engaged for limited hour school bus runs," the BIC says.

"Currently, many of these drivers are recruited from the ranks of truck drivers and, given the limited hours worked by casual bus drivers, there would be little incentive for such drivers to pursue the specific bus licence option."

The BIC says those who opt for the bus-only licence should be limited to driving buses, while heavy vehicle drivers must meet the conditions of the NSW bus driver authority regime before being eligible to switch vehicles.

If the drivers wish to move between both sectors they will need to complete the relevant competency units in the Certificate III in Transport and Logistics.

"In other words, BIC is recommending two separate but equivalent pathways to becoming a bus driver in Australia: via a new specific bus licence or via the current HV [heavy vehicle] licence," the industry association writes in its proposal.

"The two pathways are equivalent because the same bus specific competencies would be required to be completed in each."

Although the BIC is hopeful of having the current system overhauled, Executive Director Michael Apps isn’t pre-empting the process.

There has been no date set for when the jurisdictions will make a decision.

But while Apps—like all others in the industry—are playing a wait and see game, he does have a few words for the regulators.

"We think what we’re suggesting is simple and achievable," he says.

"It would encourage more people to take up bus driving."

As well as the benefits to bus operators, Apps says the changes will also help governments cut administrative costs and reduce duplication, leaving the industry better prepared to deal with labour needs as demand grows.

"This would streamline the process," he says.

For the full story, see the February edition of ABC magazine, distributed to subscribers next week. Visit the subscribe page, email see the Contact us page or call 136 116 to subscribe.

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