Act sparks operator anger

There are two levels too many being imposed on bus operators required to conform to Victoria’s Bus Safety Act, sparking industry anger

Act sparks operator anger
Act sparks operator anger

By David Goeldner | April 26, 2011

A wave of fear and anger has gripped bus proprietors across regional Victoria, believing some may lose their licenses to operate due to an added burden of reaccreditation imposed by new bus safety legislation.

Bus Association of Victoria (BusVic) Executive Director Chris Lowe says a recent regional roadshow across nine association branches uncovered a groundswell of concern over the requirement for each operator to undertake mandatory audits, pass a university course and then reapply for accreditation.

He says the ‘three bases’ every bus operator in Victoria must pass under the Bus Safety Act 2009, which became law on December 31 last year, has been tangled in red tape and created unnecessary expense.

While Lowe agrees with the requirement for each operator to attend and pass Transport Safety Victoria’s Safety Management course, convened by Monash University, he questions the worth of the audits at stage one and the need for re-accreditation after the course is passed at stage three.

Every accredited operator in Victoria will be audited by the TSV, ensuring compliance with maintenance management, risk analysis and drugs and alcohol policies, among other conditions.

The TSV will then require operators to enroll in the Monash University course, after which a certificate is issued – if the course is passed – and a further application is made by the operator to the TSV for reaccreditation.

"Some years ago the operator did their course, got their accreditation and now don’t see the need to undertake a compulsory audit and then reapply to the TSV for accreditation again," argues Lowe.

Under the new Safety Act, previously accredited operators are still deemed accredited but only for a maximum five years or until the three prescribed ‘bases’ are met.

"So the TSV has up until the end of 2015 to reaccredit every existing operator, and your tenure as an accredited bus operator is not guaranteed," Lowe says.

Given the merit in requiring operators to stay in touch with industry changes through a new course, Lowe says this should not mean having to reapply to operate their bus service.

"I am confident that all the operators will do the new course, so we don’t have an issue with second base – ongoing study is good," he says.

"Technology changes, systems get out of date and it’s good to stay at the edge when it comes to operations of a safe modern bus company.

"But we believe once you have completed the new Monash course, accreditation should be two things – guaranteed and automatic."

While a minority of regional operators expressed opposition during the recent branch meetings to the course requirement, Lowe says all operators were vehemently opposed to ‘first and third base’.

"The industry feels that first base and third base are surplus to requirements and unnecessary," says Lowe.

"Operators fear increasing bureaucratic red tape and they see the Victorian Government wielding a big stick."

Lowe also queries the additional expense incurred in the way the Bus Safety Act is being administered, saying TSV had employed extra bus safety coordinators to conduct audits of every bus operation in Victoria.

"That’s a very expensive way to administer this new Act," says Lowe.

"They could have done it for a tenth of the price if they just asked the industry to ensure all operators were compliant, and we would have done it for them."

He argues that an even greater cost is being imposed through unnecessary reaccreditation.

"Operators will spend more money getting their buses inspected and applying for accreditation again hoping the TSV will approve the application – of course there’s no guarantee."

Lowe says this also poses a risk to the bus industry’s functions, particularly school services which represent 75 percent of the BusVic membership.

"There is a risk to the Department of Transport for contract continuance," he says.

Lowe and BusVic have approached Transport Minister Terry Mulder on the matter, suggesting the first and third stages imposed on operators are surplus to requirements and – as currently administered – inefficient.

"When Minister Mulder was in opposition he supported the Act, and we lobbied both sides of the house and said it was bad legislation, don’t do it.

"Now that we’ve had a change of Government in Victoria, we’ve asked for the new Government to understand our position and that first and third bases could be modified to make the Act more efficient, and be less of a burden on operators – and we are waiting on a response."

Lowe says BusVic and its members did not seek legislative or regulatory change to the Bus Safety Act.

"We are just looking for administrative change in the way the Act is administered, and the advice I have received is that this can happen."

Lowe says BusVic will continue to lobby the Minister and senior bureaucrats for the administrative changes required to provide a more efficient regime.

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