Indigenous bus boost

The NT Government has backed a bush bus model of social inclusion, investing $1.6 million to enhance services to indigenous communities

Indigenous bus boost
Indigenous bus boost

By David Goeldner | July 26, 2011

Alice Springs-based operator Central Bush Bus has received the lion’s share of $3.1 million funding from the Northern Territory Government to provide new services to remote indigenous communities.

Announced last week by NT Minister for Central Australia Karl Hampton, Centre Bush Bus receives $1.6 million to run a two year trial of services, including a 250km run north or Tennant Creek to the township of Elliott.

"This Government believes access to the right transport services is central to keeping people in touch with services like health and education, as well as social and cultural events," Hampton says.

"It’s also about providing people with transport options for them to get home to their communities after coming into regional centres."

Centre Bush Bus Assistant Director Tahnee Passmore says the Northern Territory Government provided the company with $1.6 million to focus on growth towns in central Australia.

"It’s a two year trial to see if these services will work, and if they do we will run them privately after that period," Passmore says.

"The Government won’t continue to fund the services indefinitely," she says.

Through NT Government funding, Centre Bush Bus will add two new buses and a privately bought bus to the fleet of 18 vehicles, driven by eight permanent drivers and several casuals.

The business employs 18 permanent staff including two fulltime mechanics with current vacancies for two more permanent drivers following the announced Government-funded expansion.

Typical routes range from 550km to 800km out from Alice Springs.

"We cover a fair distance," says Passmore.

"In the last couple of years the business has been growing quite quickly."

The demand has come from local community approaches to the Territory Government, and directly to Centre Bush Bus, asking for bus services to link with regional centres.

Passmore says Central Bush Bus didn’t seek the extra funding, but rather was approached by the NT Government to run the new services.

"I guess the Government sees us as a reliable service in Central Australia," Passmore says.

While there are many tour and charter companies based in Alice Springs, Centre Bush Bus has developed a unique service in indigenous community commuting.

"It’s an unusual bus company in how we operate," Passmore says.

"We don’t do any tour work at all."

The business is mainly a reverse style of fare-based operation,

"The majority of our customers are on Centrelink payments," Passmore says.

After travel, Centrelink deducts the fare from social security payments and passes that amount back to Centre Bush Bus.

"Most buses companies insist you pay before you travel, but most of our customers pay for their tickets after travel," Passmore says.

"We carry a large debt, but that’s part of the business."

And unlike city or regional work closer to the coast, Centre Bush Bus’s vehicle maintenance and replacement strategy is based on using truck chassis under bus pods.

"Due to rough roads, the chassis wear out within about five years," Passmore says.

"Most buses last 15 years or more, but we have a depreciation rate of five years."

Passmore’s father Alan who founded the business in the late 1990s has tested several body and chassis combinations, settling in recent years with a Mercedes-Benz 1833 Axor truck chassis with bus pods built by AAP Smart Coach in Perth.

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