Buses of burden

Victoria may extend its safety test intervals if a 125-bus field trial proves positive

Buses of burden
Buses of burden

By Ian Porter | August 12, 2013

Victorian bus operators, particularly those working rural school runs, may soon have their safety inspection burden eased if a Transport Safety Victoria field trial delivers positive results.

The 125-bus trial will start in August and has been designed to test whether it is necessary to do safety inspections every three months.

The Victorian Director of Bus Safety, Stephen Turner, suspects that the stringent safety inspection regime that was mandated 25 years ago may have been overtaken by advances in bus design and technology in the meantime.

"I’ve been uncertain for some time with modern buses as to whether a system that was put in place for quarterly inspections about 25 years ago is really appropriate today," he says.

Turner is aware that the inspection regime is a burden to some operators.

However, data already published shows that the mechanical integrity of Victorian buses deteriorated slightly in 2012, with 21.4 per cent of buses – previously 20 per cent – failing in one of the seven areas designated as critical.

TSV says this may have been the result of the inclusion of around 5000 buses operated by registered operators that were incorporated in 2012 for the first time into the Victorian population of buses run by accredited operators.

Turner says the idea for the field trial, which will take 15 months to complete, sprang out of a review of TSV’s maintenance management system that was conducted jointly with the industry earlier this year.

The industry is currently rounding up the buses needed for the trial, which will involve 100 buses. A further 25 buses will be used as a control group and kept on the regulated three-month inspection regime. So far 119 buses have been signed up for the trial.

Operators will maintain the buses according to the manufacturers’ specifications, which are believed to involve intervals longer than three months, but they can also add in their own routines, Turner says.

The operators will detail all the servicing done on the buses and collect the data. All of this will be provided to TSV, which will analyse the data every three months during the trial.

"At the end of the trial, if it shows there is no diminishing in safety, that is, no diminishing in the mechanical fitness of the bus, then that’s really good evidence to make a change to our current system," Turner says.

"One possible outcome would be that we could do away with the quarterly inspections. I know that’s a burden on some operators, not on others."

Turner says treating a rural school bus in the same way as a metropolitan route bus might not make sense.

"Take a school bus operator that does 8000kms a year total. Because they are only operating the bus in the morning and afternoon on the school run, doing 20kms each way, it seems to me that it may not be necessary to require that they take their bus down to the local mechanic every three months to have a full service.

"But what we need first is the evidence before we make the decision."

The buses in the trial will be run for 12 months under different inspection regimes. As the buses will join the trial after their annual safety inspections, it will take three months to get all 125 buses on the road, meaning the trial will effectively stretch over 15 months, to November 2014.

The 125 buses will be a mixture of metropolitan route buses, country route services, tour and charter services and demand-responsive services.

"This sort of trial allows us to get the evidence that will allow us to make a change without diminishing safety," Turner says.

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