Exemptions earned

Victorian bus operators proving ‘excessive burden’ may dodge some Safety Act provisions

Exemptions earned
Exemptions earned

By Ian Porter | August 7, 2013

Transport Safety Victoria has unveiled a system that allows bus operators to seek an exemption from one or more of the provisions of the Bus Safety Act, which is in its second year of operation and is still being bedded down.

Operators will be able to apply for an exemption if they can demonstrate that complying with the Bus Safety Act (BSA) would impose an excessive or unreasonable burden on the operator.

They would also have to show that winning an exemption would, among other things, not reduce bus safety. Exemptions are available for accredited operators and also for the registered operators brought under regulation by the 2009 Act.

However, this does not mean the floodgates are going to open when it comes to demonstrating competence or capacity to meet the standards set down by the Act.

"When you look at the actual requirements on bus safety, they’re not particularly heavy. Nothing like the rail safety requirements," says Transport Safety Victoria’s Bus Safety Director Stephen Turner.

The exemptions that will be available are more for unusual circumstances, or for situations that could not be foreseen.

"We had a case where one (company) director resides overseas. So it was obviously going to be difficult to get a Victoria Police check, as required under the Act," says Turner.

"We wouldn’t expect someone to get on a plane and fly back to Australia, then establish a residence in Victoria and then go and ask for a police check."

So TSV granted an exemption from the police check and, instead, required the director to attend the Australian embassy in the country of residence and provide a statutory declaration that they had committed no offences in Victoria.

One issue that has recently roiled the industry is the requirement under the BSA for operators to demonstrate their competence and their capacity to run a bus safely. It’s unlikely the availability of exemptions will allow operators to avoid any of these requirements.

Many operators see this competence/capacity requirement as the Act forcing them to go back to school to complete the Safety Management Course offered by Monash University in correspondence form.

But Turner points out that this is not compulsory, just easier than the alternatives.

"No-one has to do the Safety Management Course," he says, adding that the course is only one of three ways to demonstrate compliance with the Act.

One option would be for the operator to provide statements of claim against each of the major topics covered in the course and provide evidence as to why they already complied.

This evidence would then be assessed by an expert panel that comprises people with industry experience, lawyers, risk engineers and people with training expertise to see whether the applicant had demonstrated competence.

The third option is to be audited, as rail operators must.

"With rail operators, we go in and look at the organisation’s systems," Turner says. "We check the qualifications of the people in control, we look at the systems they have in place, we look at their experience, we look at whether they have the financial management skills, public liability insurance, all those sorts of things.

"There are three options. No-one has to go and do the course."

These three options are about demonstrating competence. All operators also have to demonstrate a capacity to deliver the safety standards required, and this involves the gap analyses TSV inspectors are currently conducting at all depots across the State.

Turner says he has no idea of who might apply for exemptions, how many applications he might receive or whether they will all be as ‘handleable’ as the overseas director issue.

But he will be on the lookout for operators using an exemption to try to make compliance easier to achieve.

"There may be someone who thinks they will try it on, that’s possible."

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