The year ahead

By: Amie Hickland


The coming year is set to be one of the most challenging for the state associations

The year ahead
The year ahead

Another year has been and gone but the work won’t stop for the numerous state associations in Australia which advocate on behalf of operators.

While many associations are calling 2014 a success, the coming year is set to prove challenging for most.

Contract renewals and government relationships will continue to be top of the agenda, and leaders have a plan to combat these issues in due time.

ABC magazine spoke to state associations to see what’s in store for 2015.

QUEENSLAND

The Queensland Bus Industry Council (QBIC) is facing many challenges this year on their member’s behalf, but Executive Director David Tape says our Industry is united and the Queensland Government should listen to contracted operator concerns.

Tape says 2014 was a defining year for the association with a huge emphasis on operators working together for a common goal.

"I think one of the biggest things we’ve achieved in 2014 as an association is redefining our key objectives within Queensland and bringing back unity within the association," he says.

"To see a coming together of our membership in regards to standing as a united Industry to meet the challenges that face us."

Tape says some of the stand-out moments for the year were giving long-services awards to many operators.

This includes Kangaroo Bus Lines (35 years), Mt Gravatt Bus Service (40 years), Daphne Schultz (50 years), Duffy's City Buses (60 years) and Stewart and Sons Coaches (65 years).

"To me, this shows that the bus and coach industry in Queensland has for a long time delivered quality, safe passenger transport services to the people, earning the respect of our passengers," says Tape.

"It’s a credit to them. It must mean they’re doing the right thing by the community and meeting their contractual obligations they have with the state."

Tape also makes special mention of Skye Naismith, formerly of Mt Gravatt Bus Service, who left to take up a management opportunity in New Zealand.

Skye was a long standing member of QBIC serving on many boards and committees throughout her time.

"It was definitely sad to see Skye leave our industry here in Queensland but at the same time good to see Skye move to a role where she can grow," says Tape.

But after a year of achievement, 2015 still has some challenges ahead.

Tape says one of the biggest battles of the year will be contract renewals for operators in south east Queensland.

"Our biggest challenge at the moment is to influence the incumbent government to achieve contestability in bus contracts through benchmarking industry and not going through an open market tender process," he says.

There have also been issues with the recent carbon tax repeal in which the Queensland Government announced $30 million in savings would be reinvested into public transport resulting in a 5 per cent fare drop for commuters.

Regional operators have passed on the savings but have yet to be reimbursed by the State Government – potentially costing small to medium operators up to $50,000 per year.

Tape also questions the State Government’s installation of NextBus, which he says in its current form does not meet the needs of passengers with hearing and vision impairment.

But despite the challenges, there are still many events for operators in 2015.

The annual conference in Cairns in April is one to look forward to.

There will also be a number of regional forums held so operators can bring any issues in their area to the attention of the association.

"We take our member forums very seriously," says Tape.

"It gives us an opportunity to sit down face to face and discuss where we are at and what we’re doing as an association."

As the year begins, Tape says the association’s role in the industry will continue to remain relevant and important.

Tape says as an association, QBIC is the independent voice within the Queensland bus industry.

"I do not have contracts with the government, so my accountability rests solely with my members," says Tape.

"That gives me the opportunity to speak freely on behalf of our members."

NEW SOUTH WALES

BusNSW Executive Director Darryl Mellish says 2014 was again a year of change within the New South Wales bus industry.

"This was largely brought about by changes to the way bus services are being procured and operators’ performance is being managed," he says.

"In 2014 BusNSW achieved the successful delivery of a comprehensive program of member services in parallel with making important contributions to state legislation, regulation and policy settings."

Mellish says every day involves members and stakeholders looking to BusNSW for assistance, guidance and leadership.

"Of particular note in 2014 was organising and presenting 20 rural and regional (RR) BusNSW seminars throughout the state," he says.

"There has also been the release of a range of guides/tools for members including a Guide to School Bus Safety and various other publications.

"The upgrade of the BusNSW website and introduction of an online shop for Bus Signs+ adds considerable value to operators and suppliers."

The 2014 industry conference focused on the performance of the industry and attracted high levels of government and operator participation.

BusNSW also made a number of submissions including submissions on reforms to RR contracts, changes to passenger transport legislation and the development and action for a government and industry key performance indicators (KPI) workshop.

Mellish says the association board has approved a strategic plan that balances BusNSW resources with key priority areas which include achieving offers of sustainable new RR contracts for 688 rural and regional bus operators for 2015.

"BusNSW is also focusing on the establishment of a stable industrial relations environment with template enterprise agreements that are commensurate with the NSW operating environment," he says.

"There is also an important goal to expand the assistance to members to meet the increasing audit/compliance and prescriptive performance regimes in NSW.

"Metro and outer metro operators face strict key performance measures while the coach sector have ongoing concerns about access plans in and around the Sydney CBD and the airport."

BusNSW has a comprehensive program of events scheduled in 2015, including a further 20 RR Seminars and a major member conference.

The member conference is scheduled for April at the Crowne Plaza Coogee Beach. 

The conference provides operators, government representatives and industry suppliers the opportunity to expand their knowledge on current issues and changes happening to, and within, the industry.

The conference theme "Together towards tomorrow" reflects the need for the development of partnerships involving operators, suppliers, BusNSW and Transport for NSW that focus on customers and result in mutual benefits, according to Mellish.

Major challenges expected in the coming year include improving industry representation and engagement with the NSW transport cluster.

"There is an increasing awareness from Transport for NSW and Roads and Maritime Services that greater industry partnership actually improves the government objectives of getting better value for money and improving customer outcomes.

"This is despite the trend to market test prices and not negotiate with existing contract holders.

"Benchmarking when done in consultation with industry is likely to give the best long term results."

Mellish says assisting members to meet the increased focus on operator performance and compliance will also be a growing challenge, particularly in rural and regional NSW.

"A further challenge is attempting to ensure proper service planning guidelines are developed and followed, and major infrastructure projects identify the need before selecting the mode," he says.

"There is also an increased need for land use planning and major infrastructure projects to be better coordinated i.e. Parramatta road upgrade"

Mellish says public transport needs to be a growth sector and the private bus industry in NSW represents the best value for money in achieving the NSW Government goals on the economy, congestion, health and safety and the environment.

"Operators are committed to having a professional state association to facilitate the provision of quality bus and coach services in NSW," he says.

"Getting rubber on the road and bums on seats is primarily achieved at the state level."

VICTORIA

BusVic Executive Director Chris Lowe says 2014 was a year of achievements including a very successful 60th maintenance conference, helping more operators through the new accreditation regime and the commencement of identifying and developing measures to address the physical and mental wellbeing of the industry.

BusVic also worked with political parties to develop sound bus policy for the election and held association's 70 year celebrations culminating in a dinner held last December.

Planning has also begun for the bus and coach expo to be held in Melbourne this year.

Lowe says the association will continue to engage with the Victorian Government over the renewal of bus service contracts. 

He hopes this work with the government will achieve better outcomes for bus and public transport, especially in the outer suburbs of Melbourne. 

BusVic will also "continue our work on initiatives that foster community and regional development, public safety and the generation of employment opportunities in the public transport industry and continue our public transport research agenda," he says. 

There will also be some industry specific health initiatives put in place and BusVic will also finalise providing accreditation assistance to members – which needs to be done by the end of the year.

Lowe says 2015 will see the association "strengthening relationships with government and working on contracting". 

SOUTH AUSTRALIA

The past year saw the Bus Association of South Australia (BusSA) achieve a good relationship with both sides of State Government prior to State Election, including engagement on policy document Moving People SA.

BusSA Executive Director Lauran Huefner says the association will carry that relationship into the State Government’s new term, especially with the new ministers, enabling dialogue on a number of initiatives including regional transport.

Internally, the association is establishing new brand - Bus SA - revised communications, and setting up new program of regional Board Meetings to engage local operators and stakeholders, including MPs

The association also moved premise and took up residency in the new office from December 1.

"It’s been a year of natural progression and development," says Huefner.

BusSA will continue the development of policy relationship with State Government in 2015, particularly in regard to regional transport and mobility opportunities.

Huefner says the association will also investigate ways that will continue the high safety record of the industry and build upon that.

Huefner says the association will continue to remain important to South Australian operators in the year to come.

He says BusSA’s advocacy for good policy relating to the bus operating environment and market development, and supporting industry sustainability, will keep the association relevant.

The BusSA annual state conference will also be held in May 2015.

TASMANIA

The year just gone has been one of success for the Tasmanian Bus Association (TasBus).

Managing Director Geoff Lewis says 2014 was a year of achievement particularly around State Government relations.

"The highlight of the year would be the incoming [State] Government policy – at the end of 2018 the current contracts… will be given a further 5 + 5."

He says 2015 will see the association work towards the further extension of contracts past 2018.

"We’ll be looking to the continuation of the contracts and for the association to be working with the government to ensure that all happens."

There will also be a review of the Passenger Vehicle Transportation Award.

The TasBus annual conference will be held on May 29 and 30 2015 in Hobart.

WESTERN AUSTRALIA

The past year has been one of achievements for the Western Australia bus industry, as BusWA manager Wally Gargano can attest to.

One of the association’s main achievements was consolidating the evergreen contract model for school bus operators in the state.

"The evergreen model is a first for Australia and it took many years of lobbying politicians of all political persuasions," he says.

Gargano says BusWA also developed a strong working relationship with the ministers and parliamentary staff.

"This was achieved through some political turmoil in that the Minister for Transport in the beginning of this year resigned and a relatively junior Member of Parliament was appointed," he says.

Gargano hopes 2015 will see tendered contracts in the school bus industry converted to the evergreen model.

"There are some 150 tendered contracts to convert to the Evergreen which will be done over the ensuing years," he says.

"In the future, there will be only the Evergreen model."

Gargano also plans to work closer with the operations area of Public Transport Authority (PTA) and the Department of Transport, as well as introduce accreditation to the tour and charter area.

But the association will still face some challenges in the coming year, including shrinking membership numbers.

"Smaller operators are being purchased by the larger contractors and currently there are a few major players in the WA industry," he explains.

There will also be a need for the association to diversify services.

"We will also further develop industry partnerships and alliance partners," says Gargano.

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