TasBus summit

The future looks bright for Tasmania, as revealed at the 2015 TasBus Conference in Hobart

TasBus summit
Tasmanian minister for infrastructure Rene Hidding speaks at the 2015 TasBus Conference in Hobart

Bus industry representatives from all over Australia came together for the 2015 Tasmania Bus Association (TasBus) Conference in Hobart last week.

Although most in attendance were operators, a number of bus industry suppliers also took part.

The audience was enlightened by a number of informative presentations covering a wide-range of topics and issues currently facing operators in the industry.

TasBus general manager Geoff Lewis says he is pleased the event was so well attended this year and was well-timed as it followed the Tasmanian Budget, which was released the day before the conference.

Lewis spoke of the gains being made in the industry with the Tasmanian tourism boom, but also outlined concerns regarding unaccredited charter bus operators taking tourists around the island and the damaging consequence for the entire industry if a serious road accident occurs.

A highlight of the morning was the presentation by Tasmania minister for infrastructure Rene Hidding, who says $16 million will be invested into public transport in Launceston and explained other commitments as part of the state budget.

"We will spend $300,000 on new, safer bus stops in rural areas," he says.

"Help us out with this, if you know of a stop that is in need of attention please get in touch."

Tenders will be called for the trial of a new bus route from the West Coast to Burney this month, with the trial to take place within the next six months.

There is a desire to reduce travel times on key rural routes including the Latrobe to Burnie.

"At the moment this takes 2 hours but we would like to see that shortened to an hour if possible," Hidding says.

The Tasmanian Government will also develop a new Transport Access Strategy, to ensure people with mobility issues are able to access services into the future.

Hidding spoke of project 2018, which is the name given to the rollover of bus contract which are set to expire in 2018.

The goal is to provide contract certainty to operators as soon as possible.

The aim is to give operators notice of any ‘service rationalisations’ 18-months in advance of their contract expiring, in areas where there is a duplication of services.

The review of existing bus service contracts will be a collaborative process and Hidding says he was keen to work with the Bus Industry Confederation  on the core passenger review and service review – a process that is expected to take years, but due to begin within the next few months.

Tasmanian Greens MP Nick McKim also spoke; saying $300,000 for upgrading unsafe bus stops was a very small monetary commitment, considering the urgent need for this in rural areas of the state.

Department of State growth spokesperson Michael Males spoke about driver fatigue and the importance of operators and drivers knowing the limits on rests drivers must take by law.

Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Services spokesperson Liz Stacey explained the rules for operators from the mainland wanting to run occasional charters to some of Tasmania’s famous national parks and associate fees and memberships required.

They prefer operators to gain a five year licence if they are operating more than one trip every three years, although one off licenses can be granted under strict circumstances to those wanting to test the market before committing to a five year licence.

Schools are exempt for the need to gain a licence to operate in nation parks if they run their own services, but companies chartered by school must have a valid licence to operate on reserved land.

She also explained that operators were responsible for ensuring their passengers have paid their individual national park access fees.

Other notable speakers included Pitcher Partners accountant Matthew Wilson, who talked about the need for operators to be shrewd when looking to buy another bus operators business or sell their own.

He hinted that it was generally wise for operators to secure new long term contract prior to putting their business up for sale, in order to maximise the value the business has in the eyes of any potential buyer.

Piper Alderman spokesperson Peter Dwyer spoke of the need for operators to have a clear and consistent drug and alcohol policy and to be wary of acting on lunchroom rumours and second hand information when deciding who to test.

Australian Public Transport Industrial Association chairman Ian McDonald spoke about the ‘decasualisation’ of the workforce in the bus industry, saying it will no longer be generally accepted to have casuals working the equivalent of full-time.

The cost of placing existing casual staff who are doing a lot of hours onto full-time permanent contracts will need to be factored into business expenses going forward.

The Passenger Vehicle Transport Award will be announced this week and will likely result in bus industry workers employed under the award to receiving a 2.5 per cent pay rise, he explained.

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