BIC Summit tackles pressing industry issues

After years of disruptions prevented the Bus Industry Confederation from hosting its National Summit, the Australian bus industry finally got together in late June to discuss the issues facing the sector.

BIC Summit tackles pressing industry issues
The BIC Summit provided the industry with chances to discuss renewable energy sources

Originally the Bus Industry Confederation’s (BIC) second National Summit was meant to be held this past February. But after COVID-related issues delayed the event, the bus industry finally reconvened in June and caught up on lost time. With the 2020 and 2021 editions of the Summit also not going ahead, the bus industry was ready to chat. 

More than 260 delegates from leading bus and coach companies across Australia, as well asrepresentatives from federal, state and territory government departments met at Canberra’s Hotel Realm in the parliamentary triangle to discuss the latest developments in the industry.  

The national summitprovided opportunities for government, operators, body builders and manufacturers to mix with industry experts and researchers in an open forum setting. Senator and Minister for Trade and Tourism Don Farrell opened proceedings on the first morning with a political view on the future of the Australian bus industry 

He was followed by BIC chair Tony Hopkins who introduced the main topics of the two-day summit. Hopkins set the tone early, saying an industry developed zero emissions bus (ZEB) standards and specifications advisory is being developed to counter a lack of a policy and regulatory framework by governments. The advisory is essential for the industry when it comes to transitioning safely to ZEBs.  

"It shouldn’t be the responsibility of the industry to self-regulate when it comes to standards and specifications," Hopkins says."The government is lagging on it even though we’re transitioning." 

From there, the meeting of the bus industry quickly turned to other issues. BIC national policy manager Madonna Woodhead discussed the challenges facing the sector with additional reforms to the Disability Standards to make public transport more accessible. Woodhead was followed by National Transport Commission (NTC) executive leader for regulatory reform Aaron de Rozario who summarised the changes made to National Heavy Vehicle Law (NHVL) since BIC’s last national conference held in late 2019. De Rozario also outlined further proposed reforms to the NHVL. 

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Stephen Lucas then steered the Summit onto the main environmental theme of BIC’s ‘no bullshit’ approach towards the race to zero emissions in the bus industry. The chair of BIC’s zero emission bus committee, and Warrnambool Bus Lines managing director,says the industry has been forced todetermine standards single-handedly without government help, reiterating Hopkins’ message that the bus industry is leading the way in transitioning to zero-emissions. 

But instead of solely discussing the frameworks and ideologies behind transitioning to ZEBs, BIC welcomed panels of companies to discuss the benefits of various technologies. In a sign of the bus industry’s futuristic perspective on sustainable technology, the likes of Viva Energy, Emerald Coaches and Red Bus Services discussed examples of recent hydrogen fuel-cell technology trials. To provide a balance between hydrogen fuel-cell and battery electric technology, JET Charge, Electromotiv and TransitSystems all mentioned the benefits of using electric technology to power bus fleets. 

The summit was filled with constant comparisons between the two leading technologies, as Transit Systems, Transport for New South Wales and Transport Canberra all spoke of their experiences with this range of sustainable power.  

Discussions on potential technology finished the first day. Deakin University researcher Loren Tuck and ANU battery storage researcher Bjorn Sturmberg gave insights into the future of both electric and hydrogen fuel-cell technology when it comes to storage and infrastructure, providing industry members with a glimpse into developing technology 

After the many presentations made on ZEB transitions on the first day, the second day of the summit reviewed other pressing matters in the bus and coach industry. The national technical summit heard from a range of BIC members and the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator CEO Sal Petroccitto about heavy vehicle law changes and improvements to the fleet since 2017. Panels consisting of representatives from Energy Australia, Mercedes-Benz Bus & Coach and Volgren Australia continued sifting through the complex challenges facing the technical realities of a zero-emissions industry, while Australian Design Rules (ADR) compliance also became a hot topic in the afternoon.  

While this discussion on vehicle standards and safety continued the technical presentations, the national IR seminar sifted through the skilled worker shortage stunting the growth of many operators and manufacturers. Human relations managers reiterated new ways to recruit and retain staff, while BIC’s national IR manager Ian MacDonald led a panel on the current state of insecure employment in the industry. By the end of the fast-paced two-day summit, many bus industry members were presented with a new world of information, mainly swirling around the ever-growing challenges of the sector’s transition into ZEBs.  

Under the new federal government, BIC chair Hopkins is confident these reforms can happen. 

"We have a new Australian Labor government who are public-transport friendly," Hopkins says. "Anthony Albanese has always been a good friend of BIC, and it’s good having a Prime Minister who is in-tune with our public transport needs. 

"It’s an exciting time for us and the industry to work with the new Prime Minister and the government to prioritise our needs in the immediate future." 

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