New South Wales Bus Industry Taskforce lead and industry member John Lee has spoken at the Bus Industry Confederation’s (BIC) annual conference about the changes that must be made to rectify issues in the state’s bus network.
Speaking late on the first day of the BIC Conference at Adelaide Oval, Lee summarised what the taskforce has done so far in NSW and what it is looking to achieve with future reports.
Lee says initial investigations into the bus industry found a lack of collaboration and no new funding for growth services over the past three years, meaning the state government wasn’t an informed purchaser when it came to procuring buses.
“From what we found, the government at that time cared more about automated vehicles than modal transport and buses,” Lee says.
This resulted in a massive driver shortage for the state’s operators, with service delivery mixed.
Lee says this even meant safety wasn’t always as prioritised as it should’ve been on some parts of the network.
The Taskforce’s work began in May this year with its interim report, which Lee says has since outlined the importance of buses on the state’s public transport network.
“We’ve seen a fixation on light rail and how it’s a magic solution,” Lee says.
“But it does one-tenth of the work of a bus – bus transport is the forgotten mode, it’s a heavy lifter on all local streets, in all of our towns and cities in Australia.”
The Taskforce’s scope was soon expanded after the Hunter Valley bus crash in Greta, with the group producing a first safety report, with the next instalment set to come soon.
Part of this first report found that Transport for NSW was uncoordinated, underfunded and unfocused on critical issues, with poor and complex transitions to new operators meaning “good people in transport” required more support.
The interim safety report made five clear points, including calling for a rural and regional seat belt program, a new road safety campaign, compliance with the critical clause 89, outlining the risks associated with standing in buses on high speed limit roads, and expanding the 80kmh rule for buses wider across the state.
Lee says the second report, coming soon, will focus on fixing neglect through a medium term bus plan, while also making sensible changes to the state’s zero-emissions bus strategy and calling for an overhaul of the Bus Operator Accreditation Scheme.
As an example, Lee says that suburbs like Blacktown, which has 10,000 new people going through the space per month and is bigger than Canberra in terms of population, has received no new services in four years.
“We need to think differently about this so that we don’t face the same problems as others in the big cities,” Lee says.
“We rated the lowest price more than we did the experience. Whoever let them do that, I say shame on you.”
While a new report is slated to be released this month, Lee says the key May 2024 report will include a range of suggestions that some people “won’t like”.
From fixing industry partnerships to a focus on safety, improved bus services and overhauling certain programs, Lee says he is prepared to throw everything into this challenge.
“I have nothing to lose – this needs to be fixed and I’m prepared to do whatever we can to see change,” Lee says.