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NSW bus operators may face service reviews

Regional NSW operators at this year's BusNSW Regional Conference have been warned about the future of their contracts

By Sean Muir |
October 8, 2012

Bus operators in regional NSW may have dodged contract tendering, but they are not in the clear yet, delegates heard at this year’s BusNSW Regional Conference.

After a high-spirited welcome ceremony at Mudgee’s Parklands Resort for more than 160 delegates on the Friday night, BusNSW Executive Director Darryl Mellish kicked off the conference on Saturday October 6 with a sobering warning.

“My key message for you today is that regional and rural operators need to be aware that we believe Transport for NSW is likely to review bus services in 2014,” Mellish says.

“This is largely as a result of the pressure of the Long-Term Master Plan and the various other reports looking at integration in regional rural areas.

“I think there is going to be a serious look at existing contacts and we need to be ready for that now.

“Transport for NSW has some concerns about the existing models.”

According to Mellish, while Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian has remained adamant regional contracts won’t be tendered, it is likely new contracts will be modelled on metropolitan contracts.

“What we do know though is that the new contacts that would apply for the outer metro regions are probably going to be modelled on the new metro contracts and that is not a good fit,” he says.

Mellish says the association is now working towards a greater focus on practical and verifiable key performance indicators (KPIs) for regional operators.

“Even though the minister says there is no tendering of regional and rural contracts, and the contracts are different, it depends on you being material compliant, and what does that mean being material compliant?” Mellish says.

“The minister talks about existing contracts, but is there going to be a change in the nature of the contracts, which make here statement superseded before we get to 2014.”

Fears regional contracts would be tendered first emerged following the decision earlier this year
to tender
NSW metropolitan contracts.

The government’s decision to tender the metropolitan
services faced heavy industry criticism, most notably from BusNSW.

“It (tendering) really has thrown a level of uncertainty into the industry,” Mellish says.

“From the industry consultations we know that the new contracts are intended to be performance based.”

“From what I have seen of the KPI scheme I really hope it gets rationalised. To me there is too much stick and not much carrot.

“There is this incentive to drive service improvement, but it is through penalties rather than encouragement. As an industry we consider that tendering does not improve the customer outcome as much as industry partnership.”

During his industry report, Mellish also drew attention to a number of industry reviews supporting bus industry growth, noting the incompatibility of current bus contracts with the proposed reforms.

“What concerns me is when you read the Long-Term Master Plan, the Visitor Economy Taskforce report and the Infrastructure NSW report, they are all talking about growth of the bus and coach sector, but when you look at our contracts and the services being delivered they are out of step,” Mellish says.

“So we have major policy documents that are saying obvious things for the benefit of the community, but it is not being reduced to practice in our contracts.”

Following Mellish’s report, Lismore MP Thomas George took the stage.

“It is not government policy to put rural and regional contracts out to tender. In your contracts there is the first right of refusal,” George says.

“Provided your operations are in material compliance with the contracts you have with transport for NSW I don’t think you should have to be too concerned.”

According to George, material compliance includes meeting expectations for on-time running of services, reporting, not leaving kids behind, and the age of fleets.

George went on to discuss the incompatibility between proposed reforms and current contracts.

“Darryl I think you’ll have to agree that the contracts have been there for a while and the plan has just been released,” he says.

“I’m sure given time that the contacts will have to be brought into line.”

The conference, themed Securing Community Investment, continued with a presentation by Warrnambool Bus Managing Director Stephen Lucas on ‘Improving Personal Mobility Opportunities in Regional Areas’, based on a detailed case study of Warrnambool in regional Victoria.

Before lunch delegates were entertained by popular sporting television personality Ken Sutcliffe, who hails from Mudgee and recently covered the London Olympics and NRL finals series for Channel Nine.

Delegates then heard from Transport for NSW Bus and Ferry Services Contracts Principal Manager Craig Dunn on contract auditing, including information on about 50 audits the department has conducted.

Dunn assured delegates contract auditing was a positive process.

“I’d like to think auditing is about helping and providing opportunity to learn and to improve,” he says.

“Having said that it is about contract compliance and making sure you do the right thing.”

Following Dunn’s presentation Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) Customer and Compliance Director Peter Wells spoke on heavy vehicle inspection and compliance.

The conference concluded with an interactive industry forum featuring representatives from BusNSW, Transport for NSW and RMS, before a happy hour and dinner.

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