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Risks pay off at BusNSW 2023 conference

BusNSW decided to introduce some new ideas to its annual conference in Wollongong, and feedback so far suggests it has paid off

The BusNSW 2023 Member Conference was held at the Novotel Wollongong Northbeach on October 4 and 5. The conference theme, Embracing Transformation for A Sustainable Future, reflected the unprecedented level of change facing the industry and the need for government, operators and suppliers to work together to create a sustainable future.

After a stirring Welcome to Country from Uncle Richard Davis, Dharawal Elder and Chairperson of the Illawarra Aboriginal Corporation, BusNSW President John King gave his opening speech. King reflected on the challenges ahead, encouraging attendees to be part of the solutions to these challenges, and to come to each session with an open mind.

Attendance was strong with more than 300 delegates registered for the two days.

“We have a great mix of operators, suppliers and government here. I’m also really pleased to see strong representation from the tourist and charter sector of the industry,” King says.

“In these times of change, the importance of the relationship between BusNSW and the NSW government cannot be overstated. I’m pleased to welcome Minister Haylen and Minister Aitchison to the conference. There are also several senior leaders from TfNSW, NHVR and OTSI.

“Their attendance really demonstrates a commitment from government and regulators to collaborate with our industry to deliver the best outcomes for passengers and the community.”

Minister for Transport Jo Haylen then took the stage for the NSW government address, outlining her commitment to the sector, her vision for a sustainable future and the government’s focus on delivering for the community.

Following this, the NSW Bus Industry Taskforce Chair, John Lee, presented his view of the challenges facing the industry today, provided an update on the preliminary findings of the taskforce and outlined some key themes emerging for the May 2024 final report.

A panel discussion on taskforce issues included newly appointed TfNSW Co-ordinator General, Howard Collins, and safety expert, Darren Lane, who fielded questions from the audience.

After lunch, Professor John Nelson presented findings from a two-year ITLS research study on transport services in rural and regional areas of NSW and how these could be better organised to meet community needs.

Continuing the regional focus, the proceeding session discussed the next generation of Rural and Regional Bus Service Contracts, and the lessons learned from existing contracting arrangements.

TfNSW Acting Director Rural and Regional Contracts, Nicolle O’Neill, outlined progress to date on developing new contracts, including adoption of key recommendations from the Taskforce, and engaging with industry to develop a modern “fit for purpose” contract model.

The Transport Connected Bus (TCB) panel generated a lot of conversation during the Q&As, with TfNSW Senior Program Manager Laith Farouqi welcoming feedback from operators on their experiences with TCB, and opportunities for improving the stage three roll-out of the project. Other panellists provided insights into the day to day use of TCB and the management of transport data.

The final session for day one covered Critical Incident Management, with Nikki Britt facilitating an important discussion on internal investigation and reporting, workforce counselling, media management, public relations and legal considerations in the event of a serious incident.

Attendees were able to reconnect with peers and further discuss topics during the Networking Drinks and the Welcome Function that closed out the day.

As the sun shone on Day 2, the BusNSW team welcomed even more delegates to the conference.

Unable to attend personally due to COVID, Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Jenny Aitchison addressed the crowd via a video message. This was followed by Matt Fuller, TfNSW Deputy Secretary Regional and Outer Metropolitan, who thanked operators for their dedication to servicing rural and regional communities during floods, fires and COVID, reiterating the minister’s commitment to the industry and regional NSW.

Craig Rispin, world leading futurist and innovation expert, invited attendees to open their minds to the possibilities provided by Artificial Intelligence to the industry. Using his virtual AI assistant “Athena”, he outlined the major business trends and technologies that are impacting passenger transportation worldwide.

The second session focused on safety, starting with a presentation on NSW bus industry safety compliance by Sally Webb, Acting Deputy Secretary, Safety, Environment and Regulation at TfNSW, followed by national heavy vehicle regulation by Paul Olendrowsky, Director of National Services Transition at the NHVR.

Samantha Moran, Director Investigations for Bus, Ferry and Light Rail at OTSI, closed out the session with a presentation on improving bus safety via investigation, research and data analysis.

The third session commenced with an address from Natalie Ward, Shadow Minister for Transport and Roads. A panel then addressed employee relations issues, including the challenge of attracting and retaining motivated employees, and pending reforms to industrial relations law.

A panel then discussed fleet procurement and technology, starting with Andrew Milne, ZEB Program Director at TfNSW, outlining the current stage one ZEB Transition Plan and acknowledging the need to provide certainty for operators and suppliers.

The afternoon moved into an ‘Open Space’ forum, where Craig Rispin challenged participants to suggest topics, delve deeper into the issues through small group discussions and produce three key ideas to report back to the group.

The broad range of topics suggested by delegates included using AI to administer bus operations, autonomous vehicles, ZEB depot ecosystems, cyber security, attracting more female drivers, bus contract tendering and SME coach and charter operations.

After two days of learning, networking and ideas, a Happy Hour and disco-themed Conference Dinner provided everyone with the chance to relax and reconnect with friends and colleagues.

BusNSW says feedback from participants over the two days has been extremely positive, with delegates commenting on the quality of the content, the variety of speakers and panellists, and how engaging the sessions were.

“We wanted this conference to be interactive and provide delegates with plenty of opportunities to contribute – hopefully, we have achieved that goal,” BusNSW executive director Matt Threlkeld says.

“We took a risk with the Open Space session, and it was great to see everyone get involved and contribute to the discussion on topics that are important to them.”

BusNSW would like to acknowledge its Platinum and Gold partners, whose support via conference sponsorships, helped make the 2023 Member Conference possible.

Presentations from the conference speakers are available to members on the BusNSW website

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