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Transport politician gives the lowdown on latest bus and coach industry movements

ABC chats to federal assistant transport minister Carol Brown about what the federal government is doing in the realm of safety and sustainability for the local bus and coach industry

As 2023 continues to fly by, the number of challenges facing the nation’s bus and coach industry steadily increase. Whether it be safety issues from recent incidents or the frustrations surrounding the industry’s zero-emissions transition, policymakers and bodies have plenty to think about when it comes to buses and coaches.

With many voices in the sector calling on governments to act on proposed changes, ABC decided to put these challenges to the federal government.

Federal assistant transport minister and senator Carol Brown answered the call, discussing what the federal government is working on when it comes to safety and sustainability with Australia’s bus and coach industry.

Safety

Safety has been thrust heavily into the spotlight since earlier this year, with the Exford and Hunter Valley bus crashes raising the alarm on safety standards on Australian buses and coaches.

In the months since these incidents, the federal government has reviewed national standards on safety technology in heavy vehicles in line with each state and territory’s own guidelines.

“The federal government is working to reduce road trauma right across the country as part of our commitment ‘Vision Zero’,” Brown told ABC.

“Vision Zero is our commitment to no road deaths or serious injuries by 2050.

“Heavy vehicle safety, which incorporates buses, is one of nine priority areas under the National Road Safety Strategy 2021-2030 that Australian governments and other stakeholders are currently implementing.”

This priority area received some more attention following the bus safety incidents that occurred earlier this year. From Brown and the government’s perspective, this involved a ministerial roundtable on bus safety that was held recently, courtesy of safety initiatives proposed by family and friends impacted by the Hunter Valley bus crash.

Brown hosted the roundtable, saying it provided an ideal opportunity to bring key bus industry stakeholders together to discuss practical, regulatory vehicle design and behavioural changes to reduce the likelihood of future bus crashes.

Although it was a touchstone moment in bus safety in Australia, Brown is intent on ensuring the roundtable is only the start of important safety discussions for the local bus and coach industry.

Carol Brown. Image Supplied: Federal government

“We’ll also continue reviewing, consulting on and updating Australia’s legislated road vehicle standards, also known as Australian Design Rules or ADRs,” Brown says.

“We’ll do so to ensure an acceptable level of safety, emission control and anti-theft protection across all new vehicles when they are first provided to the Australian market.”

This ADR review is already resulting in various recent advancements made to bolster bus safety in Australia for the future. This includes mandating reversing technologies to reduce the devastating impact of reverse-crash road trauma through ADR 108 and mandating Advanced Emergency Braking Systems to avoid or mitigate the severity of rear-end collisions in ADR 97.

While doing so, Brown says the government is also currently investigating options for implementing new ADRs and supporting regulatory frameworks for the latest technology.

“This includes supporting regulation for lane keeping systems that support vehicles, including buses, to safely stay in their lane,” Brown says.

“We’re also investigating event data recorders, or black boxes, which support crash investigations and follow-ups.”

Safety isn’t just being seen through new technologies – Brown says the government has also prepared an impact analysis on options to increase the width of heavy freight vehicles that include certain safety updates.

“This package of amendments was publicly consulted on in a discussion paper and the department is finalising advice and recommendations for the government,” Brown says.

“At the request of the bus industry at the start of this project, the review hasn’t considered width increase for buses.”

Sustainability and more

Yet safety isn’t Brown’s and the government’s only focus in the bus and coach sphere. While the ministerial safety roundtable is certainly a major part of recent movements, Brown says the federal government has also been looking into the continual challenge that is the zero-emissions bus transition.

Brown says the government is currently implementing the Euro VI noxious emissions standards for new heavy vehicles.

From November 1 next year, ADR 80/04 will add another layer of sustainability regulation to Australian buses and coaches on the roads.

“This will ensure new heavy vehicles in Australia, including buses and coaches, feature cleaner and more fuel-efficient engines,” Brown says.

“That will provide substantial health benefits to the community and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.”

On top of this, Brown has lifted the lid on a Transport and Infrastructure Next Zero Roadmap and Action Plan that the government is working on. In consultation with stakeholders, the action plan will cover the heavy vehicle sector, including buses and coaches.

The federal government is also supporting making low and zero-emissions buses more affordable and easier to supply and receive for customers.

“We will also work with states and territory governments to deliver projects such as our $125 million commitment to support a new electric bus network for Perth,” Brown says.

“We’ll do this through upgrades to bus depots and installing charging infrastructure.”

When it comes to the local content of procuring buses, neither the Road Vehicle Standards Act 2018 nor ADRs differentiate between imported and locally made vehicles.

All of this summarises an industry that is busier than ever before. While Brown says the government will continue to look into these areas of safety, technology and sustainability, more processes and developments will keep coming as the federal government maintains its focus on the bus and coach industry’s future.

“Our movements build on a range of processes underway to underpin the broader road transport sector’s transition to zero-emissions technology,” Brown says.

“This includes the development of a Fuel Efficiency Standard (FES) and consideration of Euro 6d for light vehicles.

“Initiatives such as an Australian FES and Euro 6d will not only reduce transport emissions and improve air quality, but give Australians more choice about the cars they can buy while saving them money at the petrol pump.”

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