COVID-19 information for bus operators

12 November 2021

Information is subject to health advice and may change at any time.

Easing of restrictions across Victoria

On 29 October 2021, several eased restrictions came into effect as approximately 80 per cent of Victorians aged 16 years and older were double dose vaccinated. The easing of restrictions will mean more people on our roads, greater use of public transport, and increased interactions for tour and charter bus services.

To sustain transport operations as we open up, it is vital that the six COVIDSafe principles are prioritised across the system. For bus operations this means

  • Where possible, aim to achieve 1.5 metres physical distancing
  • Ensuring everyone is wearing a face mask when travelling in a bus (unless there is a valid medical exemption)
  • Practise good hygiene, such as hand washing and wiping down surfaces in shared areas and high touch areas on vehicles
  • Keep accurate records of workers (contact details, rosters, CCTV where available) to assist with contact tracing
  • Avoid long periods in enclosed spaces and improve ventilation where possible
  • Create effective workplace bubbles to limit business impact from positive case exposures.

A vaccine mandate is in place for essential workforce with strong compliance across the board when it comes to public transport.

Vaccines are not the only control when it comes to travelling on the above services. Adherence to COVIDSafe Plans, hand sanitisers, QR codes and face masks also act as controls and with the state heading towards 90% double dose we are fast becoming the most vaccinated country in the world.

Details of all the eased restrictions are available at coronavirus.vic.gov.au. See Victoria's Roadmap.

The following directions were effective from 6pm on 29 October 2021:

  • COVID-19 Mandatory Vaccination (General Workers) Directions
  • COVID-19 Mandatory Vaccination (Specified Facilities) Directions (No 11)
  • COVID-19 Mandatory Vaccination (Workers) Directions (No 6)
  • Diagnosed Persons and Close Contacts Directions (No 32)
  • Open Premises Directions (No 3)
  • Revocation of Area Directions (No 27)
  • Stay Safe Directions (Victoria) (No 28)
  • Victorian Border Crossing Permit Directions (No 36)
  • Workplace Directions (No 54)

All the latest directions can be found on Victoria’s Department of Health website. If you are having difficulty in locating any of the directions, please contact information@transportsafety.vic.gov.au to receive PDFs of the documents.

Tour and charter bus capacity restrictions

COVID-19 related capacity restrictions have been lifted from all bus services including tour and charter operations. Whilst adhering to vehicle capacity limits, physical distancing between passengers is encouraged where possible. Drivers, and passengers (over the age of 12 years) are required to wear a mask whilst travelling, unless able to provide proof of a valid medical exemption. Whilst not mandated, it is strongly encouraged that passengers are fully vaccinated.

For passengers travelling on tour and charter services (any bus service that does not fall under essential bus services such as community transport or public transport route services or school bus services) they must be able to show proof of being fully vaccinated in order to travel.

Community Transport Services

COVID-19 related restrictions for community transport services (not for profit groups providing transport services to the elderly and special needs groups) include the requirement for passengers over the age of 12 to wear a mask whilst travelling, unless able to provide proof of a valid medical exemption.

Maximum passenger capacity of the vehicle is applied, with consideration for physical distancing between passengers when appropriate.

As per the restrictions applied to all essential services, there is no requirement for passengers to show proof of being fully vaccinated.

COVIDSafe Plans must be in place at all times.

Mandatory vaccinations for bus drivers

The Victorian Government announced that all bus drivers must have a COVID-19 vaccine if they wish to continue providing bus services. The new Mandatory Vaccination (General Workers) Directions require employers to only allow general workers to work outside of their ordinary place of residence if they have collected those workers’ vaccination information. Workers need to provide their employer with evidence of full vaccination or acceptable medical exemption before they can work outside of their place of residence.

The COVID-19 Mandatory Vaccination (Workers) Directions are available under Directions issued by Victoria’s Chief Health Officer on the Department of Health website.

It is now mandatory for bus drivers to have had:

  • at least one vaccine dose by 15 October 2021, or provide evidence of an appointment before 22 October 2021; and
  • both vaccine doses by 26 November 2021.

This mandate applies state-wide and also covers workers who enter Victoria on both single and multi-entry Specified Worker Permits.

TSV encourages bus drivers to get vaccinated as soon as they can to ensure they meet the above requirements by the stipulated timeframes.

Who is responsible for keeping a record of vaccinations?

Bus drivers must provide their employer with vaccinations records.  If you are self-employed, you should keep the record yourself. Please refer to the current vaccination guidelines for more information on mandatory vaccinations.

We understand that bus operators can just sight the evidence and record the date it was sighted. They are not required to hold a copy of the actual certificate. If the bus owner does hold the actual certificate, then it needs to be treated as a medical record under Commonwealth privacy legislation.

How do I find a record of my vaccination?

You can get proof of your vaccinations recorded on the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR) from different government sources, including My Health Record.

Are there exemptions to getting a vaccination?

The Chief Health Officer has declared that from 6pm, Friday 29 October, only the Australian Immunisation Register medical exemption form is to be used to provide patients proof of a medical exemption to any vaccination requirements in Victoria.

The Australian Immunisation Register provides those who meet the very limited criteria with proof of medical exemption via the myGov website in the same way vaccination certificates are accessed.

People with an exemption letter that isn't the Australian Immunisation Register form – such as just a standard doctor's certificate – will need to return to their medical practitioner to submit the form by 12 November. They can continue to use a doctor's certificate up to that date. Those who don't meet the specific medical contraindications to COVID-19 vaccination according to ATAGI guidance will not have a valid exemption after 12 November.

The new requirements for medical exemptions are outlined in the COVID-19 Mandatory Vaccination Directions. Please contact information@transportsafety.vic.gov.au if you are unable to locate this document on Victoria’s Department of Health website.

What responsibilities does TSV have with regard to mandatory vaccinations?

TSV will educate industry on these requirements and support them to meet these. This is a direction mandated under Directions issued by Victoria’s Chief Health Officer on the Department of Health website.

Where can I get a vaccine?

Find the vaccination centre closest to you.

Pfizer and AstraZeneca

Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are available at locations across Victoria. Find the vaccination centre closest to you.

To book a vaccination through state-run centres – or to see links for how to book at your local GP or pharmacy – visit the COVID-19 vaccines page. Note that walk-ins are allowed at high-volume vaccination centres, but you are encouraged to book ahead by calling 1800 675 398. Select option 1 – option 1 – option 1.

Translations

Information about COVID-19 vaccines has been translated into multiple languages. Find information in your language on the Australian Government Department of Health website.

Hygiene and safety

  • Bus operator COVIDSafe Plans should include: PPE requirements (including the appropriate level of face coverings to be worn at the work premises which currently requires face coverings to be worn in all indoor and outdoor settings outside of the person’s home, other than if lawful exceptions apply), hygiene requirements, physical distancing and density quotient requirements, the requirements for implementing appropriate record-keeping processes (which may include the implementation of a QR code check in system), actions taken to mitigate the risk of COVID-19, and the processes in place to respond to any suspected case or any confirmed case of COVID-19.
  • A COVIDSafe Plan should be in place to address vehicles that are owned, operated, or controlled by the employer and is used to provide passenger services, such as a Charter Bus Services. The COVIDSafe Plan should include the measures the employer has in place to manage the risk of COVID-19 transmission in the workplace. COVIDSafe Plans should be reviewed to ensure they remain up to date, and suitable for the current COVID-19 outbreak and related restrictions.

COVIDSafe Plans

It is mandatory for every Victorian business to have a COVIDSafe Plan.

If you are currently operating a bus service, you must have a COVIDSafe Plan outlining how you will address these six key areas:

  • physical distancing
  • masks and personal protective equipment
  • hand hygiene and sanitising
  • record keeping and acting quickly if workers become unwell
  • interactions in enclosed spaces
  • workforce bubbles

Please use our COVIDSafe Plan template DOCX, 95.4 KB for bus operators.

The template provides support to bus operators as they create, or further improve, their COVIDSafe Plans in accordance with current regulations and guidelines.

If you are not currently operating, you are encouraged to start developing your plan, so it is in place when your bus service resumes.

If you already have a COVIDSafe plan we strongly recommend you read the sample plan and add any additional control measure you had not considered.

As every bus operation is different, it is important that you make your plan relevant to your business.

You are not required to recreate your plan if you already have one.

This sample plan has been developed to assist the bus industry to flexibly respond to industry requirements designed to reduce the risk of COVID-19 in Victoria.

All COVIDSafe plans must be living and dynamic documents that respond to advice from the Chief Health Officer. They must not be regarded as a ‘set and forget’ component of business operations.

Victorian Government tools

Plan checks and updates

  • TSV compliance officers and other authorised agents will conduct ongoing random spot checks for COVIDSafe Plans so make sure you have one.
  • You may be required to provide your COVIDSafe Plan to the Department of Health and Human Services or WorkSafe including in the event of a confirmed positive case at your workplace.
  • Your COVIDSafe Plan should be reviewed and updated routinely, including when restrictions or public health advice changes.

QR Codes on buses

QR codes are required for tour and charter buses. It is up to bus operators to determine whether it is reasonably practicable for them to implement a QR system on their services – if it is not reasonably practicable, they must manually record attendance on a bus, and subsequently ensure that this information is stored electronically in the event that it is required for contract tracing purposes.

Please refer to the guidance for Victorian Government QR code services and the current Workplace Directions (available on the Department of Health website).

When chartering a bus, the hirer is responsible for the QR code and record keeping for that particular service. For example, if hiring a bus from a rental company, the hirer and not the rental company is responsible.

All advice is general in nature and if an operator is concerned about whether they are in breach of workplace directions, they should seek independent legal advice.

Contact guidance

The Department of Health has released a contact assessment and management matrix to help guide workplaces, business and industry with COVID-19 contact management.

The guidance aims to enable workplaces to begin contact tracing in advance of support from the Department of Health.

Transport operators should review this guidance and use it to improve COVIDSafe Plans and to understand risk and responses in the event of COVID-19 cases in the workplace.

The “Contact assessment and management guidance: Workplaces, business and industry” is available on the page Confirmed case in the workplace.

Airport shuttle bus services

Operators transporting passengers to airports are advised that Australian state border restrictions and entry requirements are in force – and that these requirements may impact your passengers.

TSV recommends that airport shuttle operators remind their passengers that passengers are responsible for checking Australian state border restrictions and requirements that may apply to them prior to boarding a shuttle service. Sharing this reminder will help reduce confusion and potential restrictions breaches.

Furthermore, TSV recommends that operator COVIDSafe Plans are updated to reflect advice regarding state border restrictions is issued to passengers prior to boarding.

Up-to-date information on restrictions and requirements for all Australian states can be found on coronavirus.vic.gov.au - Travel Updates.

Interstate travel

Please check with other state and territory authorities in case of border restrictions or controls:


Testing, masks and taking care

Mask requirements remain for drivers and passengers (aged 12 and over) on all types of buses including public transport, tour transport, community service, and school buses.

Visit coronavirus.vic.gov.au for information about:

Testing

Rapid antigen testing

Businesses can deploy rapid antigen testing as an additional tool to screen for COVID-19. Currently businesses will need to self-fund implementation. Rapid antigen testing needs to be supervised by a health practitioner and any positive tests need to be followed up with a PCR test.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration provides guidance on implementing rapid antigen testing for businesses. The guide is available on the TGA website. Further guidance on implementation is also available on Victoria’s Department of Health website.

Border crossings

The reissued Victorian Border Crossing Permit Directions (No 36) further reduce testing requirements for fully vaccinated Specified Worker (Multiple Entry) Permit holders, including public transport and freight workers.

Note that Victoria currently classifies all of Australia as a green zone, aside from Greater Sydney and the ACT which are orange zones.

What are the new testing requirements?

Testing if fully vaccinated:

  • Specified Worker (Multiple Entry) Permit holders no longer need to get tested within 72 hours of entry into Victoria if they have been in an orange zone in the previous 14 days.
  • If the Specified Worker (Multiple Entry) Permit holder has been in a red zone in the previous 14 days, they need to get tested within 72 hours and then every seven days after the first test.
  • They must carry evidence of each test and to show they are fully vaccinated.

Testing if not fully vaccinated:

  • The permit holder must get a COVID-19 test within 72 hours after entering Victoria and:
    • if they have been in an orange zone in the previous 14 days, then seven days after the first test.
    • If they have been in a red zone in the previous 14 days, they need to get tested every three days after the first test.
  • They must carry evidence of each test and evidence of their first vaccination.

Take care on the roads

With people able to freely move between regional and metropolitan Victoria, drivers are reminded to be careful on the roads, particularly as the general public may not have driven significant distances in some time.

General advice

You can find Public transport advice on the Department of Transport's COVID-19 webpage.

Visit the Department of Health website for information on:

The fluid nature of advice and updates related to COVID-19 increases the likelihood of TSV needing to contact you quickly. You can update your email address details by contacting information@transportsafety.vic.gov.au.

Passenger information

Do I have to wear a mask on tour and charter buses?

Yes. Masks must continue to be worn on tour and charter buses as per the Chief Health Officer’s directions.

We are working closely with all transport operators, the Department of Health and Human Services and Victoria Police to ensure our services are safe for everyone to use. Victoria Police are responsible for enforcing the Chief Health Officer’s directions.


FAQs: Updated 3 November 2021

Frequently asked questions for Transport Safety Victoria (TSV) bus industry stakeholders regarding operations during a pandemic.

Inspections

Will Annual Inspections and Vehicle Safety Inspections continue to be required in a pandemic situation?

  • TSV acknowledges a recent downturn in the international and domestic tourism market has had a significant impact on operation of bus fleets in Victoria. To reduce the financial impact on their businesses from current events, TSV understands bus operators may not be currently operating one or more buses in their fleet at this time.
  • In response, TSV is providing the following guidance on your Annual Safety Inspection and Quarterly Vehicle Safety Inspections (VSI) requirements:

Annual Safety Inspections

  • Accredited and registered bus operators must ensure that each bus used to provide a bus service undergoes a safety inspection annually.
  • TSV reminds operators that any bus currently being used to provide a bus service must have an Annual Safety Inspection which has been undertaken within the previous 12 months.
  • However, if a bus due for an annual inspection is not currently being used to provide a service, you are not required to undertake an inspection on that bus until it is once again being used.
  • When the situation changes, and the bus is used again (even for one trip) you must ensure a current annual inspection has been undertaken on the bus, if the annual inspection would normally have been due.

Vehicle Safety Inspections

  • Accredited operators must complete VSIs as per their Maintenance Management System. These are generally required on a quarterly basis.
  • However, if a bus due for a VSI is not currently being used to provide a service, you are not required to undertake an inspection on that bus until it is once again being used.
  • When the situation changes, and the bus becomes operational (even for one trip) you must ensure a current VSI has been undertaken on that bus, if the VSI would normally have been due.
  • If you have recently (within the previous 3 months) undertaken an Annual Inspection, then a VSI is not required. However, a VSI is not able to be substituted for an Annual Inspection.

Do I need to service the fire extinguishers fitted to my bus if the bus is not currently operating?

  • You do not need to service your bus fire extinguishers if you are not currently operating your buses. When you begin operating your buses again (even for one trip) you will need to ensure your bus fire extinguishers have been serviced.

What do I do now with my fire extinguishers that are on buses that are not currently operating? 

The accepted temporary process for fire extinguishers that are not being used in operation is to:

  1. Note the date at the start of the non-operation of each affected fire extinguisher.
  2. Note the date when the affected extinguisher has been serviced when it is put back into service.

These two notations of relevant dates are evidence that the fire extinguisher has met its fit for purpose requirements.

What should operators do?

Unused buses

  • The accepted temporary process for buses that are not being used in operation is to:
    1. photograph the odometer and note the date at the start of the non-operation of each affected bus
    2. photograph the odometer again when the affected bus is put back into service and note the date.
  • These two photographs with the notation of relevant dates are evidence that the bus has not been operating.
  • If you would prefer to use another method of providing this evidence, then please call us to discuss (contact details below).

What about insurance or financing implications?

  • It is often the case that an operator’s insurer requires that actions like quarterly and annual inspections are undertaken, and any other requirements of a regulator are met. This might also be the case for financing companies.
  • As such, TSV strongly encourages you to talk to your insurer, bank or finance company to ensure you are clear on their requirements for quarterly and annual inspections.

What is TSV doing to ensure the safety requirements are being met?

  • When typical operations return to the industry, the Bus Safety audit team will focus on the buses that followed the accepted temporary process as described above. Where non-compliance with the above requirements is detected, enforcement action may be taken.
  • This action is intended to support operators at what is currently a challenging time for the bus industry. However, ensuring the safety of bus operations remains our priority. Operators are reminded that all other provisions of the Bus Safety Act 2009 and Bus Safety Regulations 2020 remain in force. During this time, our bus safety audits continue, via methods such as video and telephone conferencing.

What requirements do bus operators have with regards to keeping risk registers?

  • These requirements are unchanged. We strongly encourage operators to ensure they have adequately identified and responded to emerging risks, including those that result from a pandemic, and that they are managing these risks so far as reasonably practicable.

Accreditation and registration

I have a new application for accreditation or registration. Will you be able to assess it and accredit/register my bus service?

  • We will be doing everything we can to ensure that operators who want to become accredited or registered in the coming weeks and months are able to do so.
  • We will assess each application on a case by case basis and will do everything we can to support operators in this position.

Who can I talk to about my application for accreditation or registration? 

  • If you have questions about an application for accreditation or registration, speak to Julien Pezzino, Manager Accreditation and Registration, on 0408 364 649.

Can I put my accreditation or registration on hold for a period of time? 

  • There is no provision to do so under the relevant Bus Safety legislation. However, we encourage you to speak to us about how we can support you to reduce your regulatory burden and costs of operation during this time.

Compliance

Will you be monitoring compliance in the field as usual? 

  • Our compliance activities will also reflect the unique circumstances currently experienced. We will continue to monitor issues related to safety of bus services and will respond appropriately.

I have an improvement notice in place and current circumstances are making it difficult or impossible for me to rectify deficiencies in the required time. What will the consequences of this be for my operation? 

  • We recognise that current circumstances are presenting unique challenges to operators.
  • If you are having an issue rectifying previously identified deficiencies, speak to the auditor who placed the improvement notice. We will work constructively with you to develop a suitable approach. This may include extending the period of time for your improvement notice.

Who do I talk to if I want to report an unsafe operator or other concern? 

I need to talk to someone from Bus Safety Victoria and don’t know who to contact – who can I call? 

  • If you need to talk to someone about a bus safety matter or an issue related to your operation and don’t already have a point of contact, call 1800 223 022 and follow the prompts to be connected to a member of the bus safety team.

A bus on a Melbourne road