Message from the Acting Director, Bus Safety - October 2019
1 November 2019
I recently had the opportunity to attend the BusVic Bus Expo and Maintenance Conference. I enjoyed meeting many of our operators and other people working in various fields related to bus operations.
Thank you to everyone who took the time to visit our stand and talk to us about the issues of interest and concern to them. I also appreciated the opportunity to speak at the Expo, and if you would like to see what I had to say, a link of my speech is here.
With the winter season now behind us, we are reviewing the outcomes of the range of activities we undertook over the season, which included a number of effective compliance activities in conjunction with Victoria Police Heavy Vehicles Unit.
Given the challenges posed by this potentially high-risk region, we will take the learnings from this year’s activities and use them to inform our work in the lead up to next winter season.
While the majority of bus operators are safety-focused and compliant with the requirements of their accreditation, we are hard at work at identifying those operators who are less compliant. In this edition you will read about some of activities with these types of operators.
This targeted compliance work is a high priority for us and should reassure bus passengers and the industry that we are focussed on ensuring that all operators are held to the same requirements for safety.
Below you can read my speech in full.
Acting Director, Bus Safety
I appreciate the opportunity to be here to talk about the role of safety regulator. This is my first time at this conference, and I enjoyed hearing from Minister Horne and former Prime Minister John Howard.
Minister Horne spoke earlier today about the importance of the bus industry to Victoria’s thriving economic and social life, and how its operations support the delivery of the Government’s ambitious transport infrastructure development program, as well as the role buses have in Melbourne’s growing neighbourhoods, particularly on the outer metro fringe.
Former Prime Minister Howard made several important points. He talked about the strong family connections which run through many of the businesses here today. I have had the pleasure of meeting people at our stand who are working in businesses which are third, fourth and fifth generation enterprises.
He talked about the importance of government helping but not getting in the way of business.
And he talked about the values that bind a country together. It is clear to me that one of the values that binds this industry together is safety. There is a commonly shared objective amongst you – of getting humans safely from A to B. And a strong commitment to safety is demonstrated across this Expo.
Around 20 years ago I came to Victoria. And for most of those 20 years I was a user of roads and trains – and – confession time… I didn’t have much insight into the essential role that the bus industry plays, because in my 14 years working in safety regulation my focus has been on other transport modes.
This was until I became involved in the work of our bus branch at Transport Safety Victoria.
And since becoming Acting Director of Bus Safety, almost a year ago, I have had the pleasure of being immersed in this dynamic industry – and that has, and continues to be both enjoyable and challenging.
I’d like to talk about those challenges now, and tell you about how we are responding to them, and our plans for the future.
In March 2009, the Victorian Parliament passed the Bus Safety Act 2009 (Vic) (BSA).
The new Act brought together a range of existing regulatory provisions in relation to bus safety for the first time.
Although buses were considered the safest mode of road transport in Victoria the regulation of the industry at that time was fragmented, narrow in scope and sometimes outdated.
The regulatory setting hadn’t kept pace with the evolution of the industry.
The new legislation incorporated features of best-practice safety legislation including:
- performance-oriented safety duties
- chain of responsibility approach to safety
- adoption of appropriate sanctions for failure to meet regulatory responsibilities.
The objective of new BSA was to promote an improved safety culture across all types of bus operations without impacting unduly on small commercial operations and not-for-profit services run by local government, schools, health and disability services or other community organisations.
The BSA came into full operation on 31 December 2010.
The vision of the government was that implementation of the Act would strengthen regulation to better deal with the expansion of bus services and unprecedented growth in bus patronage.
All operators who met the required definition under the BSA became either registered or accredited.
The new legislation redefined the definition of a bus to a vehicle built with 10 or more seats.
The previous definition was 13 or more seats.
In order to identify the 10, 11 and 12 seat bus owners we sought data from VicRoads and wrote to all owners. You may remember this was the ‘do you own a bus campaign’.
We subsequently registered 2,000 new operators. This campaign worked well!
With the objective of making life as easy as possible for operators, a five-year transition period was in place.
All existing operators were required to apply for accreditation under the BSA and had five years to do so.
Some came through in year one, two, three and four - however most came through in year five. It was a busy time for our Accreditation and Registration team to put it politely.
What was so different about the new legislation?
The previous legislation was far more prescriptive.
I’m told that back in those days, good operators felt they were being dictated to by people that didn’t understand what they did about safely managing a bus business.
The new BSA better empowered operators to manage their risk in the way that they saw as being appropriate for their operation.
Providing the space for them to develop and use their own systems, in consultation with us at the time of application about the aspects of those systems.
They were able to move away from a prescriptive one-size-fits-all bureaucratic template that had limited knowledge of who they were and what they did.
The role of audit
Since 2010, we have had a significant focus on audits.
Initially, these focused almost exclusively on the operator’s Maintenance Management System and Management Information System.
This was to ensure that these fundamental aspects of safety management aligned with what we understood to be in place.
When I talked to the Bus Safety Victoria team about that time, what I learnt was that a significant number of operators needed assistance to understand the concept of managing risk so far as is reasonably practicable.
We believe this intensive audit activity has paid off with the industry now largely having a sound handle on this concept and how it applies in their business.
There are of course exceptions, with some operators less inclined to meet this responsibility.
After five years of gradual implementation it was time to ramp up our activities to test compliance in the field.
As years progressed
July 2011 saw the early stages of our in-field compliance activities – to test how well operators were complying with the legislation out there on the road.
Working with Victoria Police, we were looking to see that the buses on the road were permissioned (accredited or registered) and that they held the appropriate category of permission for the bus service being operated.
Also around this time, BSV staff were receiving intel from the industry.
This included that drivers were exceeding their permitted working hours, did not hold driver accreditation and buses appeared to be unroadworthy.
Therefore, the infield compliance activities were an excellent method to see just how effectively – or not – those basic safety systems, the MMS and MIS were actually working to ensure that the services being provided to passengers were safe, with well managed drivers and well maintained buses getting them from A to B.
In 2016 we established a separate compliance team solely focussed on this work.
By that stage we felt that the dust had well and truly settled on the newness of the BSA.
From our audits we recognised that many in the industry had fairly sophisticated and well-informed safety focused operations.
But we could also see that there were several areas representing high-risk to an otherwise highly compliant industry.
Within the tour and charter segment, we saw a consistent pattern of non-compliance with regards to responsible persons showing a lack of willingness or capacity to adhere to requirements of the BSA and the Bus Safety Regulations 2010 (Vic).
- People not having any oversight of the business, and sometimes not even having anything to do with the business
- Non completion of the bus safety course that provides the competency for a responsible person
- The person living a physical distance from the bus business and not being able to evidence how they manage their role of responsible person from afar.
- The person distancing themselves from their responsibilities, and,
- The person was not the individual who completed the Safety Management Course.
Other issues identified included:
- Inadequate safety systems in place or non-adherence to systems that were sitting on shelves – with unacceptable condition of buses often being the result
- Drivers who are often part of a casual workforce. Often with no commitment from employers – who pressure their drivers to go for long distances without adequate rest breaks.
- No safety-centric investment in the business. That is, safety isn’t seen as a valuable driver for the strength of the business, but as something which costs money and is to be worked around where possible.
These issues cause an uneven playing field.
It’s unfair to those who are complying and investing in their safety systems. AND it is unacceptable for a regulator to not hold all operators to the one standard because the bottom line is that safety for passengers, drivers and other road users is compromised.
So, our challenge was to ensure we were doing the right work to bring these issues to the surface and tackle them in the way that our legislation allowed us to.
That means having a much greater presence in the field.
What is our approach to safety regulation?
Most government agencies will tell you that they’d like more – more budget, more personnel, and we are no exception.
But the reality is we have to make the very best use of what we’ve got, and get on with the job.
To do that we have developed and refined a risk-based approach, backed up by data and intel, to guide our audit and in-field compliance activities.
We’ve been able to do that because of the legacy of the early days of our activities, post BSA introduction.
That extensive audit work and engagement with operators has given us the sounds basis for what we are doing now.
In developing audit priorities, we target operators with a number of considerations in mind…
and that will include their exposure to risk through the significant number of passengers they carry each year, or the type of operator they are, how experienced they are in the industry, the types of incidents they may be involved in, or other factors that indicate that they need more of our attention.
We know that the travelling public would expect that we have regular contact with our route bus operators.
This group are responsible for the majority of bus trips in Victoria and we have frequent contact with them through our audit team.
But we’d also be expected to understand what is going on with the aged care home that has a bus, or the RSL club with their courtesy bus.
And this audit activity looks a little different. We have a range of ways to stay in touch with these sorts of operators that don’t necessarily need a visit from us every year but where we still need to understand what’s going on.
Remember that at the permissioning stage we are checking to see that adequate safety systems are in place and that the operator can evidence they have the competence and capacity required to operationalise those systems.
We send out information via our newsletters, safety alerts, news flashes, information material, safety seminars and at events like the BusVic Expo (of course!)
And we still audit such operators, but its less frequent and appropriately targeted.
We also encourage people to just pick up the phone and call us or their regional auditor if they have questions.
We may be the regulator – but we are approachable.
When I came to this role a year ago, I came to learn quite quickly that 50 – 60% of our operators have excellent strong effective safety systems that are actively managed.
Some of you have been doing this for a long time – even down through generations - and you really have your house in order.
Operators like you will see less of us because our approach is risk based.
We need to get to those operators who can’t or won’t comply. They are the minority of operators, but occupy the majority of our time.
And I, and my team, are committed to holding these operators accountable to their responsibilities under the legislation that we administer.
In doing that work, we are greatly appreciative of the assistance of colleagues across government.
Strength from Collaboration – in-field compliance activities
While the BSA and regulations provide us with an effective framework for regulation of the Bus industry, its not perfect.
As such, it is important that we create opportunities to work closely with other parts of government, such as Victoria Police Heavy Vehicles Unit, VicRoads and Commercial Passenger Vehicles Victoria.
These partners can help us ensure that our compliance activities have the best spread possible to underscore the mandate of the BSA and Bus Safety Victoria's role to ensure public confidence in the safety of their bus system.
Some of you may be aware of a recent highly collaborative compliance activity in regional Victoria, which I am confident has had an effective safety outcome – and our work on that is still underway. This is an example of such collaboration in action, and we are deeply appreciative of the assistance from VicRoads and Victoria Police who worked with us on this.
Our in-field compliance activities target high-risk tourist locations where we know we will encounter plenty of the types of operator that we have concerns about.
Our calendar of events is evolving as we get to locations we’ve not visited before, to gauge the extent to which our problem operators are turning up at such locations.
Its very pleasing to hear positive feedback from so many of the drivers who we talk to at such locations, who see our in-field presence as a good thing for industry.
Where we can partner with other agencies as I’ve described above, that’s a terrific outcome.
But even when that’s not possible and an activity is solely staffed by our personnel, these are valuable activities for us which we treat as a high priority, and are resourcing accordingly. So, you can expect to continue to see us out there.
Another place where you can expect to hear about us spending much more time is in court.
I am very committed to ensuring that, where it is the appropriate course of action to take, that we prosecute serious offences in court.
Right now, we have three cases being actively worked on.
That might not sound like a lot but believe me when I say that these are resource-intensive activities that take a great deal of effort and time to build up to be a solid case with good prospects of success.
We have a highly experienced person with proven track record in prosecution working in the Bus team, and she is very capably driving a significant body of work in this area.
So, I guess we will be spending more time in courts in the next few years and I welcome that.
I have a feeling that you will welcome that too, because it will send a message to those operators who are pushing the boundaries on what is acceptable, that this will not be tolerated.
We will always try to work with an operator – but we don’t accept and should not accept that there are operators who should be accredited or registered, and they are not.
If we were to accept that – it is grossly unfair to the operators who are doing the right thing.
And most importantly, it significantly undermines the safety of bus operations and the ability of bus passengers to have confidence in the system.
We don’t accept that there should be operators who are not meeting their requirements for sufficiently robust systems that can manage their risks adequately.
We have seen this sort of scenario play out. Beautifully presented systems that are basically shelf-ware, because they are not being adhered to.
Where we discover that is the case, we will take action accordingly. And we’re doing that right now, using the range of regulatory powers available to us.
Safety cannot be a token gesture or lip service. As I agreed with a gentleman who I was talking to earlier – we all have to sleep at night.
This last year has also seen an increase in collaboration with colleagues in the Department of Transport, particularly in areas responsible for managing bus contracts.
We have strong and productive links with these areas, and its something we will continue to focus, in the understanding that when we work together from our own perspectives and areas of influence, the outcome for bus passengers – and therefore the bus industry - is a strong one.
As an example, our activities in the Alpine region this year have been strengthened by sharing information with VicRoads who also have an obvious interest in ensuring safety on the roads in this region.
With the Bus Safety Regulations due to be reviewed and re-made next year, its an opportunity to consider how adequately they are able to deal with evolving models of bus operations.
It seems to me that the traditional models that the industry is used to seeing are changing.
We need to be sure that our legislation can respond to that evolution, to the extent that it needs to, so that safety is not compromised.
We also need to ensure that we look for opportunities to streamline regulation by working in collaboration with the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, to the extent that is possible and sensible. An example of government helping but not getting in the way of business.
The Federal Government has created national regulatory schemes in other transport sectors, and these play a strong role in promoting consistency across jurisdictions and economic opportunity.
However, there will continue to be a role for state-based regulators, because a national regulator will be limited in the extent to which it can turn its attention to the sorts of issues that we are able to address working at a state level.
But we should be ensuring that we look for opportunities to reduce regulatory burden by working in collaboration with the national regulator, and this will increasingly be a focus for us.
- Earlier today, Minister Horne described the enormous growth that Victoria has been enjoying and will continue to enjoy for many years to come.
- She talked about the Big Build currently underway which will help sustain that growth and ensure Victoria’s continued prosperity into the future.
- The bus industry has an exciting and essential role in ensuring that vision of the future becomes reality.
- We at Bus Safety Victoria are committed to playing our part to ensure that bus passengers and the broader Victorian community can continue to have faith in this sector and its ability to safely and efficiently get us from A to B, whatever our reason for travelling.