Dear Taskforce Chair and Panel Members,
Thank you for your work to date bringing together bus operators, industry experts, the workforce, and community representatives to determine how to deliver more efficient and reliable services. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to engage directly with the taskforce, including through the successful Bus Passenger Forum in Dee Why. I also want to take this opportunity to make a formal submission to the inquiry on behalf of the Wakehurst community.
A well functioning bus service is essential for the Northern Beaches.
Bus services play a critical role in the lives of the Northern Beaches community as the only available mode of public transport. Local geographic and economic factors, as well as long commute distances, make reliability and availability of buses absolutely vital for commuters who do not want and realistically cannot switch to private car trips due to heavily congested local roads which operate beyond their capacity.
It is widely acknowledged that congestion along Pittwater Road and Military Road corridor is one of the worst nationwide. The indefinite shelving of the Beaches Link Tunnel makes bus services, particularly the B1 and 160X routes, even more important now and into the future.
Unreliable bus services is a key issue raised by residents with my office.
Unreliable bus services are one of the top concerns for my constituents in the Wakehurst electorate, who consistently contact me to express their frustration and dissatisfaction.
Earlier in the year my office conducted a local bus passenger survey with more than 120 responses received. Survey participants reported long average wait times in both morning and afternoon which are often exacerbated by the need to change buses from a feeder route to an overcrowded B1 bus.
Based on commuters’ feedback, the top issues are:
- Bus trip cancellations
- Not enough buses and routes in the area
- Late buses
- School buses (eg late or full school buses, and the availability of buses for school sport)
- Cancelled routes
- Dangerous conditions at Wynyard bus stop, and
- The need to introduce KeoRide (On Demand) service in Wakehurst
I have regularly been informed that the privatisation of the bus services on the Northern Beaches in October 2021 resulted in a significant cultural shift in the workforce on the Northern Beaches, with many staff leaving and morale decreasing.
There has been some improvement in reliability of services but there is still a way to go.
I understand that the key reason for unreliable services has been the driver shortage. The reduced timetable was introduced in July this year in the contract 8 region to increase reliability. Figures provided by transport show increasing reliability under the reduced timetable, which is positive. I have made clear that I expect a return to full service as soon as possible.
Whilst reduction of services is understandable as a temporary measure it is the community's expectation that services will be restored once the shortage of drivers will be solved. Moreover, increase in frequency on overcrowded B-line and implementation of On Demand services (KeoRide) will require even more drivers than 2021 levels.
The following recommendations should be included in the final Bus Industry Taskforce report
1. Effective solutions to attract and retain drivers
Restoring reliability must be the number one focus. Regularity is also so important, but when people plan their lives for scheduled services that don’t show up or are late, this is unacceptably disruptive. It must be fixed.
Most of the above concerns are caused by not enough bus drivers. Whether it is pay and conditions, local affordable housing or other creative solutions, we need to attract and keep bus drivers.
Driver retention is as important as hiring new drivers and for that drivers need to be heard. In addition to drivers’ dissatisfaction with pay and conditions there is also a structural issue with high cost of renting and home ownership on Northern Beaches for drivers and mechanics who live locally. At the same time geographical factors and location of local bus depots mean that drivers and mechanics who live in more affordable western Sydney suburbs have to endure long and inconvenient commutes to and from work, often at odd hours.
I encourage the Taskforce to assess a range of potential solutions in collaboration with TfNSW and Northern Beaches Council:
- Subsidised travel for bus companies’ employees who live far away from Northern Beaches;
- Local private rental properties on Northern Beaches for drivers and mechanics, with rent subsidised by TfNSW;
- Dedicated affordable housing to be built on Northern Beaches for drivers and mechanics using land owned by TfNSW / NSW Government and Northern Beaches Council.
2. Increased transparency
So far only one key performance indicator is publicly available for buses, with monthly data for on-time running published on TfNSW website (https://www.transport.nsw.gov.au/data-and-research/data-and-insights/buses-on-time-running). Community feedback indicates that bus trip cancellations are a particularly acute problem on Northern Beaches. In light of the above, it would be beneficial to make cancelled trips data publicly available as well.
Government response to Recommendation 2 states that “for certain key performance indicators, failure to deliver to the standards, as set out in the relevant key performance indicator, will incur abatements by the operator.” Keolis Downer’s performance has been significantly below expectations and community needs to know which KPIs in Region 8 Contract may lead to abatements by Keolis Downer and whether such abatements have been incurred or enforced since the beginning of Region 8 Contract with Keolis Downer.
Moreover, Region 8 Contract stipulates that failure to meet KPIs for cancelled trips, on-time running and customer satisfaction may lead to KPI Default and Contract Termination (refer Parliamentary inquiry into bus privatisation, document “Answers to supplementary questions - Keolis Downer - 28 June 2022”, point #5). All these three KPIs and their target levels need to be publicly available. Also, assuming that other Bus Contracts have similar Contract Termination clauses, TfNSW should continuously monitor KPI performance of bus operators and report to the public whether KPI Default happened or not in each reporting period for each Bus Contract.
3. Contract review
To thoroughly review and renegotiate (where contractually possible) the existing contract with Keolis Downer, to work on short term solutions to address contract flaws.
While I understand the issue has been resolved, there was an issue earlier in the year where buses for school sports were not available, leading to cancellation of inter-school sports activity. Providing these services for schools should be included in the contracts. This situation caused considerable community impact and the taskforce should investigate the cause and solution.
4. Plan to expand KeoRide to Wakehurst
KeoRide is a successful On Demand bus service for suburbs north of Narrabeen Lagoon. Wakehurst Electorate also has many low density suburbs with narrow streets which are difficult to service with standard buses and which will benefit greatly from an introduction of On Demand bus services. The need to expand KeoRide to Wakehurst Electorate suburbs has to be taken into account in the assessment of bus drivers’ shortage on Northern Beaches.
The government response to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Privatisation of Bus Services summarised the success of Keoride well:
‘Keoride has been a local success story in innovative service delivery models. Since the launch of Keoride in 2017, the flexibility and convenience of the bookable service has transformed travel behaviours in the Northern Beaches operating area. Approximately 42% of customers have stated that On Demand transport could be relied upon, to replace at least one private vehicle, thereby reducing private vehicle dependency. Throughout its operational lifespan, Keoride has consistently maintained a high level of customer satisfaction at 98%, with customers rating it 4.8 out of 5 stars.’
5. Implement available technology to ensure seatbelt use on buses and coaches
We need to increase seat belt use on buses and coaches. Low cost technology exists to retrofit seat belts and a system to notify drivers which passengers haven’t buckled up, to assist with compliance. The NSW should develop a comprehensive plan to roll out this technology.
I also want to take this opportunity to mention the huge positive potential of trackless tram technology. Recently in Perth, The City Of Stirling began their trial of a trackless tram - Australia’s first. These Trams need little infrastructure and can take around 160 passengers per small tram. A B1 can carry around 100 passengers. They are silent and net zero. I would love to see trackless trams trialled in NSW, including on the Northern Beaches.
Thank you for the opportunity to make a submission and please don’t hesitate to contact my office for further information.
Michael Regan MP
Independent Member for Wakehurst