Blue Mountains News

Rally for Buses on the Brink

By Near or Far Bus & Coach
Posted: 11 Sep 2020
Image: David Hill, Deep Hill Media
Dozens of family-owned and independent buses are on the brink of collapse, thousands of drivers could lose their jobs and "Mum and Dad" operators stand to lose their homes as an impact of COVID-19 restrictions.

To highlight their plight and lobby for a government rescue package, desperate small bus company owners will rally outside NSW Parliament on Wednesday, September 16.

Spokesman Rod Williams, who owns Near or Far Bus & Coach in the Blue Mountains, said while smaller bus companies were grateful for government help such as JobKeeper, many aspects of the industry had been overlooked.

Forgotten victims of the COVID-19 fallout, small companies needed help with crippling costs like depot rental payments, vehicle registration, insurances, fuel costs and toll fees to remain viable and provide job security for employees.

They called on government to share transport work with all accredited operators in NSW rather than just large companies.

"This isn’t about pitting small companies against big companies, but we do need a road to recovery plan," Mr Williams said.

"Family-owned and independent bus companies are essential. We transported firies during the 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires. We’ve been there countless times when the trains or airlines go down. We transported your children on excursions, your guests to your wedding and took you safely home after your Christmas party.

"All of this is now at stake. Now we need help."

Pre-COVID, Near or Far had four coaches, a mini bus and a healthy turnover.

Within 24 hours on March 15-16, "everything was stripped from our calendar" as travel restrictions put the brakes on schools excursions, community group outings and sightseeing tours.

A second round of cancellations when the Victorian pandemic worsened gouged his business further.

Cyril Govender of Cyril’s Coach Tours at Narellan and Andy Leonello of Al Tours at Luddenham, who relied on the school transport market, haven’t "turned the wheel" of their vehicles since March.

"I don’t go to the letterbox anymore – the bills scare me," Mr Leonello said. 

He worried about the thousands of bus drivers, mechanics, cleaning and other ancillary staff employed by the bus industry.

"We’re not using our vehicles so we don’t need windscreens, tyres or technicians, which means we’re not bringing business to these people," he said.

Like Mr Williams, many owners had coaches inspected, registered and serviced, ready to step in to replace trains or other modes of transport if needed as per their Emergency Bussing Standing Order commitments.

They hoped that Transport for NSW would share with smaller companies work like the transfer of returned travellers from the airport to quarantine hotels.

Scheduled rail replacement on the Blue Mountains line until September 18 was another opportunity.

"All of my coaches will be sitting at home available," Mr Williams said. "I hope at least one of them will get a run alongside vehicles from outside the area."

Just one shift per week would be enough to keep a small business viable.

While owners were grateful for JobKeeper payments which ensured they could keep many staff, the allowance did not cover vehicle maintenance and running costs.

"It’s life and death now," Mr Williams said. "I’ve got guys ringing me in tears and threatening suicide, and that impacts my own mental health."

As the end of loan repayment holiday periods loom, bus owners who invested in their business before the pandemic, now face foreclosure on their vehicles because they are unable to meet the payments.

Mr Govender invested in a fleet upgrade pre-COVID, financing it with a loan. The bank has since demanded he make half payments, with full monthly payments expected from the end of September.

Pick of the Crop Coach Tours from Riverstone owner Jeff Spence sold five of his buses, with four registered "just in case". The registered and insured on each costs $12,000 a year.

Nazio Fillipi, who owns Australian Bus & Coach Service which operates Bargain Buyers and Legend Shopping Tours, took a job driving trucks to cover his rent and lease payments.

His company has operated well known shopping tours for more than 30 years. This year was the first season ever cancelled. That meant sporting clubs, schools and charities which usually shared its profits did not receive those funds.

Mr Spence was concerned that drivers would disappear into other sectors, leaving the bus industry short of qualified drivers when buses are eventually back on the road.

Meanwhile, drivers like Glenorie Coaches’ Michael Wood and Kelvin Weatherburn from Near or Far Bus & Coach worried there wouldn’t be jobs to return to in an industry they have dedicated their working lives to.

 
Ribbon Gum Lodge Ribbon Gum Lodge Ribbon Gum Lodge A Luxurious Mountain Lodge

Recent News

Blue Mountains Theatre and the Harbour Agency Present William Crighton
Blue Mountains Theatre and the Harbour Agency Present William Crighton
Raised where the fertile floodplains of the Riverina meet the Snowy Mountains...
Lawson and Katoomba Pools to Open for Spring/Summer Season
Lawson and Katoomba Pools to Open for Spring/Summer Season
Blue Mountains outdoor swimmers will soon be able to take advantage of...
DGR status Blue Mountains Men's and Women's Sheds
DGR status Blue Mountains Men's and Women's Sheds
Donors to Men's and Women's Sheds across Western Sydney will now able...
Western Sydney Businesses Left Off NBN Map
Western Sydney Businesses Left Off NBN Map
Not one single business between Parramatta and Bathurst will have access...
Local Land Services Helping People Escape to the Country
Local Land Services Helping People Escape to the Country
As more and more city people consider moving to regional areas prompte...

What's New

'Meet-and-Greet'
'Meet-and-Greet'
Campbell Rhododendron Gardens in Blackheath No Open Weeks this year (2020), but we will be at the Information Kiosk in the Gardens for 6 weeks, from 2nd October.
We're open FRI SAT SUN only at present
We're open FRI SAT SUN only at present
Silk's Brasserie See Menus page for continuing Cv19 restrictions info. Book online or phone us, we do return messages.
Little Wombat gallery now on-line only
Little Wombat gallery now on-line only
Little Wombat Gallery and Roslyn Elms Images www.roslynelmsimages.com.au
Indulge and relax in our Wilderness Spa
Indulge and relax in our Wilderness Spa
Eagle View Escape Nestled amongst the trees, enjoy nature and the tranqility whilst soaking in your Spa bath.
Availability during the school holidays!
Availability during the school holidays!
Kilbeggan Cottage Due to a cancellation we now have more available nights in the October school holidays but they won't last long!
Also in this Section

Have You Visited

Announcement
'Meet-and-Greet'No Open Weeks this year (2020), but we will be at the Information Kiosk in the Gardens for 6 weeks, from 2nd October.View Campbell Rhododendron Gardens in Blackheath »