Bus operators to rally in plea for government help

Dozens of family-owned bus companies are on the brink of collapse due to coronavirus restrictions and will highlight their plight in a rally outside NSW Parliament on September 16.

Near or Far Bus and Coach owner Rod Williams (front) with concerned bus operators Kelvin Weatherburn, Noel Harris, Andy Leonello, Steve Winwood, Jeff Spence and Cyril Govender.

Near or Far Bus and Coach owner Rod Williams (front) with concerned bus operators Kelvin Weatherburn, Noel Harris, Andy Leonello, Steve Winwood, Jeff Spence and Cyril Govender.

Rod Williams, the owner of Lawson-based bus company Near or Far Bus and Coach, said they were losing thousands of dollars each week, as their four buses sat idle.

While grateful for government help through JobKeeper, he and other operators from western Sydney say many aspects of the industry have been overlooked and an ongoing government assistance package was necessary.

"There's no package that's available for long-distance and bus charter businesses to get us out of this," Mr Williams said.

Financial assistance to help cover registration fees, green slips, tolls and fuel would be ideal, he said. Without this, he expected many businesses would go to the wall. He anticipates his business could last another six months.

"It would be heartbreaking to pull out of the business but I have to make the right decision for my wife and children," Mr Williams said.

"We haven't ceased trading through our own doing."

They also want the state government to share its transport work, giving smaller bus operators the opportunity to provide buses for quarantine work moving returned travellers between Sydney airport and hotels.

A share of emergency bussing when there's track work on the Blue Mountains train line would also help, Mr Williams said.

Katoomba-based Fantastic Aussie Tours owner Jason Cronshaw said business has been 97 per cent down for almost a year now, after the bushfires, flood and now coronavirus. Heavily reliant on the international tourist market visiting Katoomba, he is looking to reinvent himself to keep the business afloat.

They've started a high tea and winery shuttle bus tour into the Megalong, are considering renting out their buses as mobile marketing billboards, and turning the red double-decker bus into a mobile restaurant and also using it for virtual travel excursions.

"The hop-on, hop-off bus was primarily international tourists. We have to convince Sydneysiders to get out of the car and on to the bus. It's a total flip of what we used to do," Mr Cronshaw said.

While he won't be attending the rally in Sydney, he backed Mr Williams' calls for an ongoing government assistance package and a share of the emergency bussing work.

"We have done emergency bussing for about 40 years and a couple of years ago they changed the tender process. We ticked the wrong box," Mr Cronshaw said.

"The state government want to deal with the least number of bus companies possible."

A spokeswoman for Transport for NSW said all operators on the emergency bussing panel were invited to participate in the expressions of interest process to provide airport bussing. One of the criteria included whether the coaches were located within around 40 minutes of Sydney Airport.

"Numerous responses were received from various operators meeting the necessary criteria and this work was equally distributed amongst them," she said.

There are three bus operators based in the Blue Mountains area who are on Transport for NSW's current emergency bussing panel who have been used for emergency bus operations. One of these is Near or Far Bus and Coach.

"Since July, Near or Far Coaches has been engaged at least three times to provide six buses for various emergency bussing operations around Lithgow, Bathurst, Mt Victoria, Springwood and Katoomba," the spokeswoman said.

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