Family-owned charter, tour bus operators rally government for road to recovery plan

"We need to come out the other side": Managing director of Good Az Gold Tours and Transfers at Oakville, Ryan Thompson, is calling for government to commit to a road to recovery plan for small bus operators to help them survive the COVID downturn. Picture: Geoff Jones

Over 50 family-owned charter and tour bus operators will descend on Parliament House, Sydney today (Wednesday, September 16), to rally the State and Federal Governments for a road to recovery plan and relief for their businesses, which are hurting due to the combined effects of the drought, bushfires and now COVID-19.

Managing director of Good Az Gold Tours and Transfers at Oakville, Ryan Thompson, said his business had been forced to close down one of its trading companies, deregister and sell-off half its fleet of 22 vehicles, and close down one of its depots after coronavirus restrictions were brought in earlier this year.

"Social distancing restrictions affected the long-distance tour and charter operators overnight. In two days we had half our work cancelled," Mr Thompson said.

He said the biggest issue was that the governments were "lumping" family-owned businesses with larger route and school operators.

"They think we're part of them and still operating but we're not. We're mums and dads and family businesses. We don't have the luxury of having the larger government contracts to keep us running."

Good Az Gold is part of a group called Australian Family Owned Bus Companies, the members of which are standing up to show how their businesses are deeply affected by COVID and the lack of government support.

Today, they will ask the governments for an ongoing support package to keep them going; a share of government work; help with ongoing fees, costs, bills and repayments; and a clear road to recovery plan.

"We need to know at what stages things will be opened back up again, because from a business-owner point-of-view we can't plan, we're at the whim of the government," Mr Thompson said.

A share of the work: Good Az Gold Tours and Transfers, along with other family-owned bus companies, are asking for government to share transport work with all accredited operators in NSW - not just the bigger ones. Picture: Geoff Jones

A share of the work: Good Az Gold Tours and Transfers, along with other family-owned bus companies, are asking for government to share transport work with all accredited operators in NSW - not just the bigger ones. Picture: Geoff Jones

"What we really need is help from State and Federal Governments with depot costs, insurance relief, registration relief - we're still having to do all the compliance things with Transport for NSW for vehicles that aren't operating, we still have to get them checked over twice a year, still have to do preventative papers for them ... we're still paying out but there's no business coming in."

Mr Thompson said small bus companies like his - which has been around for 18 years - "need to be around at the end of this".

Australian Family Owned Bus Companies spokesperson, 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.

He 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."

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