Looking back at Transdev Melbourne’s fleet maintenance crisis

In December 2018 it was announced that Melbourne bus operator Transdev would not have their contract renewed, thanks to years of poor performance since taking over a third of Melbourne’s bus services in 2013.

But it wasn’t just garden variety late running and chronically dirty buses that led to the company being dropped, but something that slipped under the radar of the Melbourne media – a lack of essential maintenance that resulted in so many buses becoming unroadworthy in September 2017 that other operators had to be called up to assist in the running on normal bus services.

Dysons bus 7964AO parked at the Transdev depot in Sunshine

It begins

The rumours of a roadworthy crisis at Transdev started swirling in the world of bus spotters (yes, it’s a thing!) but the first public sign came on 18 September 2017, when buses from Dyson Group started appearing on routes normally operated by Transdev Melbourne.

Dysons bus #707 8027AO on a route 237 service at Southern Cross Station

As did vehicles from Sita Buslines.

Sita bus #67 5477AO on a eastbound route 232 service at Collins and King Street


The first media outlet to pick up the story was the Manningham Leader on September 19 – the area is dependant on buses for public transport, so I guess that’s why they noticed.

More than 30 of Melbourne’s Transdev buses ordered off the road after failing roadworthy checks
Andrew Rogers
Manningham Leader

More than 30 Melbourne buses have been ordered off the streets after being deemed unroadworthy.

Transport Safety Victoria ordered an emergency safety inspection at bus contractor Transdev’s Doncaster and North Fitzroy depots on September 11 and 12 after routine tests by VicRoads found safety breaches with 33 buses.

In a staff bulletin seen by Leader News, Transdev managing director Warwick Horsley told employees the company would now carry out checks on its entire fleet of more than 500 buses.

“We will continue to work closely with TSV to assess the remainder of our fleet for any defects, as well as any issues with our maintenance procedures,” he said.

The company — which operates 30 per cent of Melbourne’s buses — was forced to withdraw 33 buses from service after they were found to have safety defects, but VicRoads has refused to publicly detail the findings.

Shaun Rodenburg, acting director of bus safety at TSV, said: “We are working with Transdev to make sure the immediate safety issues are effectively managed and their safety systems are sufficiently robust to ensure the ongoing safety of their bus services.”

Transport Safety Victoria has confirmed it will follow up with another safety audit once Transdev has fixed the faulty buses and has ordered a more frequent audit regimen to monitor the company’s vehicle maintenance.

Transdev is yet to respond to Leader’s questions relating to the safety defects and how routes and customers will be affected.

It took The Age a day later to pick up the story.

Melbourne’s second biggest bus operator has been ordered to take a dozen of its buses off the road due to serious defects that posed a danger to passengers.

A blitz by safety inspectors on two Transdev bus depots found 33 defective buses, with 12 in such poor condition they were ordered off the road for urgent repairs.

Victoria’s transport safety watchdog, Transport Safety Victoria, said it was the highest number of defective buses it had ever taken off the road in a blitz.

Transport Safety Victoria said it would increase its inspection regime of Transdev’s fleet of buses until it is satisfied the company’s maintenance standards are adequate.

It is currently inspecting about 40 buses a day for potential safety problems.

“We are working with Transdev to make sure the immediate safety issues are effectively managed and their safety systems are sufficiently robust to ensure the ongoing safety of their bus services,” said Shaun Rodenburg, the acting director of bus safety at Transport Safety Victoria.

Defects included engine and transmission faults, fluid and air leaks, loose fitting panels and suspension faults.

The high number of potentially dangerous faults earned a rebuke from Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan.

“This was not acceptable and we’re taking this situation very seriously, as the safety of people travelling on buses is our highest priority,” Ms Allan said.

Public Transport Victoria is reviewing the maintenance failures “so we understand the root cause of this issue and stop it from happening again”, Ms Allan said.

With Transport Safety Victoria issuing a media release on September 22.

In response to safety data analysis, Transport Safety Victoria (TSV) recently engaged with Vic Roads to run a series of safety inspections over two nights on Transdev buses.

As a result of this work:

  • TSV issued 12 Prohibition Notices to Transdev, “grounding” 12 buses which presented a risk to safety;
  • TSV issued one Improvement Notice to Transdev requiring it to assess its fleet for any more buses which may be unsafe and propose a remedial action plan for those buses before they be used to provide passenger services;
  • TSV issued one Improvement Notice to Transdev requiring it to review its Maintenance Management System (MMS) to find how and why it failed and how to ensure the failure cannot recur; and
  • TSV will conduct a targeted safety audit to test the effectiveness of Transdev’s remedial actions once they are complete. A more frequent audit regime will be applied until TSV is satisfied Transdev’s Maintenance Management System (MMS) is operating effectively.

“We are working with Transdev to make sure the immediate safety issues are effectively managed and their safety systems are sufficiently robust to ensure the ongoing safety of their bus services,” said Shaun Rodenburg, Acting Director Bus Safety at TSV.

And Public Transport Victoria adding a curt acknowledgement of the crisis on their website.

Replacement buses operating on some Transdev routes
Added: 22 September 2017

As a result of additional maintenance checks on Transdev buses, a number of their regular buses are currently out of service.

Transdev have made arrangements with other operators for replacement buses to supplement the fleet. These replacement buses may look different as they are branded by a different operator.

Customers will still need a valid myki to travel and should continue to touch on and touch off as normal on replacement buses. If a replacement bus does not have myki equipment, customers will be allowed to travel without touching on or touching off.

Real time information may not be available as some of the replacement buses are equipped with a different tracking system. Real time information on SmartBus displays, our PTV app and Next 5 on our website for these services will then display scheduled departure times.

We are working closely with Transdev to ensure that regularly scheduled services on Transdev routes are maintained and any disruptions are minimised.

The crisis grows

‘Foreign’ buses continued appearing at Transdev depots across Melbourne.

Transdev buses #431 7831AO and #958 8038AO beside Kastoria buses #47 6843AO and #19 1419AO at Transdev's Sunshine depot

As the workshops started to fill up with unroadworthy Transdev buses.

Transdev buses #437 and #365 in the Transdev workshops at Sunshine

By September 26 over a hundred Transdev buses were off the road, as Transport Safety Victoria inspectors made their way to each depot.

Ventura, who lost a number of bus routes to Transdev back in 2013, was one of the operators called up to help.

Ventura bus #1164 2513AO heads north on route 303 at Queen and Collins Street

As well as operators for further afield – like Mitchell Transit from Seymour.

Mitchell Transit bus #9 0709AO heads south on route 220 at Queen and Collins Street

CDC Ballarat.

CDC Ballarat bus #187 9068AO on route 220 at Sunshine station

And McHarry’s from Geelong.

McHarry's bus #12 1512AO on route 220 at Sunshine station

But the replacement buses left a lot to be desired – plenty of older high floor vehicles were called back up into frontline service, like this one from Kastoria Bus Lines.

Kastoria high floor bus #9 BS01ES returns to Sunshine depot

CDC Melbourne.

CDC Melbourne high floor bus #33 4927AO on a route 216 service at Lonsdale and William Street

And this coach from Nuline Charter.

Nuline Charter high floor bus #50 5860AO on route 216 at Sunshine station

By October 6 Transdev managing director Warwick Horsley confirmed that 70 replacement buses were now in service.

But it seems that even the replacement buses couldn’t avoid their death touch, as this broken down bus on hire to Transdev seems to suggest.

Tow truck ready to haul away broken down Broadmeadows Bus Lines bus #47 6843AO from Queen and Collins Street

And back to ‘normal’

By late October the use of replacements buses operating on Transdev routes had petered out, but the quality of the bus fleet still left a lot to be desired.

Grafitti covered back seats.

Up the back of yet another filthy grafitti covered Transdev bus

Broken next stop buttons.

The next stop pushbutton was broken, so Transdev removed it, and taped over the hole

Duct tape holding together the front fairings.

Transdev bus #938 7931AO held together with duct tape

Cracked front bumpers.

Damaged front bumper on Transdev bus #501 4988AO

But it took until August 2018 for Transport Safety Victoria to close out their side of the investigation.

Transdev improving safety systems
2 August 2018

Since the grounding of 12 buses in September 2017, Bus Safety Victoria has been working closely with Transdev to ensure the operator’s safety systems are sufficiently robust to ensure the ongoing safety of its bus services.

A targeted audit program of Transdev began earlier this year, focussing on maintenance requirements and safety culture, and audits will be conducted at all Transdev depots.

To date we are seeing that Transdev has implemented many changes to improve their safety systems and culture.

And it took until December 2018 for the full scale of the roadworthy crisis to be made public.

Transdev pulled nearly 140 buses off the road after they were found to be defective last last year, The Age has confirmed.

I guess it just goes to show how little Melbourne cares about or bus system – if 20% of our tram or train fleet was pulled out of service due to flawed maintenance, it would be front page news.

A Myki related footnote

Public Transport Victoria mentioned myki use on replacement buses in passing.

Customers will still need a valid myki to travel and should continue to touch on and touch off as normal on replacement buses. If a replacement bus does not have myki equipment, customers will be allowed to travel without touching on or touching off.

But something they didn’t mention was that none of the buses with myki readers fitted ever had them switched on – turns out the equipment onboard each bus is only configured with the routes run by a given depot, so buses from other operators were unable to ‘log in’ to the system as a Transdev route, leaving the readers as dead weight.

Further reading

The November-December 2017 edition of Australian Bus Panorama has an article by Craig Halsall covering the Transdev fleet crisis in further detail.

Liked it? Take a second to support Marcus Wong on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!
You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

14 Responses to “Looking back at Transdev Melbourne’s fleet maintenance crisis”

  1. […] Wong also has a post on Transdev today, focusing on recent problems with bus reliability and […]

  2. Martin Bennett says:

    Surely there cannot be any such thing as a “roadworthy crisis”. There might have been an unroadworthiness crisis with Melbourne’s buses, but the term “roadworthy crisis” is a nonsensical contradiction, because being roadworthy cannot be a crisis.

  3. Beren says:

    I bet half these failings are for small ridiculous things, not safety. I guess Transdev bid ultra low to win the bid but found no profit in these smart bus routes that become clogged with traffic.

    Same thing happens all the time in IT. Usually its Indian companies low bidding, then the tax payer always has to pay the gap. Meanwhile the government washes their hands even though they picked Transdev.

  4. Andrew says:

    It would be funny if it wasn’t so serious. Some items may have been minor, but it is not in anyone’s interest to put a bus off the road for minor defects.

  5. Malcolm says:

    And the Transdev contract was immediately cancelled due to failure to run a safe service. Of course not, it has been extended for another 6 months.

    “The company, which has only once met its contractual punctuality target in five years, will be granted an extra six months to January 2021 before the contract likely goes out to tender.”

  6. mich says:

    Every few years, a bus runs off the road somewhere, and there is one of these “blitzes” or “crackdowns” where the bus depot gets raided and they find 30 defective buses there.

    This is bogus. Shouldn’t these “inspectors”, whoever they are, be doing this job more regularly ?

    And for the bumper bar, I am not sure that the bumper bar contributes much to my safety as a bus passenger.

    If the bumper bar fell off a bus that I was on, I’d help the driver pick it up and put it inside the bus. And not wait an hour for another one to turn up.

  7. […] wrote about Transdev’s fleet maintenance issues last year, so the new buses are much […]

  8. […] 2017 marked the start of the Transdev fleet crisis, with over 140 Transdev buses taken out of service after they failed roadworthy […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *