Bus op­er­a­tions tend to be fam­ily busi­nesses, but usu­ally the big­ger they get the less fam­i­ly­ori­ented they be­come. Not so in the case of ma­jor metropoli­tan op­er­a­tor Bris­bane Bus Lines

Bus op­er­a­tions tend to be fam­ily busi­nesses, but usu­ally the big­ger they get, the less fam­ily ori­ented they be­come. Not so in the case of ma­jor metropoli­tan op­er­a­tor Bris­bane Bus Lines


De­spite hav­ing a large num­ber of school con­tracts and a busy char­ter sched­ule, Bris­bane Bus Lines (BBL) re­mains ded­i­cated to the fam­ily val­ues that founder Wil­liam (Bill) Mitchell in­stilled early on.

Man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Ian Mitchell’s daugh­ter, Lara Jane Mitchell, joined the fam­ily busi­ness in 2006, at  rst work­ing on char­ter book­ings and ac­counts be­fore be­com­ing a di­rec­tor in 2012.

Ian’s son, James Mitchell, also works within the com­pany as its eet pre­sen­ta­tion man­ager and yard su­per­vi­sor. The third sib­ling, An­naliese Mitchell, works as a civil en­gi­neer and is the only one of Ian’s chil­dren not work­ing within the busi­ness at this stage.

“We do pre­dom­i­nately gov­ern­ment-con­tracted school runs and char­tered school runs for var­i­ous pri­vate schools,” Lara Jane says.

“We also do a lot of char­ter work for var­i­ous schools.”

BBL ser­vices a num­ber of state schools in Bris­bane’s in­ner north­west­ern suburbs, draw­ing pa­tron­age from the Sam­ford Val­ley, Day­boro and Ocean View ar­eas.

It also has es­tab­lished re­la­tion­ships with a num­ber of gov­ern­ment schools out­side of Bris­bane, in places like Day­boro, which is about 40km away from its de­pot at Enog­gera.

“We have long-run­ning re­la­tion­ships with a num­ber of schools in­clud­ing Day­boro State School and Sam­ford State School,” Ian says.

Queens­land Gov­ern­ment school con­tracts have set terms of ve years, af­ter which time bus op­er­a­tors must en­gage in a ten­der process, with ap­pli­ca­tions from a range of bus op­er­a­tors be­ing con­sid­ered.

“We are recog­nised by the Queens­land Gov­ern­ment as a prime con­trac­tor for school ser­vices in our area,” Ian ex­plains.

“One of the prob­lems with the con­tract­ing system is you’re only ever con­tract­ing for ve to seven years,” Ian says. “Noth­ing is guar­an­teed and, in a way, that puts a limit on how much you can in­vest.”

The or­gan­i­sa­tion also ser­vices a num­ber of pri­vate schools and en­gages in char­ter ser­vices for them also.


BBL also does a lot of rail re­place­ment jobs for TransLink and it as­sisted in a ma­jor way when an al­leged train driver short­age meant Queens­land bus op­er­a­tors from far and wide were called upon to re­place rail ser­vices late last year.

“It was re­ally good to see our in­dus­try band to­gether to help pro­vide buses dur­ing the ma­jor clo­sure to get the Red­cliffe rail line hooked into the Sun­shine Coast line,” Lara Jane says.

“This was where we worked closely with Kan­ga­roo Bus Lines as they were the lead op­er­a­tor.

“We have also been help­ing with the train driver short­ages, but re­plac­ing ser­vices dur­ing the con­struc­tion of the Red­cliffe line was a large project where all the bus in­dus­try helped out.

“There were a heap of bus op­er­a­tors that helped out at that time from all around Queens­land – Mary­bor­ough, Bund­aberg and Toowoomba. Kan­ga­roo Bus Lines was the lead op­er­a­tor on that.”

“Bus op­er­a­tors are as­sist­ing Queens­land Rail by pro­vid­ing rail re­place­ment ser­vices sev­eral times ev­ery week,” Ian adds.

“What Queens­land Rail has done is it has cen­tralised rail re­place­ment ser­vices so that just one bus op­er­a­tor is re­spon­si­ble for or­gan­is­ing buses to re­place rail ser­vices when a par­tic­u­lar sec­tion of rail goes down.

“If that op­er­a­tor needs as­sis­tance from other bus op­er­a­tors then they are re­spon­si­ble for or­gan­is­ing that.

“It makes sense be­cause, that way, there’s no con­fu­sion in terms of who’s do­ing what from a lo­gis­ti­cal per­spec­tive.

“Luck­ily we have a very good per­son in the ofce here that has been do­ing all this and co­or­di­nat­ing rail re­place­ment buses in Bris­bane for the last 15 years, and there are very few sce­nar­ios that he hasn’t en­coun­tered in his time.

“We as­sign buses to help out TransLink al­most ev­ery day.”


The BBL de­pot is just a stone’s throw away from the Aus­tralian Army’s ‘Gal­lipoli’ Bar­racks. The bus op­er­a­tor’s re­la­tion­ship with the De­fence Force has never been stronger than it is to­day.

“We pro­vide a lot of ser­vices for them and it’s a re­la­tion­ship that we value very much,” Lara Jane says. “Army fam­i­lies have a very strong pres­ence out here, and we look af­ter them and do our best

to sup­port them and be a part of that com­mu­nity.

The base fa­cil­i­ties un­der­went a $770 mil­lion ex­pan­sion in 2014. There are more than 5600 de­fence force per­son­nel on site, mak­ing it one of the largest army bases in Aus­tralia.

The BBL eet now con­sists of about 85 ve­hi­cles: a healthy mix of full-size coaches, midi buses, and a num­ber of minibuses to help cater for those smaller char­ter jobs.

Some of the newer ad­di­tions to the eet in­clude Bustech/ Volvo com­bi­na­tions. Oth­ers in the eet in­clude 10 Au­to­bus/Sca­nia coaches, 10 BCI Class­mas­ters (2009), and four 8.5m Cum­min­spow­ered BCI midi buses. BBL also has 10 Bon­luck ar­tic­u­lated buses, 10 Bon­luck 12.5m buses, and about 10 Fuso Rosa minibuses.

“We had an age­ing eet up un­til quite re­cently,” Ian ex­plains.

“We have bought a lot of new buses over the last 10 years and thank­fully we are more or less over that hump now.”

BBL em­ploys about 50 full-time staff and be­tween 60 and 80 ca­sual staff mem­bers. The ad­min­is­tra­tive side alone has a team of 15. There are also seven me­chan­ics,

one auto- elec­tri­cian and one ap­pren­tice. The or­gan­i­sa­tion even has three bus and coach body builders, and has its own panel beat­ing work­shop.

“We do all our own re­pairs if we can and if it makes nan­cial sense for us to do so,” Lara Jane says.

“Hav­ing our own body shop gives us a great ad­van­tage be­cause we are not at the mercy of out­sourced panel com­pa­nies and wait­ing for our ve­hi­cles to come back into ser­vice when we need them.

“It also en­sures that our eet stays look­ing good be­cause we can do mi­nor re­pair jobs when­ever we need to.

“It’s difcult get­ting your bus back on the road in time; if you have to rely on an ex­ter­nal com­pany to do your re­pairs, even if you try to avoid book­ing it in dur­ing their busy times dur­ing school hol­i­days, that can be­come very frus­trat­ing.

“That’s the main rea­son why we choose to do it our­selves now.

“We have an auto elec­tri­cian and a me­chanic for air-con­di­tion­ing main­te­nance. He does a good job and has a great team be­hind him. We have a team mem­ber of the month award and that’s just a way of let­ting peo­ple know that their hard work is not go­ing un­no­ticed.”


Ian’s fa­ther, Bill Mitchell, started the busi­ness way back in 1944, just as World War II was end­ing and Aus­tralian troops were mak­ing their way home to Bris­bane.

“The  rst men­tion of him in gov­ern­ment records that we have found so far [1936] is an ap­pli­ca­tion to op­er­ate a par­cel ser­vice from Bris­bane via Ip­swich and along the Bris­bane Val­ley to Gayndah in the Bur­nett re­gion. Bill would have been only 15 years old,” Ian says.

“His real start in trans­port was in Toowoomba op­er­at­ing a cream run. He then went into part­ner­ship

Hav­ing our own body shop gives us a great ad­van­tage

with a bus and taxi com­pany in Toowoomba around 1945 or 1946.”

Bill bought the (Mount) Tam­borine Bus Ser­vice in the early 1950s and then moved to Bris­bane and had a de­pot in Mil­ton. Later he op­er­ated what was known as the Bulimba Gib­son Is­land Bus Ser­vice.

He started a com­pany known as Char­ter Coaches in the early 1960s. Bill also ran route ser­vices con­nect­ing emerg­ing res­i­den­tial ar­eas on the out­skirts of Bris­bane – where peo­ple were start­ing to buy houses – with the more es­tab­lished in­ner suburbs where peo­ple worked.

In 1963 he picked up three route ser­vice li­censes: Sam­ford to Bris­bane, Boonah to Bris­bane, and Day­boro via Petrie to Bris­bane.

In 1967, Bill sold Char­ter

Coaches on ven­dor  nance to Con­ti­nen­tal Coach­lines in or­der to con­cen­trate on his school/ur­ban route ser­vices in Bris­bane and around the Day­boro Area.

Con­ti­nen­tal Coach­lines went bust within the next two and a half years and Bill ended up with all the re­pos­sessed buses. He sold the Mount Tam­borine ser­vice and started build­ing the char­ter side of the busi­ness up once again.

“Bill ended up with a whole lot of re­pos­sessed buses and ob­vi­ously he needed some­thing to do with all th­ese buses and to put them to use, and the only way to do that quickly re­ally was to start do­ing a lot more char­ter work,” Ian ex­plains.

“The prob­lem with Bris­bane’s route ser­vices in the 1960s was a law was passed that al­lowed any coun­cil to come in and take over bus ser­vices in any area at any time, so there was no cer­tainty for route ser­vice op­er­a­tors.”

Out­side of Bris­bane’s bound­ary, school ser­vices were al­ways well pop­u­lated be­cause of the young fam­i­lies. Around the same time, in the mid-1970s, semi-ru­ral land in the nearby sub­urb of Sam­ford was start­ing to be sub- di­vided and new gov­ern­ment schools started to pop up to ac­com­mo­date the chil­dren of new res­i­dents.

BBL picked up the ma­jor­ity of the school ser­vice con­tracts for th­ese new schools, fur­ther bol­ster­ing the num­ber of ser­vices it pro­vided lo­cally.

It was in the late 1970s when Bill’s chil­dren started work­ing within the bus com­pany.

“My older brother, Jef­frey Mitchell, joined the busi­ness as an ap­pren­tice me­chanic, and I ofcially joined in the ofce in 1979,” Ian says. “The old man al­ways had an eye for sec­ond-hand buses, so that also kept us entertained.”

Tragedy struck the fam­ily when Bill died in 1984.

“Dad died about two weeks af­ter my wed­ding,” Ian re­veals. “We had, over time, four dif­fer­ent de­pots that were all lo­cated in the sub­urb of Mil­ton. We were still based at Mil­ton at that time in our fourth and nal de­pot in that area.

“It was all re­ally sud­den, but Jeff and I be­came di­rec­tors soon af­ter dad passed away.

“We had both worked in the com­pany for quite a while at that stage so we knew what we were do­ing, but you’d have to say we were thrust into it pretty sud­denly and un­ex­pect­edly.

“It took six months for us to de­cide that we needed to move into a de­pot that was closer to our ser­vice area and that’s when we moved from Mil­ton to Enog­gera.

“We moved in here in the Jan­uary 1985 school hol­i­days, so we’ve been here for the last 32 years,” he says.

“This site was per­fect for us be­cause it has pre­vi­ously been a de­pot for a san­i­ta­tion com­pany. As a re­sult it al­ready had ev­ery­thing we needed: fuel fa­cil­i­ties, a work­shop, a wash bay, and ad­min build­ing. Ev­ery­thing we have now was ba­si­cally al­ready in place.”

“We are sit­ting on nearly four acres here, so we have plenty of room,” Lara Jane says. “Things are start­ing to get a bit tighter now with the num­ber of buses that we have but it has served us well.

“We are eight kilo­me­tres from the CBD, close to the air­port and all the ma­jor high­ways head­ing north and south, so it’s an ideal lo­ca­tion.”

Ian and Jeff worked in part­ner­ship for 22 years un­til Jeff re­tired in 2006 and Ian bought out his share of the busi­ness.


Nowa­days, about 75 per cent of the com­pany’s an­nual rev­enue comes from char­ter work and the rest is from the school con­tracts or con­tracted char­ter.

“Char­ter is a hard slog,” Lara Jane

We are sit­ting on nearly four acres here, so we have plenty of room

re­veals. “It continues to be very com­pet­i­tive here in Bris­bane.”

On the char­ter side, BBL’s long-run­ning as­so­ci­a­tion with the Aus­tralian De­fence Force is bear­ing fruit.

“We do travel fur­ther for de­fence force jobs, but it cer­tainly helps hav­ing them right on our doorstep.

“We did char­ter tours for two Amer­i­can naval ships last year,” Lara Jane says. “Those ships carry a lot of peo­ple, so that was a fairly big job and some­thing out of the or­di­nary.”

De­spite the chal­lenges it has faced over the years, Bris­bane Bus Lines has re­mained rock solid, fam­ily –ori­ented and has adapted to changes in the in­dus­try time and time again.

Above: The Bris­bane Bus Lines fleet

Be­low: Bris­bane Bus Lines ad­min­is­tra­tive team mem­bers Mark Town, Wayne Simkin, Leith Gos­ney, Shan­non Rowe and Steve Jack­son

Mid­dle: The de­pot’s walls are cov­ered in his­tory

Above: Lara Jane and James Mitchell Be­low: A few of the BBL fleet

Above: The work­shop team keep the fleet in tip-top shape

Be­low: There’s plenty of room to hose them down Op­po­site page: An ar­tic­u­lated bus; The ded­i­cated univer­sity ser­vice

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