STRAT­EGY

Castle­maine Bus Lines has just been ac­quired by one of the friendli­est and most ca­pa­ble op­er­a­tors in Cen­tral Vic­to­ria, Jamie Whit­more

ABC (Australia) - - CONTENTS - WORDS & PHO­TOS RAN­DALL JOHN­STON

We sit down for a chat with Whit­mores Bus Lines di­rec­tor Jamie Whit­more about his pur­chase of Castle­maine Bus Lines, a 20-bus op­er­a­tion in re­gional Vic­to­ria. He speaks about what this means for him and his team, and the plans in place to boost ser­vices in the area

The cur­rent di­rec­tor of Whit­mores Bus Lines says the pur­chase of this 20-bus op­er­a­tion in re­gional Vic­to­ria is a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion for him, and lo­cal res­i­dents who rely on its ser­vices will benet; once his plan to im­prove ser­vices in the area is com­plete.

Pre­dom­i­nantly a school bus op­er­a­tor, Whit­mores is a Cen­tral Vic­to­rian based third-gen­er­a­tion fam­ily busi­ness that also has route ser­vices that con­nect res­i­dents with their lo­cal train sta­tions and main shop­ping ar­eas.

Sit­u­ated in Boort, Whit­mores Bus Lines is owned and op­er­ated by the Whit­more fam­ily and grew from small be­gin­nings in the 1950s with a school bus con­tract. The or­gan­i­sa­tion con­ducts day tours and ex­tended char­ter tours on mod­ern coaches that are video equipped, air- con­di­tioned and have full bath­room fa­cil­i­ties.

In terms of route ser­vice, Castle­maine Bus Lines looks af­ter res­i­dents and com­muters in Castle­maine, Chew­ton, Camp­bell’s Creek, Mal­don and Bendigo. At about a one-and-a-half hours’ train ride from Mel­bourne’s Soth­ern Cross sta­tion, a great num­ber of lo­cal res­i­dents com­mute from Castle­maine sta­tion to Mel­bourne at the crack of dawn ev­ery day for work in the city.

Jamie Whit­more feels that im­prove­ments can be made to the bus ser­vices that cur­rently con­nect these com­muters with train ser­vices and says he will en­ter into dis­cus­sions with Pub­lic Trans­port Vic­to­ria ( PTV) within the next 12 months or so in an ef­fort to make this hap­pen.

“I de nitely think that the street net­work to the trains can be im­proved,” he says.

“They can be bet­ter aligned. The trains out here are packed in the morn­ings and evenings and we will be able to  nd a way to bet­ter tai­lor ser­vices to those who are com­mut­ing back and forth to Mel­bourne.

“There are a lot of new hous­ing de­vel­op­ments out here too that prob­a­bly aren’t quite there yet in terms of need­ing bus ser­vices, but will be very soon.”

THE CASTLE­MAINE DEAL

The ink dried on the deal on June 30 this year and the pre­vi­ous own­ers Sher­ryl and Ge­off Hans­ford are now re­tired.

“I think they just wanted the right per­son to take over, rather than just fo­cus­ing on the dol­lars,” Jamie says.

“I was re­ally hon­oured that they came to me  rst. It’s a big step for me but I know that I’m ready for it. I’ve been look­ing to ex­pand for a while; it was just a mat­ter of the right op­por­tu­nity com­ing up.”

Jamie started as a driver, and so he un­der­stands the chal­lenges that front­line staff can en­counter and he knows the im­por­tance of the team.

“The fact is, you can’t do any of this stuff with­out great peo­ple be­hind you and I’m lucky to have that sup­port. Your staff re­ally are the most im­por­tant as­set that you’ve got.”

Jamie’s mother Hazel Whit­more re­fused to sell the bus busi­ness, de­spite nu­mer­ous of­fers af­ter her hus­band Reg passed away back in 2002 and ─ see­ing how their son has now grown the busi­ness ─ she’s glad she didn’t sell up.

“It’s amaz­ing to see how far Jamie has come,” she says.

“We work re­ally well to­gether and I’ve just grad­u­ally stepped back and let him take the reins.

“He has the lead­er­ship skills to re­ally in­spire peo­ple.

“I am ab­so­lutely just so very proud of him.”

This mother and son team has

The fact is, you can’t do any of this stuff with­out great peo­ple be­hind you and I’m lucky to have that sup­port

worked side-by-side to grow the busi­ness and Hazel says she could see Jamie had vi­sion and the de­ter­mi­na­tion to have a good go at it.

“We come from very hum­ble be­gin­nings,” Hazel says.

“My hus­band was a very skilled me­chanic and a farmer loaned us the money to buy our  rst school bus in the early 1960s; the banks wouldn’t even look at us back then.

“With Jamie, I could see that he had vi­sion and I could see where he wanted to go with the busi­ness.

“I couldn’t have taken it to the level that he has, that’s for sure.

“When I used to get stressed in the busi­ness, he would say ‘deal with it and get over it’ ─ now that’s what I tell him,” she laughs.

Jamie says he will al­ways be grate­ful to his mother for the sup­port that she has pro­vided him with over the years, adding he could not have grown the busi­ness with­out her knowl­edge and guid­ance ─ par­tic­u­larly over the last 15 years.

Op­er­at­ing from three de­pots in the wider area al­ready ─ and with a su­perb rep­u­ta­tion among his peers in the in­dus­try as a hard worker and a man of in­tegrity ─ it seems that Jamie was a nat­u­ral choice as a buyer for Castle­maine Bus Lines.

With a eet of 20, in­clud­ing some very new BCI mod­els and an im­pres­sive work­shop that’s only a few years’ young; there’s noth­ing about the busi­ness he ac­quired that is tired.

The rest of the eet con­sists of King Long, Hino and Mercedes-Benz, to name a few in the de­pot. The de­pot it­self is very large and could com­fort­ably t a eet twice the size.

Jamie says he couldn’t have hoped to ac­quire a busi­ness that was bet­ter placed both ge­o­graph­i­cally and in terms of help­ing him to man­age the lo­gis­tics of his ex­ist­ing ser­vices that op­er­ate out of de­pots at Bendigo, Boort and Dingee. Whit­mores’ other hold­ings in­clude Lod­don Tran­sit and Strath Tran­sit.

This re­cent ac­qui­si­tion brings his num­ber of de­pots up to four. Whit­mores’ last pur­chase was Strath Tran­sit back in 2010, and Lod­don Tran­sit two years be­fore that which Jamie says seems like a life­time ago! Three of these de­pots are on the Swan Hill train line, so hav­ing ef cient and re­li­able train link­age bus ser­vices is a key part of the busi­ness.

The ac­qui­si­tion of Castle­maine Bus Lines has more than dou­bled his eet and Jamie has re­tained all staff em­ployed un­der the pre­vi­ous own­ers.

“I’ve known a lot of these staff for years, so that helps now that we are ac­tu­ally work­ing to­gether,” Jamie says.

They in­clude op­er­a­tions man­ager Mark Lon­don, ad­min­is­tra­tive co­or­di­na­tor Val Lon­don, and me­chan­ics Tony, Tris­tan and Zack. Seven full-time driv­ers and a num­ber of ca­sual staff rounds out the team at Castle­maine. Jamie is con dent that this is enough staff to be­gin with, but he will see if any new job ap­point­ments are needed in due course. He is keen to get Mark and his long-term op­er­a­tions man­ager Noel Wood­man to put their heads to­gether on ways to im­prove cur­rent ser­vices across all de­pots.

Castle­maine is ser­vic­ing the towns of Mal­don, Chew­ton, Taradale and Har­court. Some of these ar­eas are grow­ing rapidly with ma­jor hous­ing de­vel­op­ments un­der­way. Jamie is quite sure that new or signi cantly ex­tended ser­vices will be needed to ser­vice

these new res­i­dents within the next ve to 10 years.

Castle­maine Bus Lines has 15 schools in its ros­ter and lo­cal school en­rol­ments are grad­u­ally in­creas­ing, as more young fam­i­lies look to move out­side of Mel­bourne to raise their kids, for bet­ter hous­ing af­ford­abil­ity and more laid­back life­styles.

The com­pany orig­i­nally started as Bent­leys Mo­tors. Prior to Sher­ryl and Ge­off Hans­ford, the busi­ness was run by their par­ents Al­lan and Joyce Hans­ford who took over in 1968. Al­lan passed away in the late 1970s and Joyce ran it her­self from that point on­wards. She was re­port­edly a very good op­er­a­tor, knew where ev­ery penny was at all times and was al­ways right up to date with all the reg­u­la­tions.

It was still quite rare for a fe­male to be run­ning a large bus com­pany at that time.

A STRATE­GIC PLAN

Jamie has a num­ber of pri­or­i­ties and things that he would like to achieve grad­u­ally over the next 12 months or so.

“I’m re­ally rev­el­ling in the street bus work,” he says.

“We need to try and align our ser­vices with the train net­work.

It was still quite rare for a fe­male to be run­ning a large bus com­pany at that time

Hav­ing this de­pot gives us a lot more flex­i­bil­ity with char­ter and puts mul­ti­ple ve­hi­cles out on the road too

“It’s not just Mel­bourne, there are also a lot of peo­ple who live out here who work in and com­mute to Bendigo.

“That’s the  rst ma­jor chal­lenge that I have here at Castle­maine. I’m not sure if it can be done be­tween now and Christ­mas, but I’m go­ing to try.

“I sus­pect the old man might be look­ing down say­ing, ‘You id­iot!’,” said Jamie, who is clearly a hum­ble man with a wicked sense of hu­mour. Of course, in re­al­ity, his late fa­ther would be tremen­dously proud.

There are a lot of new hous­ing de­vel­op­ments in the wider area that are not be­ing ser­viced by route buses at the mo­ment, so that is some­thing that Jamie will turn his at­ten­tion to when the time comes. “I think the pop­u­la­tion is there now to jus­tify it, but its grow­ing very quickly. If you look at that whole cor­ri­dor from Sun­bury to Kyne­ton, it’s just boom­ing with the hous­ing and we are next in line.”

In the longer-term Jamie is hop­ing to get his Castle­maine driv­ers back into rail re­place­ment jobs and more char­ter work down the track, and some of the char­ter work has al­ready moved from op­er­at­ing out of the Boort de­pot to Castle­maine.

“Hav­ing this de­pot will also help us cut down on driver hours and means that we don’t have to travel quite as far for a lot of jobs,” Jamie says.

“It re­ally does give us a lot more ex­i­bil­ity in terms of the jobs that we are now able to do that would have been more of a chal­lenge pre­vi­ously. The lo­ca­tion of this de­pot is pretty much ideal strate­gi­cally for us.

“Hav­ing this de­pot gives us a lot more ex­i­bil­ity with char­ter and puts mul­ti­ple ve­hi­cles out on the road too. The guys here at Castle­maine were do­ing a lit­tle bit of char­ter but we have man­aged to crank-up the char­ter work that we are do­ing al­ready, and that was within the space of a few weeks.

“We had our busiest char­ter pe­riod ever re­cently com­ing out of the other de­pots and the guys at Castle­maine just slot­ted in and  lled all the gaps eas­ily. It was just amaz­ing to have that ad­di­tional sup­port.

“I will utilise some of the Castle­maine staff here at the other de­pots too, that way they can learn off each other and it’s al­ready start­ing to work very well.”

He is sim­i­larly de­ter­mined to make the rail con­nec­tion ser­vices a lot more use­ful to the lo­cal res­i­dents.

“The timetable is not quite right at the mo­ment,” says Jamie.

“With a bit of TLC, I reckon we can get se­ri­ous num­bers on those ser­vices, and all it should take is a few lit­tle tweaks.

“We’ve got great lo­cal knowl­edge with our staff in the de­pot it­self, so we will get ev­ery­one in­volved in the process and see how we might be able to do things just that lit­tle bit bet­ter.”

Bike racks will also be go­ing on town ser­vices in and around Castle­maine, fol­low­ing the suc­cess­ful roll­out of the scheme in Bendigo and sur­rounds.

While noth­ing changes in terms of the pas­sion and com­mit­ment that Jamie and his team show; hav­ing a ash new de­pot, 20 ex­tra buses and a new team of ex­pe­ri­enced heads can’t hurt one bit.

Above: The old Chew­ton Mo­tor Ser­vice in its hey­day

Op­po­site: Jamie Whit­more; The Castle­maine fleet is rel­a­tively new

Above: One of the near-new King Longs

Be­low: A bit of main­te­nance never goes astray

Op­po­site: The work­shop is also fairly new

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