Tas­ma­nian op­er­a­tors are mak­ing the most out of the tourism boom and run­ning ser­vices in one of the state’s most pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tions doesn’t hurt one bit

Tas­ma­nian op­er­a­tors are mak­ing the most out of the tourism boom and run­ning ser­vices in one of the state’s most pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tions doesn’t hurt one bit

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

On a clear early spring af­ter­noon, ABC met up with Calow’s Coaches di­rec­tor Dar­ren Calow to talk about the ins and outs of his op­er­a­tion and pur­chase of for­mer Coles Bay bus ser­vice provider Bicheno Coaches a few years back.

While it’s been al­most three years since he picked up the pop­u­lar Coles Bay ser­vice, the move has un­doubt­edly helped put his or­gan­i­sa­tion in a bet­ter po­si­tion strate­gi­cally.

“Bicheno Coaches was run by Gill Roberts, he was look­ing to re­tire so he came to us rst to see if we wanted to buy his busi­ness,” Calow ex­plains. “That’s when we took over the Bicheno to Coles Bay bus ser­vice and we merged – or at least con­nected – that with the all the other ser­vices we al­ready had head­ing north to­wards Launce­s­ton and south to­wards Ho­bart, and it has all worked re­ally well.”

Calow got into the bus in­dus­try by a chance en­counter with an op­er­a­tor he lived next door to many years ago.

“I bought a re­lo­ca­tor home in the early 2000s and had it placed on a block of land in Sca­man­der, which is a small town at the mouth of the Sca­man­der River be­tween St He­lens and St Marys on the north-east coast,” he says. “My neigh­bour at the time ran the lo­cal bus ser­vice, and I re­mem­ber him of­fer­ing to sell it to me quite soon after I moved in but I didn’t re­ally have any in­ter­est ini­tially.” Soon enough the of­fer came up again. “I used to drive a log truck and did some low loader work in the log­ging in­dus­try and re­mem­ber think­ing: what do I know about run­ning a bus ser­vice?

“I ended up buy­ing it any­way in 2003, so it all started with just the one run from St He­lens through to Launce­s­ton. The pre­vi­ous owner re­tired and has since passed away.

“I then pur­chased a school run from Sca­man­der to St He­lens about 14 years ago. That’s when we re­ally started chas­ing up the school work, which we weren’t do­ing any of ini­tially.

“Our rst schools where at St Marys and St He­lens, but now we have ex­panded and ser­vice a heap of schools now.”

Calow has three sons – an 11-year-old at­tend­ing St He­lens Dis­trict High and twins who are study­ing at col­lege in Launce­s­ton. While they grew up sur­rounded by the bus busi­ness, the lat­ter are now off pur­su­ing their own endeavours.

LO­CA­TION IS EV­ERY­THING

Those who have never vis­ited the area in and around Fr­eycinet Na­tional Park may be won­der­ing what all the fuss is about, but for those that have, the at­trac­tion for tourists is ob­vi­ous.

“Coles Bay is go­ing bal­lis­tic and this sum­mer will be one of our big­ger ones,”

Calow says. “We are get­ting calls from lots of cor­po­rate groups look­ing to have their end-of-year break func­tions around here.”

“Our char­ter work is boom­ing. We have also started do­ing a lot of work for com­pa­nies on the main­land who are plan­ning trips to Tas­ma­nia.”

Calow also runs a ser­vice from St He­lens, where his main de­port is lo­cated, and Bicheno on the east coast to Launce­s­ton at the top of the is­land.

Coles Bay is the near­est town and the gate­way to the world-fa­mous Fr­eycinet Na­tional Park, which is home to some fab­u­lously scenic walks, a plethora of wildlife, Wine­glass Bay, the Cape Tourville Light­house look­out and the unique red rocky out­crops known as The Haz­ards. St He­lens also had the Bay of Fires voted the Best Beach in the World in 2015.

NAT­U­RAL BEAUTY

The last 10 years has seen its global pop­u­lar­ity boom as avid so­cial me­dia shar­ers spread the word on Fr­eycinet far and wide.

Calow has come a long way since 2003, and now has a eet of 30 ve­hi­cles rep­re­sent­ing a healthy mix of BCI Cruiser coaches and a new Golden Dragon GD70 minibus which was de­liv­ered ear­lier this year.

He’s also just pur­chased a 2010 Dae­woo with 80,000 kilo­me­tres on the clock, which he and one of his driv­ers is trav­el­ling all the way to Perth to col­lect, and that will be used on one of his school runs.

The ad­di­tion of th­ese two ve­hi­cles just this year alone gives some in­di­ca­tion of the growth his com­pany is cur­rently un­der­go­ing.

Hav­ing said that, Calow is not in a po­si­tion to make any big ve­hi­cle pur­chas­ing de­ci­sions un­til the Tas­ma­nian ru­ral and re­gional school and route ser­vice con­tracts are nalised next year.

“I have been par­tial to BCI buses lately,” he says. “But I’m not pre­pared to in­vest too much un­til we know what’s hap­pen­ing with our con­tracts.

“We prob­a­bly do need to up­grade about 50 per cent of the eet.”

“My BCI cruiser has lasted well, it’s about nine years old and I’ve just been get­ting the trans­mis­sion in it  xed now.”

Calow’s has 27 driv­ers – some are full-timers but most are part time. It has two work­shops, one at St Marys and larger one at St He­lens, which also do full panel and paint work.

“I’ve been lucky to have some re­ally re­li­able long-term staff,” Calow re­veals. “John Marsh, for ex­am­ple, he’s re­tired now but he was with me since day one, mostly as a driver. My op­er­a­tions su­per­vi­sor Tyson Blist is ab­so­lutely ded­i­cated to his job and a fan­tas­tic guy to have on board. He keeps the ve­hi­cles nice and clean and is pas­sion­ate about what he does.”

Calow now has three de­pots: the orig­i­nal one at St Marys; a sec­ond at St He­lens; and a mod­est area where he parks his buses at in Launce­s­ton, which gives him added ex­i­bil­ity.

“We will be ex­pand­ing the de­pot at St He­lens,” he says. “I re­cently bought some land just a few min­utes’ walk from where my ex­ist­ing de­pot is. I was run­ning out of space and this gives me room for prob­a­bly an­other 20 buses.

“There’s not a lot of land left in the in­dus­trial es­tate at St He­lens so I was re­ally pleased to se­cure that.”

Calow loves be­ing a part of the Tas­ma­nian bus in­dus­try and says the co-op­er­a­tion be­tween ‘ri­val’ bus com­pa­nies is un­real.

He even won the Achiever of the Year award in recog­ni­tion of his con­tri­bu­tion to the in­dus­try cour­tesy of TasBus a few years back.

“We all work well to­gether and give each other work and that’s some­thing that you don’t see of­ten in a lot of other in­dus­tries any­way,” he says.

In terms of rev­enue, Calow reck­ons his busi­ness is 80 per cent school runs and 20 per cent char­ter, but he sees plenty of op­por­tu­nity for growth in both sec­tors.

In the mean­time, the busy sum­mer sea­son is upon him, which he says is start­ing to hit its straps but will nor­mally peak be­tween now and late Jan­uary.

Clock­wise from

left: The Golden Dragon GD70; Di­rec­tor Dar­ren Calow; The Golden Dragon in­te­rior; There’s noth­ing like hav­ing a new bus to drive

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