This study used the bus incident data in Victoria, Australia to establish the relationship between operational characteristics and the safety performance of bus operators. A series of count models were investigated to account for methodological challenges, including excess zeros and panel data structure. The empirical results highlighted the different effects operational characteristics had on the risk and prevalence of bus incidents. Operators of smaller size, providing non-route services and operating in regional areas had a lower risk of having any reported incidents compared with larger route operators and operators in areas of higher accessibility. In cases where at least one incident had been reported, incident frequency was higher for operators with higher fleet total travel distance, older fleets and better roadworthy performance (this factor being counterintuitive). Findings from this study provide safety regulators with evidence-driven opportunities to enhance bus safety, including improving incident reporting practices, the establishment of a comprehensive database for heavy vehicle operators, and specific efforts targeted at older fleets.