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Transport Benevolent Fund
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October 18 2017
By Tim Deakin

Tim is Editor of routeone and has worked in both the coach and bus and haulage industries.

Verdict on scheduled coach services is delivered

A report has been produced by the European Community into scheduled coach services across the continent. How do the UK’s fare when compared to other countries’? Very well, is the positive verdict

UK scheduled coach services record higher satisfaction than EU average

A survey by the European Commission (EC) has delivered a positive verdict on the UK’s scheduled coach services – but they are still behind Europe’s best.

The in-depth Eurobarometer document assesses scheduled coach routes on a number of criteria. All 28 EU member states’ services are benchmarked against the median, and UK operators will find comfort in the fact that theirs are above average in every category.

It also looks at ways to increase the usage of services, with the EC recognising that “coaches are a flexible transport mode and, unlike trains and aircraft, they are broadly able to pick up and set down anywhere with minimal infrastructure provision.”

When the continent-wide response is considered, the overall results are encouraging. 64% of users rate services as good, although of that number, only 15% say that they are very good. 27% describe services as fair, while just 5% regard them as poor.

Things are even better in the UK, and that will give heart to companies that hope to grow the scheduled service market here.

Price consciousness is still key

The report demonstrates that the average coach user is highly price-conscious, undoubtedly much more so than rail or air passengers. That’s not surprising; the most dominant user age group is 15-24, with those around or above retirement age the second most numerous.

Additionally, travel to work or on business forms a small proportion of trips. The most common reasons are visiting family and friends, going on holiday, other leisure purposes and for a weekend break.

Leisure travellers are particularly price sensitive, and the research show that many passengers in that sector across the 28 EU nations often have trouble paying household bills; that may demonstrate that a considerable untapped market for low-fare services exists.

The devil in the details

Overall, UK passengers rate services very similarly to the EU average. 65% regard them as good, 22% see them as fair, and 5% view them as poor. 8% have no opinion. Positive impressions are strongest in the 15-24 age category.

Data is then broken down into individual categories. UK operators will be happy to see that they are consistently above the European average, in some cases considerably so, in all of them.

UK services do particularly well in terms of the feeling of safety at the stop and aboard the coach. 84% percent of respondents regard it as good, and only 1% perceive it as poor.

Results in seven categories vary widely across the EU’s 28 member states

In punctuality terms, UK services also do well. 74% of respondents replied that they are good in that regard, above the EU average of 69%.

Fares and the ease of purchasing tickets is another area where the UK is highly-rated. It comes fifth out of the 28 EU nations, with 76% of respondents rating them good; 65% is the continent-wide average. Only 4% of UK passengers view services as poor in this category.

The verdict on comfort is also encouraging. The European average response of good is 65%, but in the UK it is 73%. Notably, the proportion of users in Ireland that regard comfort as poor is 0%, although in the UK that figure is only 5%.

In availability of integrated ticketing, UK services score highly. 68% of respondents view performance in this sector as good against an EU average of 60%.

Frequency of services records identical figures, while for ease of connection with other modes, 69% of UK passengers view services as good versus an EU average of 59%.

Ireland’s are the ones to beat

The stand-out country in the Eurobarometer report is Ireland. Its scheduled coach services have the highest proportion of passengers that regard them as good in five of the seven categories, and in the other two sectors it finishes second and third respectively.

While they’re not on a par with Ireland, results demonstrate that the UK’s scheduled coach services are seen as doing well. Operating circumstances here are a lot tougher than in many other countries, and it is to operators’ credit that they record such high satisfaction levels.

If services are to continue to grow, they must be attractively-priced. Low fares are the most frequently mentioned reason for using coaches, although convenience also rates highly along with a lack of access to a car. Improved comfort and cleanliness is also mentioned by 10% of respondents as something that would make them more likely to use coaches.

The report also examines how to encourage non-users. More extensive networks and routes would help, but it’s destined to remain difficult. “Persuading the majority who never use coach services to do so remains a challenge,” it sums up.

routeone comment

Scheduled services are sometimes the forgotten arm of the UK coach industry, but the Eurobarometer report presents evidence that they shouldn’t be.

Satisfaction levels are universally above the EU average, and that’s all the more impressive considering the impact of congestion and high fuel costs on operators here.

Comfort is identified by a small number of respondents as an area for improvement, but coach manufacturers are making constant improvements in this regard and the advent of Caetano’s Levante III may help to drive an improvement in ratings.

What is clear is that price consciousness is a huge factor for scheduled coach passengers. If operators and technology providers can continue to find ways of reducing costs then the sector should have a buoyant future.

Download the report at

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