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March 14 2017
By Tim Deakin

Tim is the Senior Journalist at routeONE magazine is also the title’s chief test driver, with considerable vehicle knowledge

FORS: Coming to a coach or bus near you soon

There is a view that the Fleet Operators Recognition Scheme (FORS) applies solely to LGVs. That’s not the case, and it will become relevant to coaches and buses during 2017, the body has announced

FORS was initially funded by TfL but is increasingly relevant across the UK

Mention the Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS) to most coach and bus operators and they will dismiss it as concerning only LGV operators.

But they are wrong to do so, says the organisation. FORS has big plans to expand into the passenger-carrying sector and, by 2018, it plans to be “well established” among coach and bus operators, says Operations Director Anne Johnson.

Operators are also wrong to dismiss FORS as a London-centric scheme, she adds. Members are drawn from all four Home Nations, and two-thirds of those that are signed up are based outside the M25.

But why should the coach and bus industry, which already has a number of quality assurance schemes for operators to choose from, be interested in FORS?

It’s about showing that they are best in class, it says. FORS’ purpose is “to raise the level of quality within fleet operations, and to demonstrate which operators are achieving the standard.” Doing so, it claims, will open more doors to more business.

For coaches and for buses

“In 2017 we will be focusing on the PCV sector. We are already working with a number of industry bodies to roll out FORS, including the Guild of British Coach Operators,” says Mrs Johnson.

“By 2018 we are confident that coach and bus will be an established part of FORS. Training packages that we offer will be tailored to PCV operators.”

One of FORS’ aims is to communicate that membership for operators in the passenger carrying sector is prestigious. Membership is a mark of best practice that is recognised nationwide, and not just within the capital, says Mrs Johnson.

The three-tier scheme acts as a benchmark of quality similar to other audited kite marks, and operators that achieve bronze, silver or gold standard can demonstrate to customers that they have independently-approved and -audited systems relating to drivers, management, operations and vehicles.

The FORS logo, it continues, allows potential customers to distinguish accredited operators from others. That has proved valuable to coach operators that are members of other kite mark schemes that identify them as being above the norm.

Feel the FORS

Detailed information on how FORS will translate to coach and bus operators is awaited, but there are indications that many areas of the scheme will be tailored specifically to suit passenger-carrying applications.

Already, two representations of the Confederation of Passenger Transport sit on the FORS Committee.

What is established is that FORS revolves around best practice, and that will not change as it is rolled out to coaches and buses. FORS has three main focuses: Efficiency, the environment and safety.

“Safety is the big one and we have a number of training tools that allow us to work with members to improve the safety of their operation,” says Mrs Johnson. In particular, this relates to vulnerable road users.

Growing bigger

FORS currently has 4,500 members, a small number of which are PCV operators. The majority are at Bronze level, with only 185 having progressed to Gold accreditation.

The latter is not an easy thing to achieve, says Mrs Johnson, but doing so demonstrates that the operator observes the highest standards in relation to efficiency, environmental considerations and safety.

Advancing from Bronze level is not mandatory, but requirements for Silver accreditation are “aimed at drastically improving the overall safety of operators’ vehicles,” says FORS literature.

Gold level requirements include the operator promoting FORS and demonstrating its improvements over Silver and Bronze levels. Both Silver and Gold operators must provide an annual submission of data to a certification body for review.

The benefits…

A lot of work is required to become a FORS member, but the benefits are much more numerous than receiving stickers for your vehicles and being able to boast to customers of your accreditation.

FORS members have access to advice, guidance and campaign toolkits, and they can make use of a performance analysis tool. Additionally, e-learning modules are available and regular news bulletins are issued.

Analysis of existing FORS members’ records is interesting. According to data provided by the scheme, they are 76% less likely to be involved in licence or insurance offences; 64% less likely to be involved in Most Serious Infringement offences; and 50% less likely to be involved in drivers’ hours offences.

More detail on how FORS will be expanded to the coach and bus sector is expected as 2017 progresses.

routeone comment

Some will dismiss FORS for another gimmick in an industry that has its fair share of rules and regulations. There already exist a number of best practice and benchmark schemes, so that’s understandable.

But as seen among freight operators – and particularly in London’s construction sector – FORS has become an accreditation worth having. In some situations, vehicles are not permitted on site without it.

It remains to be seen whether FORS will become a must-have in the coach and bus industry. But there can be no doubt that, while membership is not easy to achieve, it is an exceptionally thorough scheme.

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