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MiniPlus Article
March 27 2019
By Michaela Peacock

Michaela writes for routeone and Group Tourism & Travel magazines

Travel in Style with Pink Passenger

Running a successful business is enough of a challenge, so when a driver shortage throws a spanner in the works, one operator has a solution

When it comes to running a successful operation in any industry, there is no question that there will be hurdles and challenges to overcome.

routeone recently reported on one of the biggest problems facing the industry, and arguably its Achilles heel, driver shortage [routeone/Big Story/13 March].

However, there is one operator who, instead of letting the issue defeat the services that he offers, has found a practical solution that not only reduces the number of drivers needed, but adds a unique selling point to his firm: Meet Pink Passenger.

Recent history

Established in 2011 by Director Stephen Dunn, the Warrington-based minibus firm officially started trading with just one vehicle and one school contract for Warrington Council in January 2012.

“I was an HGV driver when I first started out in the transport industry in 1995,” he explains.

“I did that for six years before becoming a recruitment consultant for an employment agency, and I was there for 11 years.

“I was going to start my own agency, but I got so sick of working in an office. So I decided to try and save my money together and buy my first vehicle for £6,000.

“Then once I got the vehicle, it was just my colleague Joyce and I working every hour sent, getting ourselves known and it went from there.”

A piece of advice many operators share is to not spread yourself too thinly when first setting the foundation to any new business, which is advice Pink Passenger followed by steadily adding to its fleet yearly, meaning by 2017 it had six wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

As well as its increase in vehicles, the firm also saw a growth with four school contracts and 12 staff. Steve describes the business as “doing really well”.

Today the firm has five minibuses which are wheelchair accessible with Ratcliff underfloor hydraulic wheelchair lifts on the back. Most are 2009 Mercedes-Benz Sprinters with one 53-plate Volkswagen LT46 for a local school contract.

Unique selling point

As well as the five vehicles, Pink Passenger has what it describes as the “one and only” limo bus: An executive 16-seater minibus with side facing seats for hire in Warrington and the North West.

Bought in London, the bright pink minibus quickly caught Steve’s eye, and with the brand in mind, he knew it would be the perfect addition to the firm’s fleet.

But why buy a minibus in this style?

Steve explains that a lot of private operators had their school contracts ended. Pink Passenger needed to let some staff go – including a vital part of any coach and bus operation: Drivers.

Reflecting on that, he needed to find a solution to minimise the requirement of staff while still making money.

“That was when I decided to look into other avenues such as the limo bus,” Steve says.

“Because driver shortage is such a huge problem in the industry at the moment, it’s hard for us to get staff. A lot of time we’re turning work away because we haven’t got the drivers to do it, even though we’ve got the vehicles.

“We needed to find a way of getting more money from one driver and one vehicle – this has been achieved with the new minibus.

“In any other situation, we would have to send two standard minibuses along with two drivers to make what one driver and one limo bus can do. This has worked out really well for us in that respect.”

Limo bus

Safety is a high priority for Pink Passenger and it is prohibited to stand up when on the limo bus.

Signs are around the vehicle reminding passengers that they must remain seated at all times.

All vehicles are inspected every eight weeks by Scania over at Haydock Commercials. Steve says: “Although far from the cheapest, they definitely know their stuff and do an excellent job ensuring our OCRS score remains in the green.”

“We are constantly upgrading the limo bus,” says Steve. “We put in the illuminated floor and had the ceiling redone. We even had a TV installed in the back. We have done a lot of work to it ourselves just to bring it right up to date and make it more special.”

Future of the fleet

Pink Passenger, a company that provides a service for “everything and anything”, isn’t looking at replacing all of its fleet with these striking limo buses just yet. However, the vehicle concept has proven a very popular service option for the firm and is looking to be a great all-in-one vehicle.

“School proms are massive for us; we have around 40 in the diary for this year,” Steve says.

“We do a lot of marketing for those events over on Facebook and other various social media platforms.

“We really push the proms. We also have a hen party every weekend, birthdays and children’s parties.”

The firm also does school contracts with the remaining fleet and has a couple of local authority contracts now, one with Cheshire East Council and one with Warrington, as well as having worked with other councils and authorities.

Steve describes this kind of work as “your bread and butter”.

“They pay for the bills, and the wages.

“Then do private hire on top of that where you can fit it in, such as airport runs and weekend work. That stuff will help gain a profit; without that you are just covering your overheads.”

If it carries on as it is doing, Steve says the firm will definitely look at another limo bus.

“It’s such a big outlay initially, when you get one you can’t really afford to have it stood around. It was a big gamble for us really – make or break,” he adds.

“But I would want to be turning a lot of work down, before I could say to myself ‘yes, we definitely need another one because we’ve got the work for it.”

Minibuses forever?

When the vehicles get bigger, there’s no questioning that so do the bills. Expanding into full-size coaches comes with its challenges, which is why that option is not currently on the table for Pink Passenger.

“With the overheads of coaches and the challenges of finding affordable parking, our spaces we rent off the council just fit nicely for our fleet. To find parking would be just too hard,” Steve says.

“We would love to have a container to drive the vehicles inside, but it’s so expensive. I think it’s minibuses and few more limo buses in the future for us.”

Ultimately, the running of a successful passenger transport business counts on its drivers. Currently, it has five drivers, one of whom is retiring this year.

“He’s 74, so he needs a medical every year,” says Steve. “But it’s due to the Driver CPC, he just won’t go and sit in a classroom and be told what to do. It’s pushing drivers out of the industry.

“One thing I think the government should think about is considering those who have an HGV Class 1 licence to be able to drive a minibus or coach.

“We have a number of HGV drivers who would love to come and drive for us, but they don’t have their PCV. They’re driving articulated lorries and yet they can’t jump in and basically drive a van. The only difference is they’re carrying passengers instead of freight.”

Despite the challenges, Pink Passenger is an operator that goes above and beyond for its passengers to ensure a high-quality service is always achieved – even if it means having a restructure of the vehicles.

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