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February 27 2019
By Jessica Barton

Jessica writes for routeone, Group Tourism & Travel, and is the Editor of Coach Drivers Club News

Confronting Brexit and ULEZ concerns

With looming Brexit and Ultra Low Emission Zone deadlines, the Coach Tourism Association’s conference was the perfect opportunity to discuss hot topics facing the coach industry

Brexit and London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ): Arguably the two most topical issues affecting the coach industry today – and two of the topics of discussion at the Coach Tourism Association’s (CTA) Conference on Monday (25 February).

Held at the Hallmark Hotel in Cambridge, the conference was part of a two-day event that brought together coach tourism professionals, offering a chance to network, discuss key issues affecting the sector and find out what Cambridge and the surrounding area has to offer coach groups.

Brexit update

Tom Jenkins, CEO of the European Tour Operators’ Association (ETOA), provided delegates with an all-important Brexit update, including the possible outcomes of the situation as it stands today.

Tom Jenkins, CEO of ETOA provided a Brexit update

These are:

  • The deal gets passed
  • A no-deal Brexit
  • Article 50 gets delayed (either by three months or 21 months)
  • Another vote.

Tom explains that if the deal gets passed next month, there will be a further two years of “frantic negotiations”.

“There’s a withdrawal transition period leading up to January 2021. What you’ve witnessed up until now is just an argument about how you walk up to the door, not what happens when you’re outside that door,” he says.

Tom also explains that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, whether the UK will stay within the EU VAT regime remains uncertain.

Outside of the EU there is no Tour Operators Margin Scheme (TOMS), which means non-EU tour operators, selling travel services which take place in the EU, would be obliged to register for VAT in each EU member state in which those travel services take place.

This might also affect coach operators as they may have multiple VAT returns, he adds.

Delaying Article 50 is the only possible option, Tom says. The UK might ask for a three-month extension, but the likely offer will be a delay of 21 months, which may come with conditions, such as another vote or general election.

Tourism sustainability

Tom also highlighted some of the challenges facing the industry in terms of sustainability and ‘overtourism’, with tourism being deemed as particularly damaging to air quality and a non-essential.

In terms of environmental impact, coaches appear to have been singled out as one of the main culprits. Rome, with its recent ban on coach movement in the city, was provided as an example.

The move was made to reduce congestion and pollution in the city, but this does the opposite, says Tom, as it encourages more cars into the centre.

Here in the UK, operators are also being affected by such restrictions with London’s ULEZ coming into force on 8 April and other Clean Air Zones either being implemented or planned in other cities across the UK.

Expert panel

The effects such zones are having on coach operators was the topic of discussion of the conference’s ‘Question Time’ panel.

Andy Warrender, Dave Parry, Jason Edwards and Robert Shaw 

Made up of Dave Parry, Director of Parrys International Tours; Jason Edwards, Director of Edwards Coaches; Robert Shaw, Director of Harry Shaw; and CPT’s Coaching Manager Andy Warrender, each shared their views on the issue and the floor was opened for delegates to ask them questions.

The general consensus from each of the operators is that the coach industry is being singled out.

Says Jason: “Coaches are treated as the lowest of the low. We bring a lot of business to destinations in both low and high seasons, our drivers are highly trained and our vehicles are spot on. Therefore, a lot of money is spent, and people work their socks off to keep the wheels turning and this is how we are treated.”

Dave agrees, adding that: “Coaches are being picked on because as an industry we are far too quiet. The coach sector is underrepresented and not on a level playing field with other transport modes.”

Another reason is because coaches get a lot of attention as they are clearly visible around the capital. However, Andy says that it’s unfair to say that the coach industry has been singled out.

“Coaches may only account for 3% of NOx emissions in London, but road transport has many more opportunities to do something about it, as opposed to trains, for example,” he says.

What would they do?

Operators have a few options to choose from: Buy new vehicles, retrofit existing vehicles, pay the daily charge or avoid London altogether.

What advice would the panel give to smaller operators?

“Every business will be in a different situation,” says Andy. “If an operator only has six tours that spend roughly 15 days in London, that’s 15 daily charges which will cost £1,500. This doesn’t justify spending £18,000 on upgrading a vehicle.”

For Dave, paying the daily charge makes more sense.

“In comparison to other countries, such as Paris, and other costs operators face, the daily charge is quite cheap, so I would just pay the £100,” he says.

With signs that operators may eventually be able to access grant funding towards retrofitting older vehicles [routeone/Big Story/20 February], Robert’s advice would be to buy new coaches.

“The simple solution would be to sell older coaches and get newer ones. Operators could wait for funding on certain vehicles to help finance that, similar to the Bus Service Operators Grant (BSOG) system,” he says.

The CTA Conference continued to highlight the message that despite the challenges facing the coach industry, including Brexit and LEZs, working together to get the sector’s voice heard is key and that despite these challenges, the industry will continue to, as ever, come out on top.

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