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April 25 2019
By Tim Deakin

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

Private hire coach booking has become easier

Coachmarque members can take advantage of a system that greatly simplifies booking a ‘bread-and-butter’ journey for private hires thanks to work by the Global Passenger Network and Anderson Travel

New website tool allows bookings to be made and payment taken online

Many coach operators will have regular private hires, movements that they carry out multiple times per month. Those that are members of Coachmarque can benefit from a newly-developed website tool that will greatly streamline the act of booking such jobs.

It can be credited largely to Mark Anderson, MD of London-based Anderson Travel. He represents Coachmarque at the Global Passenger Network (GPN) and between them, they have facilitated the tool’s development based on member feedback.

In a nutshell, it offers customers various commonly-booked journeys via a drop-down menu. For Anderson Travel, that includes transfers between central London and Gatwick or Heathrow airports as examples.

Other criteria such as the number of passengers, the date and time, contact details and pick-up and drop-off locations are added. The tool then generates a quote based on parameters set by the operator. If it is acceptable, payment is taken there and then.

The customer benefits from a simple booking process that is akin to any of the mainstream travel websites. The operator sees a reduction in administration time, along with – arguably – a competitive advantage in some cases.

Simplifying hires

“Taking bookings for private hires and receiving payment entirely online has never been easy for coach operators. For day trips it is easy, but the rate for a hire is based on factors that include seasonality, distance and vehicle size,” says Mr Anderson.

But certain simple hires lend themselves to online booking. As Coachmarque is part of GPN, its members will be able to adopt the new system. Any regular job can be configured to appear in the drop-down list. “Pricing starts at €150 per month on a three-year commitment and it can be embedded into existing websites,” he adds.

Users set their own vehicle size parameters, which can extend from an eight-seat minibus to a double-decker coach. Journey details are taken from via Google Maps, and there is unlimited scope to configure whatever suits the operator. They also set rates.

“GPN members have been asking for something like this for a long time. People want to book and pay online; it already happens in all walks of life, especially in the travel sector,” says Mr Anderson.

A clever system

The system allows bookings to be made at short notice, but that could in theory cause difficulties during high season or when a large job is already in hand. Dates can thus be ‘blacked-out’ when required. There is further scope for the tool to be integrated with other systems to allow jobs to be allocated to drivers and vehicles automatically. That is in the pipeline. The current focus is on ensuring that the basics work correctly.

Tool is suitable for Anderson Travel’s simple hire such as airport transfers

“It’s one thing getting the technology right, but it’s equally important to ensure that search engine optimisation (SEO) is fine-tuned,” says Private Tours Manager Neil Donoghue.

“SEO is something new that we’ve recently started, but it was very important to ensure that the system was right before pushing it. If there was a loophole, it could be exploited. We have concentrated on preventing that.”

Testing and validation drew a criticism that potential hirers needed to fill in too many fields before receiving a quote. As a result, that process will be simplified to deliver it more easily.

“This is a learning curve for us and it is what testing is all about,” says Mr Anderson.

“We decided that any further developments will be done in a way where we don’t head in one direction only to have to come back and go in another, hence the compatibility with operators’ customer relationship management systems and scheduling software.”

Cutting admin time

The booking system will likely give those Coachmarque members that take it up a competitive advantage. The reduction in administration time consumed by relatively simple bookings should also be factored in to the monthly charge.

“When taking a booking in the traditional way, we estimate that on average a minimum of seven emails and one phone call are required to complete the process, regardless of how basic the job is,” says Mr Anderson. “For us, that’s a huge amount of resource. We have a reservation team of four, and they are always busy.

“There will still probably be a call or an email involved because coach hire is not as simple as booking a flight or a hotel. But we must make a start ofnmoving towards web-based bookings, and this is a decent fist of that.”

routeone comment

This is a tool that will be useful for many Coachmarque members. Not all of them; some will be engaged mainly on tour work or other duties that are more ad-hoc in nature. But primarily for those members based in urban areas, there will be value in it.

As an example, straightforward airport transfers form part of a trip that will include flight and, most likely, hotel reservations. The coach industry needs to be able to offer a booking engine that can deliver the same level of simplicity as those sectors already do.

If it is successfully integrated with other systems, the benefits will grow further. Driver and vehicle scheduling have become increasingly web-based and it is believed that most, if not all, Coachmarque members use such software.

The new booking system will not work for more complicated hires, but for simple and repetitive point-to-point jobs, it will deliver a welcome reduction in administration time.

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