A coach bible for London parking

TfL and the CPT launched the 2016 London coach parking map last week, and in it, drivers are given all the information they need about where they can stop legally in the capital. But it still doesn’t solve the huge coach parking problem in London. Tim Deakin explains

It’s getting no easier to run coaches in London, say CPT and TfL

Small, hard-fought wins in central London’s coach parking provision are likely to be the best that operators can hope for in the future. That was the message at the 2016 London coach parking map launch, held last Thursday (14 April).

While the comprehensive map – produced by Transport for London (TfL) in cooperation with the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT), London Councils and the London Tourist Coach Operators Association (LTCOA) – was the centrepiece of the event, TfL also used the opportunity to showcase some of the work it is currently doing to improve coach parking in the capital.

These initiatives include an app to inform drivers in real time of availability of bays in Kingsway, Park Lane and on Victoria Embankment; expanding mixed-use bays; and upping the time limit at short-stay parking from 20 minutes to an hour.

All are useful measures, and implementation of additional mixed-use bays is advocated by the CPT. Mixed-use bays are typically available for goods loading and unloading purposes until mid to late morning, after which they become coach parking.

It’s difficult…

Regardless of these small wins, it will come as little surprise that securing any improvement is difficult and fraught with red tape, but thanks to one idea still being finalised by the CPT there may be at least some respite on the horizon.

Occupancy and availability in the Kingsway bays is on an app

“If you make your living on London’s road network and need to stop by the kerb, conditions are challenging,” accepts Ben Plowden, TfL’s Director of Surface Strategy.

Mr Plowden realises that things are getting little easier for operators and drivers, but adds that the map is one part of the work it is doing to help. “We are conscious that some things are seen as happening too slowly, but we are continuing to press for more improvements.”

It is to TfL’s credit that – unlike a number of London Boroughs – it is actually making efforts to make thing better, however small the results may be. routeONE is aware of at least one borough that flatly refuses to discuss coach parking, except to say that it would like little more than to see the back of those bays already present.

“We are determined to work with the CPT and LTCOA to help make the road network as easy to use for coaches as possible, but it is difficult,” says Mr Plowden, who describes changes as “incremental” and adds that work is on-going.

He points to London’s huge rate of population growth, and the amount of building work and major utilities replacement, as reasons why things are getting little easier for coaches. But to TfL’s further credit, it has produced a map that is comprehensive, well-designed and easy to use.

The printed word

The map details all coach parking in greater London. Its listings are divided into individual boroughs, and include on- and off-street bays (both short- and long-stay), and spaces provided at or near attractions such at the British Museum and London Zoo.

The map details all set-down and pick-up points as well as bays

Where applicable, details of pricing and how to pay are present, as are hours of operation and other useful information.

Also included is a lot of important general detail that even seasoned coach drivers will find useful. It extends to arrangements at attractions such as The O2 and Buckingham Palace, and coach activity around the latter is a hot topic at the moment.

Streets around Buckingham Palace are currently seeing significant misbehaviour among a minority of drivers to the extent that Westminster City Council may yet consider a total ban of coaches there (routeONE, Big Story, 6 April), so it’s important that your drivers pay attention to what the map says about what is required in the vicinity.

Red routes, the congestion charge and penalty charge notices are among the other facts of London coaching life detailed in the publication.

“This map really is the ‘parking bible’ for coach drivers in London,” says CPT Chief Executive Simon Posner. “Land and road space are at a higher premium than ever, and that puts pressure on operators. We are very appreciative of TfL supporting our operations, and we look forward to working together to improve coach parking facilities even more.”

Just in time

At the risk of repeating what has been written in routeONE already, the overriding message from TfL and the CPT is that coach parking in London has changed, and operators have little alternative other than to change with it.

TfL makes one thing clear: The days of coach drivers parking where they wished, for as long as they wished, are long gone, and they’re not coming back.

It would be easy for the organisation to issue that diktat and walk away, but by publishing a coach parking map, it has eased the very real burden on drivers searching for a spot to pull over while often keeping a worried eye on their driving time.

“The new map is being delivered in time to help during the busiest time of the year for the coach and tourism industry. We want to make it easier to drive and park a coach in central London because we recognise that tourism makes a major contribution to the economy,” says Mr Plowden. “We will support that as much as possible.”

Ray of sunshine?

There is some light at the end of the tunnel for parking in London. The CPT remains tight-lipped about what it is, but it has been working hard behind the scenes for some time and is confident that a significant announcement concerning off-street space will be made soon, says Coaching Manager Andy Warrender.

CPT expects to make a major annoucement soon about off-street parking

While any improvements will be welcomed with open arms, there remains a need for on-street bays, and with them comes an obligation for drivers to use them responsibly.

TfL has taken on the industry’s views by beginning the process to extend the maximum permitted stay in 21 of London’s 27 short stay bays to an hour, but around 12 others have been lost altogether since construction began on the Cycle Superhighway.

More could follow if a minority of drivers continue to flout the regulations when parked in them, says Mr Warrender.

“Idling engines is a major stumbling block in the provision of facilities for coaches, and as we have seen in Bourton-on-the-Water, that is not a problem exclusive to London. The CPT has always taken a robust attitude to engine idling, and has sometimes received criticism for that.

“But I cannot stress how importantly air quality is regarded in London. Idling is also a nuisance. The bottom line is that if we are to have facilities to park coaches, engines have to be switched off. If they are not, then there will be nowhere to park. It is that simple.”

Mr Warrender’s remarks are food for thought for operators and drivers. Nobody at the CPT or TfL is pretending that the coach’s lot in London is a particularly happy one at the moment, and neither do the two organisations expect to deliver a magic cure to parking problems.

Both Mr Plowden and Mr Posner are realistic when they say that securing any improvements will be difficult. But the parking map should at least help drivers make the most of what space is available.

Order copies by completing TfL’s survey at http://bit.ly/1Sg5nUm

routeONE comment

Few envy the coach drivers who deal with the stressful situation of threading a large vehicle through London’s maddening traffic while also keeping an eye on driving time and wondering whether they will find anywhere legal to park before the magic 4.30 flashes on the digital tachograph.

It is little wonder that some drivers regard being moved on by, or receiving a parking ticket from, a traffic warden as a lesser evil than recording a driving or working time infringement.

There is no magic cure to this ongoing problem, although the CPT is confident that its soon-to-be-unveiled scheme may at least help.

That’s why the coach parking map, and taking advantage of other small benefits secured by TfL, is so important. If drivers take on board the information that the map contains, their jobs may become easier. But they cannot do so if they haven’t got a parking map, and that’s where you – the operator – come in.

Copies are easily obtained via TfL’s website, and they are free. Simon Posner describes the map as the coach driver’s bible. routeONE goes further. It is a coach driver’s American Express card: They shouldn’t leave home without it.