Per-vehicle grant schemes for coach operators in England and Wales, a commitment to ensuring that the industry can access support provided to the wider tourism and leisure sector and funding to assist compliance with emission reduction policies: All form part of Backing Britain’s Coaches, the long-awaited coach strategy prepared by the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT).
CPT says that the document – published on 29 March – forms an “ambitious plan” for coaching’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. It comes hot on the heels of a Transport Select Committee hearing on 24 March that once again saw ministers unmoved on the need for support (video).
While multiple financial support measures are prominent, Backing Britain’s Coaches additionally seeks to influence policy in both the short- and the longer-term. It also highlights the benefits to the economy, the environment and society of a healthy and diverse coach sector.
CPT Chief Executive Graham Vidler says that Backing Britain’s Coaches “sets out the road to recovery.” He adds: “We need to see coaches treated in line with other leisure and hospitality businesses. That must include a grant scheme to help operators to get holidays up and running, generating income for local economies across the UK.
“Without this, many operators will find it unviable to open their doors, meaning that attractions and places across the country will see less footfall, placing jobs and businesses at risk.”
Per-vehicle grants advocated by CPT Coach Strategy
Central to the strategy’s short-term asks is a call on the UK and Welsh Governments to introduce per-vehicle grant schemes.
They would be distributed in a similar manner to the funds in progress for coach operators in Northern Ireland or Scotland, although CPT acknowledges that those schemes vary in scope.
The Confederation estimates that such a move would require “between £100m and £150m to make a meaningful difference to the sector, recognising the essential role of coaches and ensuring a level playing field for all operators across the UK.”
The document also asks HM Treasury to work with financial institutions to enable a longer-term view to be taken of the industry’s prospects when considering lending, finance holidays and personal guarantees. “It is essential that financial institutions recognise [that] these were exceptional circumstances,” CPT says.
Bringing repayment terms of the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme into line with those of the Bounce Back Loan Scheme is another move that the strategy advocates.
CPT says that an extension of finance holidays by 12 months, or for the government to cover interest payments on those loans for the same period at an estimated cost of £85m, “would ensure that no coaches are repossessed in the short-term and that businesses will be ready to bounce back as soon as restrictions allow.”
Environmental and emission reduction zone considerations
In highlighting the environmental credentials of coach travel, the document says that if 15% more coach passenger journeys were made, approximately 47m car trips per annum would be removed. That would reduce CO2 emissions by over 250,000 tonnes.
To leverage that, the strategy advocates the creation of a new class of Clean Air Zone (CAZ), and Low Emission Zone (LEZ) in Scotland. It would permit non-compliant cars to be charged or banned respectively, without targeting coaches or buses.
Pending such a step, the document calls for revised guidance to local authorities so that coaches and buses are only subject to CAZ or LEZ standards and charges where cars and taxis are.
“That would ensure that clean air strategies are fair and reasonable for coaches and… tackle the causes of the problem,” it says.
Tied with CAZ/LEZ policy is a request for provision of support for coach operators that are affected by those Zones. Such grants would enable those businesses to either replace vehicles or retrofit them to achieve Euro VI compliance. That step would also provide reassurance to manufacturers of exhaust retrofit equipment that there is a market for coach solutions.
“We estimate that £75m would provide enough support to retrofit all of the 5,000 Euro IV and Euro V coaches currently registered in the UK that are well suited for retrofit,” continues the document. It also seeks financial assistance toward the transition towards ultra-low- and zero-emission coaches and support for their associated infrastructure.
Further coach policy proposals are widespread in CPT strategy
Other shorter-term policy matters that the strategy calls for include:
- Clarification of the guidance that accompanies support schemes for leisure and tourism businesses so that coach operators are granted access to those funds
- Encouragement by central and local government for the public to visit destinations, and to major on the positives of coach travel to do so through a co-ordinated campaign as the re-opening process proceeds
- Central and local government to “be sympathetic” to coach operators that have temporarily lost ‘infill’ work between home-to-school services by considering top-up payments, and for school trips to be encouraged.
Additional longer-term policy work that Backing Britain’s Coaches advocates includes:
- Appropriate provision for coaches to be “embedded in decision making and new development planning at a local level”
- The introduction of road pricing that is targeted at encouraging a shift from private car use to coaches and other forms public transport, with coaches exempt from those charges
- Long-term certainty over the timeline for PSVAR compliance. That includes adoption of CPT’s already-published proposal to introduce a wider provision of compliant coaches, and grants towards a proportion of the cost of vehicle retrofit or replacement
- Changes to driver licencing to bring more coach driving work into scope of people that are aged under 21.
Certain elements of strategy to be adapted in Scotland and Wales
In Wales, CPT Cymru is working to ensure that candidates for the Senedd election on 6 May are aware that with the right support, “the coach industry can recover and grow.” In a specific addendum to the nationwide strategy document, the items that CPT Cymru is calling for include:
- A £7.5m grant-based Wales Coach Recovery Fund for coach operators in Wales
- Developing the coach offer as a key part of the tourism strategy in Wales
- A national clean air fund to help coach operators to retrofit or replace vehicles.
“All candidates in the election should be clear that they can make a positive difference to the people of Wales by supporting coach travel in the next Welsh Parliament, which will help to protect and generate jobs across Wales as we recover from the pandemic,” says CPT Cymru Director Josh Miles.
CPT Scotland says that its context of the strategy differs from England and Wales owing to earlier success in obtaining a sector-specific support package for eligible operators in Scotland. It says that it intends to use Backing Britain’s Coaches to open doors after the Scottish Parliament election on 6 May.