In anticipation of CPT’s meeting with Transport Minister Baroness Vere, routeone speaks to Ron Shaw, owner of EuroRider, on how he has been engaging successfully with his MP
On 15 July the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) will again make the industry’s case for government support in a meeting with Transport Minister Baroness Vere and representatives of other government departments.
In light of the upcoming meeting, organiser John Johnson, Chairman of CPT’s Coach Commission and Commercial Director of Johnsons Coach and Bus Travel, has urged every operator to join CPT and assist in making the collective voice of the industry heard.
There has been some progress from discussions on a local level. Ron Shaw, owner of EuroRider, which primarily operates tours, met with MP for Hazel Grove William Wragg who showed an interest in promoting the sector and has offered it his full support.
No funding? Then give us fairness
Mr Shaw is keen to point out that, should no pecuniary support arrive, guidance for the resumption of services must be issued if the sector is to be saved.
His request is for fairness in operation. He draws comparisons with the airline industry to illustrate the point that coaches arguably put passengers at less risk than other forms of transport, and that restrictions on coach are unfairly jeopardising both the industry and the tourism and leisure sector it serves.
Mr Shaw came to light on 24 June when speaking live to Ian King of Sky News. There he compared the role of private hire and tour coaches to aircraft, noted the lack of clarity given to the coach sector, and cited several safety advantages coaches have over aircraft despite relatively draconian restrictions.
At first frustrated with the refusal of grants from Manchester City Council and Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council, Mr Shaw now focuses on espousing the safety of coaches, and the contradictory measures governing coach and aircraft operation, to encourage the government to issue guidance to operators.
One rule for airlines, another for coaches
Highlighting the disparity between guidance to airlines and coach operators has been key to his message to government and core to the argument that restrictions on coach operators are unfair, despite the adage that coaches are effectively aircraft without wings.
A comprehensive suite of measures, including fresh air circulation, face masks, daily fogging, lower passenger turnover and ease of track and trace justify at the very least the option to operate under the same restrictions as passenger planes, Mr Shaw argues.
“I feel we are more coronavirus COVID-19 secure than airlines,” he explains. “Worked to a full schedule with tight turnarounds a Boeing 737 can potentially carry up to 760 passengers per day to and from Europe, while a coach carries at most 49 passengers per week. Surely then the risk for coach is lower?”
Many will argue that aircraft are not equipped for social distancing. Breakeven point for airlines as reported by the International Air Transport Association is far beyond the 66.7% load configuration achieved through demarcation of the middle seats on a Boeing 737 or Airbus A320. This is to say nothing of the incongruity of a flight diversion service in which social distancing is enforced; where a typical Boeing 737 carrying 189 passengers would require a turnout of four coaches to undertake such a transfer, now 15 would be needed, Mr Shaw reports. “Will the airline be willing to pay for that?” he asks.
Another point Mr Shaw is keen to raise is the labyrinth of buildings passengers are expected to navigate when boarding aircraft: From check-in to security, multiple terminal buildings, and baggage claim. “With a coach, there is one pick-up point, which logically must be safer,” he says.
Taking it to government
So how to make this point to government? “By not giving up,” Mr Shaw says. “I emailed my MP William Wragg, contacted him through Twitter, and updated him constantly on what was happening, what I wanted done and how I was feeling. If we do not receive funding, then this is a plea to allow operators to run their businesses under the same guidelines as the airlines. We can show that coaches are safer than aircraft, and should be permitted to work.”
On Saturday (11 July), Mr Wragg met with Mr Shaw to promote the message. The meeting follows correspondence on the UK Parliament website between Mr Wragg and the Department for Transport, assessing the potential merits of allowing coaches to operate without social distancing in force (including the reduced one metre rule) and whether passengers on private tour coaches will be required to socially distance while wearing face coverings during the pandemic.
Transport Minister Rachel Maclean has responded to say that the one metre distance must be maintained ‘where possible’ and suitable precautions such as ‘wearing a face covering, not directly facing other passengers and regularly washing or sanitising their hands’ should be taken.
Posting on Twitter Mr Wragg has thrown his full support behind the movement and has applauded the work of Mr Shaw and EuroRider. He says ‘travel and tourism are key to our economy and wellbeing’. But Mr Shaw insists that confusion still exists between coach and bus, and that the two must be distinguished in further conversations to ministers in order to highlight the former sector’s struggle.
Clarity, guidance, fairness
Mr Shaw warns that operators should be ready to face a lack of response from MPs but should maintain pressure. “It’s important to keep contacting your MPs. But we must do so with civility. We’re trying to come across as fair.”
Mr Shaw continues to exhort the government to provide guidance to coach operators, in the same vein as the safer aviation guidance given to airline operators. Tour agencies with full bookings for September are being held back by the restrictions placed on coaches. “Without guidance now we cannot plan for September. If we lose September and October, 2020 will be a write-off.
It may be the only way for the coach industry to survive further without monetary support, and time is ticking for it to save bookings for the second half of the year.
“Having been excluded from the tourism fund, the only choice is to let coach operators return to work,” Mr Shaw says. “We are a massive piece of the jigsaw in the tourism industry that attaches the sector together, and without us many businesses will suffer later in the year.”