Engagement with politicians to raise awareness of the coach industry “must continue” after the successful conclusion of National Coach Week, an operator heavily involved in its creation has said.
Anthony’s Travel Managing Partner Richard Bamber notes that ongoing dialogue with politicians in Halton has greatly increased recognition of the mode among them. It has also led to the promise of a meeting with Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram to discuss the sector, including how the proposed Liverpool Clean Air Zone will impact coaching.
Mr Bamber adds that a great deal of positivity has been created by National Coach Week. Organised by RHA, it has seen support from other trade bodies and culminated with the specially-livered Irizar i6S integral – loaned by Irizar UK – appearing at the UK Coach Rally in Blackpool.
The day prior to that, it was at Anthony’s premises in Runcorn where it was joined by vehicles from Belle Vue Manchester, Carvers Coaches, Tyrers Coaches and a member of Anthony’s fleet for a photocall. Also present were representatives of RHA and local stakeholders. Halton MP Derek Twigg had attended earlier in the week and Weaver Vale MP Mike Amesbury sent his support.
While those two politicians are now well-educated about the coach industry, Mr Bamber says that others nationally are not. “Some MPs do not see the difference between coach and bus and think that the coach sector has benefitted from money used to support bus services during COVID-19. Although if we don’t make the effort to explain it to them, how can we expect them to grasp it?
“But it is not only about asking politicians what they can do for us as an industry. It is also about how we can help and work with them.”
National Coach Week saw the Irizar integral visit over 30 locations, including operators’ premises, the Eurotunnel terminal in Dover, Edinburgh, a variety of attractions in South Wales, Beamish and others.
Engagement directly with stakeholders and with the public through local media was also strong. Such communications are equally important to those with politicians, Mr Bamber adds.
Speaking about the success of National Coach Week, RHA Managing Director of Policy and Public Affairs Rod McKenzie says that it must now “become National Coach Year.” Mr McKenzie adds that engagement over the course of the week was better than expected. He points to RHA’s work on National Lorry Week as an indicator that year-on-year, the prominence of such events increases.
Mr Bamber has again highlighted the importance of making coaches’ essential functions clear to politicians. “Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, half of our fleet remained in operation. A lot of what the industry does is essential. We are not all about ‘bucket and spade’ trips, although we must not overlook the importance to society of discretionary travel.”
He believes that the seeds for greater political engagement were laid by the Honk for Hope movement in 2020. “We must continue to capitalise on that. For an operator, the cost involved is minimal; there may be an element of time and some fuel. But we have to continue to let people know of the good things that surround this industry.”
Industry support for National Coach Week has been widespread. Besides many smaller family operators, Flixbus and National Express are among the larger providers to have signalled their backing.
Mr Bamber adds that future UK-wide coach policy should ensure that the operators that have invested in Euro VI and PSVAR should not be “punished” for doing if or when grants are made available to support further transition in both those areas.
All of Anthony’s Travel’s vehicles are now Euro VI and eight of its 10 full-size coaches comply with PSVAR. That investment has been entirely self-funded. The business also spent £5,500 on improved air filtration to counter the threat of COVID-19.
“Are we now going to be punished for being ahead of the game if grants are forthcoming? This is an example of why engagement with politicians will be so important going forward.”
Plans for 2023’s National Coach Week will be announced later this year.