With Westminster Council threatening to remove coach parking bays in Tothill Street due to complaints over engine idling, industry associations are encouraging operators to take action
Industry trade bodies came together earlier this month to meet Westminster City Council (WCC) over threats to remove five coach bays in Tothill Street due to complaints over excessive idling.
The Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT), UK Coach Operators Association (UKCOA), RHA and Coach Tourism Association (CTA) are to write a joint letter to Transport for London, the Mayor of London and Westminster Abbey outlining the importance of those central London bays to tourism and to highlight how seriously they are taking the complaints.
WCC last month warned trade bodies that the bays could be taken away following longstanding complaints received from residents and organisations over coaches idling engines.
Meanwhile, as well as concern over air and noise pollution, particularly given the location of a college on the street, illegal parking has also been raised as a problem by the council. The situation was said to be particularly concerning in the street off Parliament Square but problems in the Victoria and St James areas were also noted.
The “constructive” meeting on 7 July was attended by CPT Coaching Manager Phil Smith, UKCOA Managing Director Peter Bradley, RHA Operations Manager (Coach Sector) Andy Warrender, CTA Communications Director Helen Bowron and WCC Transport Programme Manager Hugh Brennan.
The trade bodies say they are urging coach operators to impress on their drivers the importance of switching off their engines when parked and to pay immediately on arrival. They will also write a separate joint letter to the Traffic Commissioner as it is considered a driver conduct issue.
‘Real risk’ over bays
Mr Smith says: “It was a constructive meeting, but there’s no doubt that the threat of these coach bays being removed is still a very real risk.
“We must have driver co-operation and operators must ensure drivers fully understand that, if they don’t observe the coach bays properly in Tothill Street — and that means only parking in the coach bays and shutting the engines down when they do park — this is going to continue.”
Mr Warrender says: “I think it’s fair to say the industry as a whole is concerned at the prospect of losing even more coach facilities in London. It’s particularly disappointing to me personally, having been through this before when an almost identical situation arose in Horseferry Road a few years ago, so we’re determined to put all efforts into preventing it.
“This is by no means a new issue in London. As well as being the primary cause of the loss of coach bays in Horseferry Road, engine idling has also been a factor in coaches being unwelcome elsewhere — even in rural locations such as Bourton on the Water, where the quest for a long-term coach parking solution continues.”
Calling for “zero tolerance” from operators, he adds: “Ultimately, this is an illegal activity for which drivers have responsibility and the solution is quite literally in their hands – turn it off!”
Mr Bradley says he is more positive than he was before the meeting but adds: “I am very concerned about the whole situation. They are very important bays and we really can’t lose them. We have insufficient bays in London as it is. The loss of these bays would be devastating.”
As well as being the closest bays to Westminster Abbey, they are around the corner from the Queen Elizabeth II Centre conference venue and increasingly used for tours to the Changing of the Guard.
Mr Smith also highlights the noted problem of drivers not paying for parking until they see an enforcement officer approaching. He says: “It’s important that drivers pay because they will check the revenue from these meters and, if it’s too low, that could give them another reason to take them away.”
The ways ahead
Aside from the joint letters and strong words to operators, the trade bodies are hoping on a multi-pronged solution.
Mr Smith says: “We are looking towards a joint workshop with Westminster Council in September, which will probably include elected members as well, so that we can effectively demonstrate to them how valuable coach tourism is and, for their part, they can see how committed we are to resolving the problems in Tothill Street.”
Mr Bradley admits the bodies themselves have no physical powers to take action against operators or drivers. However, the organisations have promised to try to monitor the problem. Mr Smith says he was personally planning to visit Tothill Street himself when in the capital last week.
In a bid to alleviate part of the issue, the bodies have agreed “in principle” to the potential of moving one of the bays from outside the college to another part of the street, although this would likely not take place for several months. Mr Bradley says WCC is planning to put up signs on the street urging drivers not to idle.
Operator furious over idling
Mark Watts, owner of Croydon-based Watts Way Travel, says his company often uses the Tothill Street bays and stresses the issue of idling is an easy one for operators to fix. “I can’t bear it,” says Mr Watts regarding engine idling, pointing out that, aside from environmental, noise and cost concerns, it can eventually block the Euro VI exhaust.
“A company has to be proactive in keeping on top of drivers — most tracking systems will have an idle alert.” He says his office receives such a notification after three minutes of idling and staff will ring the driver straight away to investigate.
He adds: “I don’t know if it’s purely domestic operators that are idling there. I don’t see the need to idle. In the winter it doesn’t keep the coach warm at all – a Webasto works much better for that.”
Mr Watts is calling for the council to use fines for those in contravention. Drivers can be fined up to £80 for the offence. According to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, WCC received 2,270 reports of engine idling between June 2017 and March 2023 and, over this same period, only 59 tickets for the offence had been issued.
That said, it should be added that – according to a 2022 news report based on FOI requests — Westminster was behind only Hillingdon and Lambeth among the London boroughs on the leaderboard of fines issued for idling over 10 years, with 15 boroughs handing out none at all.
Mr Bradley says: “We would want them to enforce it, but we have to recognise as well that the resources aren’t there as local authorities have been severely hit with cutbacks. I do understand why that is not always possible but of course I’d welcome enforcement.”