CoachMarque conference discusses industry issues

CoachMarque members attending its conference on Monday 13 January were updated on Brexit and the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) Coach Strategy. They could also learn about a move to zero emissions and contribute to a discussion of CoachMarque’s future.

A new member – First Kernow’s Truronian Coaches – was also introduced. CoachMarque is looking for more, but it’s also seeking to ensure that its long-term direction remains relevant.

One opinion suggests that making more prominent to hirers the benefits of using a CoachMarque accredited operator would be useful. That could include boosting CoachMarque’s Google ranking, it was suggested.

Doing so may involve members pushing CoachMarque via social media. However, one attendee cautions that the scheme “cannot be all things to all people.” Instead, he believes it is more about communicating to customers that members meet certain standards.

Even doing that is not straightforward, however. “When a teacher will hire a coach from one operator for 50p less than another, [CoachMarque] means nothing,” says a different delegate.

CPT Coach strategy at CoachMarque conference fore

News of CPT’s Coach Strategy was shared by Coaching Manager Andy Warrender at the CoachMarque conference. While the first draft is complete, an date for publication is awaited. Transport for London (TfL) input is desired, so purdah before the capital’s mayoral election in May could come into play.

One of the Strategy’s most basic aims is to raise the industry’s profile. “We’re looking for a fair deal for coaches,” adds Mr Warrender. Data is key to achieving that, which is where CPT wants operators’ help.

CoachMarque conference
Discussion covered a wide range of coach industry topics

“We must reach the stage where coaches are seen as an integral part of public transport. To do that, we need evidence.” An example of the difficulties of not having relevant facts came during TfL’s ULEZ consultation. No data was available to CPT to illustrate the emissions profile of incoming coaches.

To assist with completion of the Coach Strategy, CPT is asking operators to share data from systems that include, but are not limited to, Distinctive Systems’ Coach Manager and tachograph analysis software.

To do so is not complicated. Some of that data will relate to the work that coaches do. Had it been available sooner, it could have assisted CPT in representations over PSVAR exemptions. CPT is looking to begin aggregation of data relevant to the Coach Strategy over the coming month.

The B-word makes its presence known

CPT International Manager Steven Salmon presented a comprehensive review of Brexit’s likely implications at last year’s Coaching Conference. Mr Salmon spoke at the CoachMarque conference. He outlined that since then some things have become clearer, but others have not, he says.

It remains to be seen whether a trade deal involving coaches is achieved, but it is likely.

If agreed, it will permit operators travelling abroad to do more than what is prescribed by the Interbus agreement, which the UK has already committed to joining. But equally, it would also allow operators coming here to do more, such as cabotage.

“If we operate under Interbus, things will settle quickly. It’s straightforward but restrictive,” Mr Salmon continues. Operators should also expect to encounter more bureaucracy abroad than currently.

CoachMarque

A significant part of that red tape will relate to the time that may be spent in the EU without a visa. For staff and passengers, it would be 90 days in any 180-day period. Border officials will calculate that by manually tallying passport stamps.

 

When quizzed on what the practicalities of obtaining visas for drivers would be, Mr Salmon says that it would be difficult. The only logical solution would be to ‘cycle’ drivers to ensure that they do not exceed the maximum permitted period.

Industry must prevent its own political invisibility

CPT CEO Graham Vidler further examined the Coach Strategy and how the industry can prosper in the future. It is, he says, incumbent on the sector to make its voice heard.

If it does not, coaching will “largely be invisible to the government until we make it otherwise.” However, a green shoot has already come with ministerial transport adviser Andrew Gilligan.

Mr Vidler says that a recent meeting opened Mr Gilligan’s eyes to the coach industry and what it does. CPT conveyed that encouraging sustainable transport can include supporting coaches. A further meeting with Mr Gilligan takes place tomorrow (16 January).

“DfT is already asking about our Coach Strategy,” adds Mr Vidler. “It is ready to listen to and engage with us.” That is welcome news – and long overdue. It was well received by Coachmarque conference attendees.

routeone comment

CPT has gained traction with its Bus Strategy. While coaches are unlikely to generate the same level of political interest, that CPT is already seeing useful engagement with government is undoubtedly a positive.

Operators should do their bit to help that. Data is imperative if CPT is to successfully ask the government for help. Extracting the figures that CPT needs is said to be simple enough, so assisting should be easy.

Discussion of CoachMarque’s future direction perhaps pales against talk of high-level strategy and Brexit. But committee members accept that work to define what it stands for and what it should deliver is required.

CoachMarque is also seeking new members. The list of those operators that are already part will hit 55 this week. It represents a useful forum to share best practice and learn from your peers.

www.coachmarque.co.uk