Peter Bradley converses with UKCOA member Mark Peace of Cheney Coaches
Cheney Coaches is based in Banbury, Oxfordshire; a historic market town close to the borders with Warwickshire and Northamptonshire on the river Cherwell.
The company was started by Graham Peace, owner Mark Peace’s father, in 1976, originally as a taxi firm, by swapping a fridge for a Humber Hawk. That has to be a unique way to commence operations.
The first PSV arrived in 1990 for a school run, which is still operated today for Northamptonshire County Council. Mark himself joined the company just a year earlier at the tender age of 19, and has continued to uphold the standards that his father set as the foundations for serving the local community.
The phrase ‘every journey is important’ was key, meaning that vehicles are clean, presentable to the public, and turn up on time. Safety is also very important to the company. It is these simple values that are relied on for repeat business and word of mouth recommendations. Many of its customers have used Cheney Coaches for over 25 years.
School work (both home-to-school contracts and day trips) is still one of the main activities, but other private hire and some tour work (which was added in the 1990s) ensures that Cheney’s vehicles earn their keep.
The company moved to its current site in Banbury in 1998 when it brought an acre of land and constructed a purpose-built coach park with servicing bays, coach wash, fuelling station, and CCTV throughout. Mark tells me that his dad had a good eye for detail, and ensured that the end product was fit for purpose.
The company did enter the world of local bus work for a while in the 1990s, but Mark and Graham decided it was not for them. Sadly, Graham died in 2017, but Mark continues to run the business alongside some very loyal staff.
I ask Mark to tell me more about the staff ethos at Cheney Coaches: “We ensure that the staff know that they are valued and are key in ensuring the success of the business,” he says. “And that is not just the drivers but the engineers, the Transport Manager, and office staff too.
“We recently gave our employees a pay increase and extended their holiday entitlement. We also value training and have our own training room together with two full-time trainers.”
Mark explains some of the benefits of this approach: “There is a direct correlation between good training and our safety record. This saves on insurance premiums (alongside a good working relationship with Wrightsure) which keeps our prices competitive, and we also have an enviable low turnover of staff.”
Mark clearly has a very good overview of all aspects of his business and keeps a close eye on the finances. “However,” he reflects, “overall I concentrate on providing a quality service and think less about the profit, as that always follows when you do a good job.”
I ask Mark about some of the challenges he faces, but he quickly reminded me that all challenges can equally be seen as opportunities. “For example, PSVAR,” he says. “We have started making sure that coaches on school work all meet Schedule 3 of the Regulations in anticipation of what might be required from 1 April 2022. “We are also looking forward to the future of what happens next after Euro VI and how we embrace it.
“You just need to plan in advance and keep abreast of the latest developments. That is why belonging to a trade body is so important for coach operators.”
Finally, while reflecting on the coach industry as a whole, Mark says: “We touch most people’s lives at some point, but they don’t always realise we do.”
How true, and worth thinking about.