Interview – Wattsway Travel of South London

Wattsway Yutong fw

Peter Bradley converses with recent UKCOA member Mark Watts of Wattsway Travel

One of the latest coach companies to join the UK Coach Operators Association (UKCOA) is Wattsway Travel, based between Croydon and Sutton in South London. And unlike many of the operators featured in this column, it is a fairly new company, having only started trading in April 2017. However, it is clear that it has hit the ground running and brings a lot of fresh ideas to the table.

Owner Mark Watts started working in the industry in 2012, obtained his Driver Certificate of Professional Competence in 2013 and became an Operations Manager in 2014. The opportunity arose for him to start up on his own in 2017, and Wattsway Travel was born.

60% of its work is for private schools and the company currently runs nine vehicles. Three of the six vehicles currently used on scheduled school work are fully PSVAR compliant. Wattsway is one of a few operators that I have met to actually carry a wheelchair user on a regular basis and has experienced some of the issues first hand.

“The schoolchild concerned needed to use a wheelchair for a few weeks,” says Mark. “And while it was a great opportunity to use the wheelchair lift on the coach, we soon realised the challenges in doing so. On the first day someone accompanied her on the lift, but standing five feet in the air without a great deal of support was quite an experience. On subsequent days, an employee waited inside the coach to ensure that she was able to manoeuvre herself off the lift and into the correct position within the coach.”

Mark also describes the challenges with the environment: “It was a busy road with plenty of pedestrians and traffic. Having a wheelchair lift at chest height taking up half the width of the pavement with people going past was not ideal. The whole process of transporting the passenger onto the coach took around 15 minutes and although we were close to, but not at, an official bus stop, nevertheless we created a tailback of traffic.

“We must find a better way of designing the lift so that it is integral to the vehicle, and allows both those who use it and those who supervise its operation some dignity and safety.”

One of Mark’s other passions is the environment and the need to reduce emissions. “This is not an option,” he declares.

“It is vital that we reduce our carbon footprint and we have a responsibility to those that we carry, especially in my case schoolchildren, to show our commitment.”

Mark describes a time when students approached the hierarchy of the school to challenge them about reducing carbon emissions: “This is what led to the purchase of our first battery-electric coach,” he says, “and the college was prepared to pay the difference in hiring this vehicle compared to a dieselpowered coach.”

Mark challenges the rest of the industry to open up a dialogue with the schools and colleges it serves. “These issues are at the forefront of our children’s minds and they should be our priority too. You don’t know what reaction you will get from the educational establishments until you try.”

Mark currently has one battery-electric coach (a 50-seat Yutong TCe12) and will look for opportunities to purchase others. He works closely with David West of Westway Travel, another enthusiastic supporter of electric vehicles. Mark is also committed to plant a tree for every diesel journey operated as a way of giving something back to the environment.

Mark is encouraged by the ramping up of work in recent weeks. “June and July were the best we have ever had, and this gives me great hope for the future of the industry.”