Peter Bradley converses with UKCOA member Andrew Bliss of Bliss Travel of South London
If you see a modern coach, immaculately turned out, in plain white with no company signage in London, then it is more than likely to be operated by Bliss Travel.
The company was formed in 1993 by Andrew Bliss to provide a trade service to the chauffeur drive business in central London before he moved into coaches. Following the appointment of Sarah Reilly as General Manager in 2000, private hire work expanded, which led to the purchase of larger capacity coaches.
Another significant development occurred in 2002 when Bliss was successful in winning a tender for providing garage services in the Victoria Coach Station (VCS) arrivals terminal. Further diversification subsequently took place, and the company started taking bookings
for schools in and around the SW1 area, as well as winning tenders for shuttle contracts for the NHS and Barclays.
Bliss remained at VCS for 10 years before moving operations to its current depot in Verney Road, South Bermondsey, just north of Old Kent Road.
Over the years, the company has steadily increased the private hire fleet to reach a total
of 25 coaches. Its core business is now school work, including sports hire, day and residential trips. Home-to-school transport is undertaken with vehicles of 22 seats or fewer, meaning they are not affected by PSVAR.
I ask Andrew what he see as the greatest challenges affecting the coach industry, and particularly his own company.
“Clearly, being in London we have already experienced a significant hurdle – being compliant with the London Low Emission Zone,” he says. “However, it does not stop there. With much talk of zero-emission or zero-carbon zones in parts of London towards the end of this decade, there is a lot more that we will need to do. It is not just the vehicles we need to invest in this time though; it is the infrastructure as well.”
Other challenges that Andrew mentions are driver recruitment and retaining staff, especially since the pandemic; undercutting of rates (“I simply cannot see how some operators can get away with charging such low rates for certain work; it makes no economic sense to me”); and some online companies, which are also competing for work.
However, Andrew was also very positive about opportunities in the future: “Being based in south London but close to the centre means we are ideally placed for work as the economy starts to recover, and means we can get to London destinations quickly. Also, because of the nature of our work, we are able to help out with a short notice transfer if a coach has got stuck in traffic, or there is a last-minute emergency.”
Andrew also sees that his location and the type of work that the company specialises in is ideally suited to electric vehicles. He is keen to embrace this once the time is right. “We are reading the situation very carefully and will decide when to make a move,” he reflects.
I ask Andrew about the importance of being in a trade organisation. “I am relieved,” he says, “that while UKCOA is now a UK wide body, it retains a specific interest in London, as it is a key destination and where a lot of things happen first. I also recognise the importance of having a trade body that is solely representative of the coach Industry, in addition to those such as the Confederation of Passenger Transport, which have a wider remit.”
It is clear that Andrew is very proud of what he has achieved together with his team and of becoming, as he says, “one of the premier coach hire companies in London”.