In his latest interview, Peter Bradley converses with UKCOA member Marc Preston of SBC Leisure

SBC Leisure is one of a growing number of UK Coach Operators Association (UKCOA) members that are based in East England and that benefit from being a member of a trade body that represents their interests.

Originally based in Southend when the company was formed in 2005, SBC’s depot is now in Wickford. Ian and Kim Bridge, together with their daughter Carly Preston, are the founders, Carly having already been involved in the coach industry for over six years. Marc, however, is a reasonably recent recruit and has only been involved directly with the company for the past two years or so. Married to Carly, he has “slowly been drawn in” and is now “involved in all aspects of the business”.

The company currently has 14 vehicles: Nine coaches and five buses, operating a mixture of school routes, private hire, and corporate transport.

SBC also gets involved in sports transport, having provided the coaches for Southend United for 12 years, and has two Scania Irizars for that purpose.

SBC Leisure’s sister company is East London Travel (which was originally set up by what is now Stagecoach London) which offers popular day excursions and short trips both in the UK and abroad. SBC Leisure has just bought two new Mercedes-Benz Tourismos for this work, which Marc describes as being brilliant vehicles and excellent on fuel economy.

I ask Marc to tell me a little more about his home-to school transport routes. “Our
latest route, from Basildon to Chelmsford, was actually started by requests from parents, as the parallel public bus service takes well over an hour, but our door-to-door journey time is 30 minutes – far more suitable for school children.”

Marc and I also discuss what he sees as being his biggest challenge. “Without a doubt it is emissions and PSVAR requirements,” he says. “Having just invested in two new vehicles, I am very concerned whether we have done the right thing, and that they will still retain resale value in six to seven years’ time. New vehicles are important because that is what customers expect on our tours and excursions, but I can imagine many operators now thinking twice before making such a significant capital purchase.

“The problem is that we don’t know what the future holds or even what the future
is. We know what it is not (diesel), but what replaces it? And what will revised PSVAR require us to do when the Regulations are finally agreed, and will they apply to all new coaches going forward? These are big questions to which at this point in time there are no answers.”

Marc and I muse as to what the likely replacement for diesel would be for long distance coaches and conclude that, at this point in time, it was likely to be a mixture of hydrogen fuel cell-electric and battery-electric power.

However, that brings its own set of challenges in design, maintenance and even the currently relatively simple process of refuelling.

And yet Marc remains very positive. He delights in seeing the yard empty after 18 months of his fleet doing relatively little work and seems up for the challenges of what comes next.

SBC Leisure