Steve Whiteway: Coach industry must continue to make its case

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On a bright and sunny day in London, I witnessed an event that I thought I would never see or would never be necessary. An estimated 420 coaches paraded through the city as a powerful reminder to the government that the coach industry matters and forms an integral and vitally important part of the UK’s transport infrastructure. This Honk for Hope event mirrored those at Blackpool, Lightwater Valley and West Wales, but with far greater numbers.

Without exception, the vehicles were a showpiece for our industry. While I am sure that a few people were inconvenienced, that is nothing compared to the effects on traffic congestion and the environment if we lose the coach industry to coronavirus COVID-19 and coaches are replaced by yet more cars.

Given that those inside Parliament complained about the noise of horns (and many were very loud) I think we can safely say that those in power were aware of our presence!

Results of meeting with ministers on coach industry ‘disappointing’

The Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) team worked with organiser Jenna Rush to maximise the numbers attending for the greatest impact. In that they certainly succeeded.

The London event followed a disappointing meeting with ministers the previous week, attended by members of CPT’s Coach Commission, at which Baroness Vere expressed her admiration for the coach industry, but confirmed there are no plans to make any funding available beyond that which has already been made.

There is, however, some potential for the hiring of extra coaches (up to 5,000 a day) paid for by central government to operate additional dedicated home-to-school journeys. We wait to hear about that.

But it may be too little too late, and it does not help the tourism and leisure sectors, which generally have the highest costs given the requirement for the latest coaches.

Human cost of coach industry crisis must not be forgotten

So where do we go from here? Will the London Honk for Hope rally be the big push the government needs to help the industry, as we approach a time when large scale redundancies and the failure of many long-term family businesses becomes inevitable?

Coach industry protest in London
The potential human cost of the coach industry failing to receive government support must not be forgotten, says CPT President Steve Whiteway

The human cost, with repossessions, people losing their homes and the subsequent effect on their families, with some so desperate that they consider suicide, cannot be right.

There needs to be breathing space for operators to recover and fulfil their financial obligations over a longer period when they have money coming in again.

Yes, it will still be tough going. But the coach industry has the spirit to get through that. Should we thump the table and demand the government do something? Tempting, but such tactics do not work, and it is important for the industry’s voice to keep a seat at that table.

Let us not forget: CPT is its members, not some faceless body. Its officers advise and carry out the members’ policy. Be assured, there is ongoing discussion through CPT with the government and that can only be reinforced by the Honk for Hope message. The campaign to Back Britain’s Coaches continues.