UKCOA: Key issues for coach operators

This month Peter Bradley reports back from the July meeting of UKCOA’s members and highlights issues at the top of their agenda

UKCOA members meet monthly on Zoom. Often, there is a speaker on a topic of specific interest to coach operators. However, this month, given that this is at the height of the busiest period of the year, we simply asked members to report back on some of the key issues affecting their businesses and how they are coping with the challenges they are facing.

Not surprisingly the first topic raised was the price of fuel. Interestingly, the experience was not the same for all operators. Anthony Marett from Maretts Chariots in Norfolk says that diesel, having been at 190ppl in mid to late June, is now stuck at 199ppl with dealers seemingly reluctant to cross the 200ppl threshold. Another operator however reports that a bulk supply of diesel had actually dropped from 165ppl to 154ppl in the first week of July, while Peter Bibby of Bibby’s of Ingleton reports that bulk purchase in West Yorkshire was currently 161ppl. Kevin Wilde (Mitcham Belle) and Tina Hailstone (Hailstone Travel) are both concerned about the rise in the cost of AdBlue, with Tina commenting that it is priced much higher than diesel.

More encouraging is the opportunity of raising coach hire rates to ensure that operations remain profitable despite the increase in fuel and (in most cases) staff costs. UKCOA had produced a template letter that members could use to send to schools and local authorities to explain why an increase in contract rates (albeit temporary) was necessary. Peter Evans from Met Coaches in Watford has used the template and was very pleased with the way that some of the recipients had reacted to it. Some other operators, however, were still having issues with local authorities not recognising the significant difficulties that are being experienced with cost increases.

Private hire tells a different story. There is plenty of work around, but not all of it is able to be covered. For some operators this means that they can pick and choose what work they undertake. Many, including Andrew Scott from Stanley Travel (North East), are receiving requests from schools for day trips located well outside the operator’s normal catchment area. Anecdotally, this was either because the school’s regular operator has ceased trading or had significantly shrunk its fleet and/or the type of work it was undertaking. Shortage of drivers, rather than the number of vehicles available, dictates what operators are able to cover.

Margaret l’Anson from Chandlers Coach Travel covers work by driving herself most days during this very busy spell. David Blake from Blakes Coaches has a pile of private hire jobs that require quotes on his desk. Many operators say that they have never experienced anything like the demand over the past couple of months, and it is bringing much needed revenue into their businesses.

Some schools appear to be postponing some school trips until the early autumn, when the students return, and many are booking for trips in spring/ summer 2023 already, given the high demand for coaches. Mark Peace from Cheney Coaches comments that schools are keen not to lose out next year.

All in all, this was a very interesting meeting and a format we will repeat in the future. It has also given us topics to cover in the autumn.