A new action plan for coaches in the Capital

Date Posted: 01/04/2014

Group Leisure considers the Tourist Coach Action Plan which promises to resolve some of the issues surrounding coaches in the Capital, along with responses from the group travel trade. 

Coach tourism is worth a reported £2.35 billion to Britain’s economy, and yet the challenges of coach access and parking in London have proved to be a serious bone of contention for group travel organisers bringing large parties to the capital.

The Tourist Coach Action Plan is looking to tackle these issues head-on, with a five-year strategy to improve access and efficiency of tourist coaches in London. But how exactly?

CPT's operation director, Stephen Smith tells us more...

What is the Tourist Coach Action Plan and what are its key aims?
The London Tourist Coach Action Plan (TCAP) was launched by CPT (Confederation of Passenger Transport) and TfL (Transport for London) in October 2013. The plan sets out 26 key and achievable actions which are all designed to improve access and efficiency of tourist coaches in London, whilst minimising impact on residents and other road users.

CPT and TfL cannot resolve all the day-to-day issues surrounding coaches in the capital, but the plan aims to improve and broaden partnerships with the London Boroughs and relevant tourist organisations.

Why was the plan initiated in the first instance?
CPT and TfL have long worked in partnership in a bid to improve the operating environment for coaches in London. This newly launched plan recognises the need for all stakeholders to play a key and active role in making sure the requirements of tourist coaches and passengers remain high on the agenda. We want all coach trips to the capital to be comfortable and hassle free. 

Just how important is coach tourism for the capital?
Coach tourism is worth £2.35 billion to Britain’s economy. With further investment in facilities and a better understanding of the coach tourism industry we are confident that this figure will continue to grow whilst creating jobs along the way.

Recognising the vital economic role the coach tourism sector plays, many of the actions within the plan reinforce the importance of visitors to London travelling by coach.

What do you regard as the key challenges affecting tourist coaches in London?
Driving a coach in London is very different from any other part of the UK. One of the many challenges faced by drivers and group organisers on a daily basis is that of finding safe, suitable and available places to set-down and pick-up passengers.

There are a significant number of coach bays in and around the capital but at certain peak times - after theatre performances and concerts for example - demand often exceeds supply in these areas.

What actions will you take to overcome the problems involved in picking up and setting down passengers?
Many of the coach bays within the capital fall under the control of the London Boroughs (not TfL) and we therefore need their co-operation and buy-in to help us deliver significant improvements. And we are seeing that now. 

The London Boroughs of course face pressures from a number of other transport modes all fighting and lobbying for the same small piece of road space. However, we are in the process of trialling some mixed-use bays - bays shared between coaches and lorries at certain times of the day - and we look forward to learning of their success.

How will you provide better access for tourist coaches?
The commitment of those who have signed up to the London TCAP is to make sure that the customer requirements of the coach and tourism industries are considered at the earliest stage possible - ideally at the planning application phase. 

For example, if a new hotel is being planned then it is vitally important that the appropriate set-down/pick-up points and parking are incorporated as part of the initial plans and not left for the industry to fight for retrospectively.

Some drivers and operators may still be unaware of all parking locations in London, particularly for overnight stays. How will you overcome this problem?
The only place to go for this information is TfL’s own website - www.tfl.gov.uk. Here you will find a whole host of parking and set-down/pick-up maps, as well as information on meter charges, planned roadworks, coach ban areas, Theatreland and more.

How do you propose to minimise the impact and improve efficiency of tourist coaches?
Whilst most are aware of the economic and environmental benefits that coaches and coach tourism brings to the Capital, many of London’s residents are not so welcoming. Engine idling (engines being left on when vehicles are parked up), coaches parking illegally and setting-down and picking-up in prohibited areas remain the top complaints against the industry. We are working hard to address these problems with operators through CPT and TfL, and the plan further supports this approach.

How can the group travel industry play a part in resolving some of the day-to-day issues affecting the operation of coaches in the Capital?
Understanding the role and pressures faced by drivers can go a long way to resolving some of the day-to-day issues faced. It is most helpful when GTOs recognise where and when drivers can park, set-down and pick-up legally - a bit of forward planning - and also being aware that drivers are governed by strictly imposed drivers’ hours regulations.

Response from Louisa Jackley, senior marketing manager for travel trade at London & Partners:

“The Tourist Coach Action Plan initiative is a fantastic move towards making London even more accessible for coaches and attracting more groups to the capital. We hope this initiative will encourage even more domestic and international group visitors to London and drive further improvements to the tourist experience.

London & Partners will play a major role in ensuring the Tourist Coach Action Plan’s success by encouraging our partners across the tourism industry to adapt and enhance their group offering, and work more collaboratively to make London as coach friendly as possible.”

Response from Sally Rogers, GTO of Essex Theatre Club:

“The Tourist Coach Action Plan is a very welcome idea. The main issue we have had in the past is the poor coach drivers driving round spending hours trying to find somewhere to park - just for a few hours. Also it is sometimes hard for the drivers to pick us up due to the parking restrictions around the theatres. Changes are already in place and our drivers have welcomed the extra parking in the Kingsway - this has been an extra bonus for them, but we would all be happier if there were more places for the drivers to take their breaks.

“GTOs can help by making their own plan of action for their trips to London - give your driver exact timings for pick-ups so they can plan ahead. We all need to work together on this one as it benefits both your group and the coach operators.”

Useful contacts:

Confederation of Passenger Transport:
020-7240 3131

Transport for London:
0845-604 0770

Photo credit: © London on View.

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