Don’t let up – you have momentum
As I stood on a pedestrian bridge shooting pictures of the Honk for Hope London demonstration, I began recognising faces behind the wheel. I was not looking at coaches, I was looking at industry colleagues I have met over 30 years.
I know some of them well enough to know that they tend to be modest souls. They wouldn’t be here, blaring horns to attract attention, if they hadn’t reached a state of exasperation with a government which has simply forgotten about them. While the Chancellor addressed the particular needs of so many other industries, coaching fell by the wayside.
It is no surprise to me. You have only to know that electioneering political parties travel on ‘Battle Buses’ to realise that, so far as people who generally swan around in chauffeur cars and drive SUVs, it makes no difference to them what you call a bus. They will rarely ride on a bus or coach out of choice.
My own profession, the media, is little better. I have tried, believe me, to bring so many issues to the attention of the national media. One mention of ‘coach’ and they lose interest completely. One national newspaper’s transport correspondent I contacted about the London protest on Thursday called me during the protest the following Monday, though only to say he’d forgotten to reply to me.
Indeed, just trying to place a call with the BBC newsdesk, waving journalistic credentials, is more difficult than getting an invitation to a Queen’s garden party. I have written to complain about BBC errors in stories about this industry many, many times. I have yet to have a message acknowledged, let alone had a written response.
Honk for Hope bettered me. True, one newspaper reported that Honk for Hope was a bunch of drivers worried about losing jobs. Another that it was organised by unions. But aside from the BBC (which, to be fair, did run a few regional stories) Jenna and the team behind the event garnered an impressive response from TV and newspapers.
The immediate response to the convoy from politicians in the Palace of Westminster, however, was to send the police out to stop all the noise because they couldn’t hear themselves think. That may be the only response. The ‘Baroness of Buses’, Baroness Vere of Norbiton, seems a decent sort but despite her pronouncement early this year that she’d like to be the Countess of Coaches, I suspect her influence over Grant Schapps amounts to him tolerating a conversation over lunch. I really hope not, but the indifference of successive governments to the transport portfolio when it isn’t concerning itself with vanity rail schemes is legendary.
It is shameful that you are being ignored. It is an utter disgrace that nobody in government understands what you do. It is absolutely disgusting that not a single word of support for you, much less a practical leg-up, has been uttered by a government minister.
But you have friends. Your customers have a vote. Write to them all and explain what is (not) happening. Tell them, in no uncertain terms, about the risk your business is facing. Write to the hotel groups and tourist attractions who depend on your day trips and breaks. This is not a time to internalise your problems.
Tell them that the result will be elderly folk becoming prisoners in their homes, school children left at the roadside, and entire communities losing transport links. Tell them 42,000 driving jobs are at risk. These are real issues. Perhaps if the government won’t listen, your friends will.