Editor’s Comment: Feeling the pinch

Has anyone else noticed how hard it has become to get a coach operator on the phone in recent weeks? I really hope it’s not just the sight of my number in front of them…

Anecdotally, it looks as if the coach market has gone a bit nuts, with most operators up to their nethers in enquiries, and trying to juggle their existing teams of drivers to cope. We’ve been seeing a lot more touring coaches on the motorways, and a lot more people aboard them. But of course there are a few pinch points.

I never thought I’d be writing this, but one of them is availability of used coaches. The dealers are hardly awash with them and it looks like operators are holding on to what they have; in mileage terms, after all, they are two years younger than the registration plate suggests. We even hear that one of the country’s biggest dealerships, usually carrying plentiful part-ex stock, has been buying in coaches.

One pinch point the coach industry didn’t need is Eurotunnel’s decision to restrict coach carryings, put the price up and end on-line booking for the summer. One reason given is the amount of space a coach occupies in Le Shuttle; I don’t think that has changed this year. Another is the hassle of dealing with groups.

“Come autumn, Eurotunnel may find they’ve exhausted coach operator loyalty.”

Really? I think coach passengers face the same border regulation as everyone else. Getting 50 people aboard with only one invoice? A vehicle the size of three cars carrying 50 people? I’d have thought that a great way to use rolling stock, and a great way to fill the terminal shop. (Speaking of which, is the ‘booze cruise’ due a comeback?)

Eurotunnel is a business, and I can hardly argue here for operators to future-proof their prices and argue against it for Le Shuttle. No matter where you look, the cost of everything is rocketing.
On the other hand, P&O will get back to full strength, joining Irish Ferries and DFDS on the short-sea crossings, so there will be options. Come autumn, when the schools and the rain are back, Eurotunnel may find they’ve exhausted coach operator loyalty.

Another pinch point that needs to change are group booking rules necessary when Covid was killing 1,000 people a day. No, coronavirus hasn’t gone away but some of the draconian measures relevant then are not relevant now. And the government advice about not travelling aboard coaches never was relevant.

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