Putting the green in coach
Birmingham-based Big Green Coach is serious about promoting environmentally-friendly coach travel to events
With headquarters in the trendy, graffiti-art bedecked Floodgates Street in the centre of Birmingham, Big Green Coach is perhaps a far cry from the traditional, often family-run businesses which provide its transport services. However, the company links such operators to work they may not usually get. Many reading this may have even partnered with them.
Danny Newby, one of Big Green Coach’s founders, described the business as primarily a management company: “We move masses for special events. We partner with major events organisers. For example, we do Download Festival, where we put on a few pick-up locations, from all the way up in Aberdeen and down to Brighton. They go out on the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of the weekend event and we take them home on the Monday.
“We organise coach travel only. We produce the ticket and the package and we partner with coach companies. We don’t own any vehicles; and we don’t want to. There is no economical sense to having a base with vehicles.”
According to Danny, Big Green Coach can give operators a good volume of work, especially through the May to September period. Its busiest day this year was in August, when it had 503 coaches on the road. It was organising travel for two festivals as well as another event that day. Its work is not just UK-bound, but it also organises coach transport to European festivals. Big Green Coach is no fresh-faced entrant to the market, it was formed in 2009.
“We didn’t realise until recently that this year is our tenth year!” Danny said. “We’ve just been so busy.” As the company meets this milestone, Danny is not forgetting to reward the hard work his staff put in to ensure the business meets its anniversary.
“We are taking the team out to Alton Towers. We are hiring a minibus from here, spending the day there and then all the staff are coming back to my house for a party.”
Big Green Coach all began after Danny and his business partner, Kevin Green, were made redundant from National Express. While at the transport giant, they were doing a similar role to what they are now, organising coach transport. They used their redundancy money to set the business up.
On why the pair decided to go back into the coach sector, Danny said: “We are very passionate about what we do. The redundancy came as a big surprise. But me and Kevin knew the coach industry well, so there was no reason to go anywhere else.”
It is ironic that money from National Express was used to create competition for itself. Kevin and Danny’s previous employer now proves to be one of the pair’s biggest, most aggressive competitors. Danny said: “It’s a difficult market to get in to. There’s a lot of contracts that are already signed and the business is split up between us.”
A lot of the events Big Green Coach serves are music festivals and when it started, it only did weekend travel for festivals. However, a change in that market sees festivals often selling day tickets (rather than full weekends), creating the requirement for day travel by coach. Danny said: “So now we are doing weekend and day travel.”
It started by running coaches to big gigs on an unofficial basis, but the business has grown dramatically. Danny said the company has become well known and is sought by promoters, becoming the official coach travel organisers for events. It has been the official coach transport provider for the Rolling Stones and Rammstein concerts, to name two, as well as the Hella Mega Tour
In addition to coach travel to the festivals from people’s home towns, Big Green Coach organises shuttle buses in and around the events. These are high volume, low distance services, often making use of double-deckers for bigger tours and festivals. It works closely with some of the large, national operators and independents to do this.
Danny said the company organised shuttle buses for a festival in Brighton, which saw 110 double-deckers in service. He said: “We have to bring them in from further afield than the local area. We use our contacts in the coach and bus sector; we have a good blend of them. We have some fantastic independent operators. We gave one of our favourite operators their first-ever job. Now we have seen him buy his second coach.”
On organising the transport, Danny said: “It’s a year long project. Once one festival finishes, tickets go on sale for next year’s. You have to look at last year’s sales and hire in accordance.” To effectively serve these festivals and other events, Big Green Coach has a massive supplier list. Kevin said: “Operators are approved and trusted by us. We are adding to the list all the time. We have hundreds of coach suppliers all over the UK.”
On how the company chooses its coach supply partners, Kevin said: “There are two sides to it. Firstly, we make sure they are legally compliant, that they have all they are required to have to be able to operate in the UK. The second part is they have to understand our business. It’s different to a school group; we are much more of a service. It’s important the drivers recognise they are the face of our business.”
The company not only organises the coaches, but crew at the venue to assist drivers and unload and load luggage. The nature of the work it carries out has changed, having branched out from providing music event work in 2012 when it was asked to provide services for the London Olympics. This saw it take on management duties at what was the largest transport hub in Europe.
“The Olympics were massive for us,” said Danny. It has also become the official coach service supplier to Tottenham Hotspur, which asked it to organise coach travel to away games. Big Green Coach has also invested in an event staffing agency, Seed Event Solutions. The company’s relation with the business began when it provided a coach network for its staff. It took this business on in 2015.
Green by name, green by nature
These significant developments for the firm are considerable landmarks and are all the more impressive considering its humble beginnings. Its offices must seem like a world away from Danny’s lounge where the business began. It was while in Danny’s lounge in these early days that he and Kevin came up with the name Big Green Coach.
“And it wasn’t named after Kevin Green as some might think,” Danny laughed. “We wanted the word ‘green’ in there and ‘big’ gives a sense of scale. We are extremely focused on the environment; we go that extra mile with that. When we started, we planted a tree for every coach we organised. Then we planted two trees for every coach. We had a tree planting day in Manchester a few years ago.”
It has planted hundreds of trees in the UK since making this commitment and its determination to protect woodlands has only become stronger. Danny said: “We work with an organisation called Cool Earth. For every customer who books travel with us we sponsor and protect five square feet of Amazonian rainforest for ten years.”
Doing this has resulted in over 1,200,000 square feet of rainforest in Peru being protect by Big Green Coach for the next decade since it started the commitment. Its goal is to protect an area covering three million square foot over the next five years. This focus on growing and protecting trees is in addition to the benefit the Big Green Coach has on the environment by further promoting coach travel.
The business is keen to promote the idea coach travel is more environmentally friendly than taking a car, as it reduces the number of car journeys and helps ease congestion by taking cars off the road. Among the festivals it serves, 80% of these events’ total emissions come from audience travel. With shuttle services, the company will try to get electric buses where it can, again in line with its push for environmentally friendly travel.
Kevin said: “We look for operator partners that share a similar green agenda and embrace new technology. It’s still a very traditional industry in terms of the take up of new technology.”
If readers share this green agenda and would like to work with Big Green Coach, what should they do? Kevin said: “It’s just an initial contact with us. We would then speak to their key operations people and look at some of the work they have previously done. We would then put them on a job and see how they get on. We will speak to their drivers before and after the journey.”
Inevitably, things will go wrong and such is the case with festival transport. Earlier this year, the Boardmasters event in Cornwall was cancelled at 11pm the day before it was due to start. There was a severe weather warning. Coaches were booked in to serve the event at 5am the following morning. All Big Green Coach customers were given a full refund. The company is not covered by insurance on cancelled services.
On the business’s terms and conditions for contracted services, it states it does not have to give refunds to operators. However, in this case it did, yet some operators decided to take some of the financial blow the cancellation caused themselves.
Danny said: “It definitely stung. There were a lot of operators’ vehicles out on the road before we were told it was cancelled. We gave back all the income we made from it. It was a sizeable black hole. It was the right decision to make, although it was painful. For a festival to cancel that late in the day is very rare and we have never had it happen before.”
Throughout this tumultuous time with Boardmasters, the company’s main focus was on supporting its customers. Kevin said: “Customer service is a big thing for us. We have brought it in-house recently.” The majority of festivals in the country are contracted to Big Green Coach and its competitors and its market share is increasing.
But as a company that is festival focused, its summers are busy yet its winters are not so. Danny said: “The Holy Grail is to plug that gap. That’s why we got the Spurs work. We want to replicate that.”
The service being provided is changing too. One development is the introduction of promotions whereby festival-goers are given incentives to prove to the driver they have brought their tent back with them, as abandoned tents littering festival grounds proves to be a problem for festival promoters. Helping ensure tents are cleared away also fits in with the company’s green agenda.
Danny said: “The Green Agenda is a big thing, customers demand it. However, it’s still difficult to get them out of cars. Trying to change people’s behaviour is still a tough ask.” Despite this, there is still good customer demand for coaches. Kevin said: “I think we are lucky in terms of festivals and the sports industry transport, as they have always been done by coach.”