The appalling delays at Dover, ensnaring thousands of coach passengers and drivers, and creating huge additional cost for the industry, must never be repeated.
Some vehicles were stuck there for a whole day, creating a driver management nightmare, leaving groups of children high and dry and, more importantly, provoking some group leaders to say they’ll never use coaches again. Make no mistake, the cost of this to the coach industry and, for that matter, ferry companies will be felt for some time.
There’s absolutely no getting away from the fact that, bad weather aside, a major cause has been passport clearance, made more time-hungry by Brexit. It was claimed it takes 90 seconds to disembark, check and re-board each passenger, there are 50 in each coach and at least 300 coaches on Saturday, so that’s a predictable 375 man-hours of checks.
If that is unavoidable (it isn’t) then serious questions now have to be asked about the infrastructure at Dover, about the planning to man it, and the information shared with Port of Dover and the border agencies. And why couldn’t the French border controls be temporarily used at Calais, where they have acres of space?
On the other hand, it’s ridiculous that closed-door return journeys comprised of children from the same school should be subject to the same checks as cars to see if anyone has smuggled themselves aboard, or that children (or elderly folk on holiday) might illegally emigrate, so need to have passports date-stamped. Has common sense deserted the border forces?
Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, laughably suggested to the BBC that number of coaches had taken them by surprise; these vehicles have been booked for weeks. Did nobody tell the Port of Dover border controls?
Even more ludicrous was the idea that there might be a restriction on numbers of coaches at peak times. Ferry companies have had some tough years and, to their huge credit, have rallied by increasing and improving services. Forcing them to sail half empty would be a kick in the teeth.
And where’s technology in all of this? Where’s the EU Border Control app, a simple electronic visa process, or proper electronic passport turnstiles?
We can’t blame France or the EU for Brexit, nor expect them to make exceptions for the UK, but they can help. As can the UK government and its agencies. Those blameless in this are everyone affected; the coach operators, drivers, coach groups and ferry companies. For many in this industry, the pre-Easter profit has been wiped out.
- Read Bus & Coach Buyer on Friday 7 April (or in Latest Issue on this website on Wednesday 5 April) for the viewpoint of operators on the Easter chaos at Dover