December 21 2021

In our final blog of the year, our Chief Executive Graham Vidler recaps the work CPT along with our members have done throughout the year, from publishing the coach strategy ‘Backing Britain’s Coaches’ to holding the first UK Bus & Coach Conference.

It has been – to say the least - another challenging year for bus and coach. The year has seen gradual recovery in our key markets and, for bus, a hugely ambitious National Bus Strategy but we end the year facing huge uncertainty: uncertainty about future funding, uncertainty about the path of the pandemic and measures to tackle it, uncertainty about the supply of drivers as the UK’s labour market adjusts to both Brexit and the pandemic.

We began 2021 with the first UK Bus & Coach Conference, a two-day online event attended by over 500 people which covered a wide range of issues impacting the industry, including tourism post Covid, improving bus services, and the journey to net zero. After the success of the 2021 conference I am delighted that the conference is returning in January 2022, this year sponsored by Backhouse Jones. I urge everyone to sign up for the event (which is free for CPT members) and join our expert speakers as they discuss how we can tackle current issues head on.

In March we saw the publication of two important documents. Backing Britain’s Coaches, the coach industry’s first dedicated strategy, was created by CPT in collaboration with our coach commission members to determine what our priorities should be to help the sector deliver environmental, economic and social benefits. The coach industry suffered as much as any other during the pandemic and was inexplicably treated differently to other areas of the leisure and hospitality industry, and this strategy set out the road to recovery. It was great to have both Transport Minister Baroness Vere and Tourism Secretary Nigel Huddleston at the event to hear about the strategy and what operators need to play their part in the recovery from Covid-19.

We also saw UK Government publish the long-awaited National Bus Strategy for England, which represented an opportunity for a step-change in bus use across England. The Strategy delivered on CPT’s key asks with a focus on bus priority and a requirement for councils to adopt targets for bus speeds in growth in passenger numbers. To deliver the Strategy local authorities and bus operators were tasked with drawing up Bus Service Improvement Plans to set out how, with Government funding, they would work together to transform bus services. Operators worked hard to draw up these plans and we hope to see the ambition delivered, however following CPT analysis of these plans, significantly more funding is needed to deliver them than the Government has pledged. We have been calling on the Government to ensure that some of the available funding is used to deliver nationwide price capped multi operator ticketing to so that everywhere sees some improvement next year, and to make sure funding is made available to maintain services as passenger numbers continue to recover.

This year we have been building up the CPT team around the UK. In February Josh Miles joined us as CPT Cymru’s first full-time Director and since then CPT Cymru has, amongst other excellent work, successfully negotiated the Bus Emergency Scheme 2 to support bus operators in dealing with the implications of Covid-19, and the team successfully lobbied for coach operators to be included in the Economic Resilience Fund as part of the tourism and hospitality sector.

Our Scotland team has been expanding too, with Director Paul White being joined by a Public Affairs Manager and an Administrator. CPT Scotland played a pivotal role securing £10 million for Scotland’s coach operators to provide them with financial support during the lockdown period. This support was vital to many operators who continue to feel the pains of the pandemic. In July Scottish Government announced that from 31 January 2022 bus travel will be free for all under 22s in Scotland, a scheme CPT Scotland has been involved with to ensure that it is fair to operators as well as making bus travel more accessible to young people.

Our Operations Team has been working to enable members to run their businesses effectively and helping them stay compliant. Throughout the year the team has secured repeated extensions to the emergency short notice procedure for changing local bus service registrations, with UK wide flexible local bus service registration arrangements extended repeatedly and now into 2022. Driver recruitment has been a key issue for the industry this year and with sustained pressure from CPT provisional licence application waiting times were reduced from 8 weeks to 2 weeks, so people can begin their driver training sooner. A backlog at DVSA led to lengthy waiting times for vocational testing, but the Operations Team secured improvements to DVSA testing provision so that it is properly shared across the HGV industry and bus and coach to get new drivers on the road as soon as possible. It was great to end the year with our first decarbonising coaches event, a virtual event dedicated to addressing the barriers coach operators face to decarbonising their fleets. It was also an opportunity to announce the formation of the coach decarbonisation taskforce who will begin work in the new year. This new taskforce, chaired by Ian Luckett, will bring together operators, manufacturers and other experts to start to create the roadmap which will help operators decarbonise their fleets and play a full role in the journey to net zero.

There is a lot to look forward to going into 2022. Due to begin in January is a national TV marketing campaign to promote coach travel, called ‘Get Back On Board’. Our Coaching Manager Phil Smith has worked closely with members on this project which aims to promote travelling by coach around the UK and highlight the benefits of coach travel more widely. Our work on decarbonisation will continue for bus and coach and we will be working to make sure Government is aware of the role coach can play in the journey to net zero. Buses and coaches have a crucial role to play reducing carbon emissions, connecting people with education, work and essential services, and supporting local economies, and CPT will be making sure the voice of the industry continues to be heard. In a year where certainty and clarity will continue to be at a premium I look forward to working for you all and keeping you updated.

In the meantime, have a Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year.