Choosing a safe coach company.

The news about Carmel Coaches in Exeter has prompted a number of calls from our customers who want to know if our company is a safe one, or not?  Every coach company web site or brochure will tell you how excellent their safety and maintenance is, but how can you really know?

We are “policed” by the DVSA (formerly VOSA) who monitor all operators by, for example, checking the standard of their vehicles when they have an MOT test and at random roadside checks. If our MOT fail rate is higher than the national average then we can expect to be targeted! All the information the DVSA hold is used to produce a score (called the OCRS) that results in a traffic light “Green, Yellow, Red” report. The DVSA they check our score constantly and at the roadside they use number plate recognition to target coach companies who have an amber or red rating. This is a good system as it targets the worst operators. You can ask your coach company what their OCRS score is, but you can’t easily check it. Then ask them if they have been called to a public enquiry by the Traffic Commissioner in the last five years, if they have you need to know what happened!

Unfortunately, our industry is mostly driven by price rather than quality. Local Authorities pay for school transport and subsidise many bus routes, they select operators on price alone so the cheapest quote wins the contract. Coach operators basically all pay the same wages, tax, insurance etc so the only way to operate cheaply is to compromise on maintenance/compliance. A price driven industry encourages operators who cut corners.

Vehicle quality is not easy to assess from visual inspection, older coaches can be safer than newer ones. Flashy interiors or paintwork do not equal safety! Family firms or long standing businesses are usually a better measure of quality and if you can inspect the engineering facility then you will quickly determine the quality. A coach company garage should be large, clean and have lots of shiny equipment. You want to see a brake test rolling road and in the office there should be a well organised set of files, one for each vehicle. This is an excellent test of quality!

When you apply for a quotation you should expect a prompt response with a detailed estimate and a full set of T&C’s. You should get this in writing or by email. If the response comes by telephone call and is accompanied by an assurance that they will undercut any other operator, put the phone down quickly!

We have a trade organisation called CPT (Confederation of Passenger Transport) and as a general rule the better operators belong to this organisation. They provide regular training and information so members will be aware of the requirements and are able to discuss issues with CPT or other operators. Membership is open to anyone however it is not cheap and therefore “low cost” operators will not find it attractive. Ask your operator if they belong to CPT and you can check this using the CPT web page.

At Tally Ho! we really try to be safe, maintenance and driver training are genuinely at the top of our list of priorities, we spend a lot of money each year on them. We do sometimes get things wrong and occasionally we get breakdowns, we sometimes fall foul of the DVSA but when something goes wrong we focus on putting it right, permanently.

Here are my top tips for checking the quality of your coach operator:

  1. Visit them and look at their office and garage. Ask to see their maintenance records. They should welcome you and it should all look clean and organised.

  2. Ask them their OCRS score and whether they have been called to see the Traffic Commissioner in the last five years, if they have ask why!

  3. Ask to see their risk assessment for coach hire, check it is up to date and relevant.

  4. Use an operator who belongs to the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT).

  5. Quotations should come in written/email form with a detailed cost breakdown and a full set of T&C’s. Reject firms who phone prices through and offer to undercut any other quote!

  6. Look for family firms who have been established a long time.

As you will appreciate, we are very happy to be tested on all of the above measures. Choosing the cheapest usually means you get the cheapest service or as my Mother used to say “buy cheap buy twice”.

Don McIntosh

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