Too much choice in the trade association space?

And then there were three. The often uneasy relationship between the bus and coach fraternity within the UK industry’s trade body CPT has finally broken down, to some degree at least. Faced with the immense challenges caused by enduring lockdowns with little if any work for many coach operators, some have taken the view that the time is right to establish new ways of getting their voices heard.

CPT has faced regular criticism from some sectors of the coaching community for what they perceived as CPT being slow to react and not forceful enough in presenting coach operators as a special case that needed support since their vehicles were forced to lie idle in the yard, while bus operators received public subsidy to run minimum services.

To be fair, CPT did put forward a number of proposals, but they fell on deaf ears. In the end, at least to date, the UK government has firmly rejected all ideas for a sector-specific deal for coach operators in England, although operators in Scotland and Northern Ireland have succeeded in their lobbying. Nonetheless, some operators have decided this was their ‘last straw’ and have thrown in their lot with the Road Haulage Association to establish a new body to represent coach operators, while the erstwhile London Tourist Coach Operators Association has morphed into the UK Coach Operators Association with a country-wide remit and ambition to cover the full gamut of coach operational interests.

My gut instinct is that having three bodies essentially occupying the same space cannot be a good outcome for anyone, least of all coach operators. But we are where we are.

The two new bodies, or one new and one newly-expanded to be more accurate, will have their work cut out to establish viable organisations and hit the ground running. Their new members are expecting results, perhaps much more quickly than is realistic.

The opening press conference by UKCOA certainly offered an impressive line-up of leading operators arguing their case, and their ‘run by coach operators for coach operators’ tag line is a compelling slogan. The RHA may have a bigger hill to climb in terms of convincing coach operators to rally behind an organisation run by truckers. It does have the resources to throw at it, if it is so inclined, although presumably the coach section will need to be self-supporting as RHA truck operator members are unlikely to look kindly on long-term cross subsidy.

It would be fascinating to be a fly on the wall in a future meeting with ministers and officials in the DfT, opposite representatives from three ‘competing’ coach organisations. I can’t help feeling that there will be a lot of paper shuffling on the ministerial side while they wait for the other side to argue between themselves and then call the meeting to a close and go off and do exactly what they had always planned to. 

Of course, three coach bodies could work closely together and present a united front; but then why wouldn’t they all come together within one organisation?