There is no argument that operating coaches in London is not easy. But the London Tourist Coach Forum’s third annual summit showed that real progress is being madeThis year’s London Tourist Coach Forum at the Prince of Wales Theatre set out the contribution that coaches make.In 2015, 12m domestic tourists arrived in London by coach, plus 1m international tourists. Each year 21,500 tourist coaches visit central London and there are 235,000 tourist coach movements in central London, Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) Operations Director Stephen Smith, told the delegates.The consultation on the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) closes on 18 December, and operators are urged to respond to it, even if they are not based in London.The new Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has placed air quality at the top of his agenda, Transport for London (TfL) Director of Surface Strategy & Planning Ben Plowden told the delegates.Full details are in the document A City for all Londoners, which he urged people to read, and respond to the consultation, which closes on 11 December. In terms of air quality, the new Mayor “wants to go further and faster than Boris Johnson did,” says Mr Plowden.Practical measuresTfL has significantly improved the flow of information about the roads network, so coach drivers can plan their trips. It is working with the CPT to inform its Twitter feed; meanwhile other information is presented monthly in Ben’s column in this magazine.A trial of mixed-use bays – flexible use of kerbside space – which allows coaches to drop-off and pick-up passengers at Park Lane/Cumberland Gate, Vauxhall Bridge Road and Commercial Street, is working well.Also, plans to extend some current 20-minute bays to 60-minutes – to enable drivers to take their tacho break – are in handThe coach parking map, published in April, remains popular, with ongoing updates to the online version.TfL does not operate in isolation and has on-going collaboration with Camden and Westminster councils (covering the tourist heart of the city), alongside the London Councils umbrella body; the London Tourist Coach Operators Association (LTCOA), European Tourism Association (ETOA), CPT; plus London & Partners (the capital’s official promotional company) and Society of London Theatre, representing the capital’s 67 theatres.Practical problemsWestminster City Council’s coach provision is 68 daytime bays, using pay-by-phone, plus 16 20-minute short-term bays (free of charge) and eight overnight bays in Bullied Way.Around 3,000 coaches a day enter the borough, and there are 36 uses of kerbside space – from taxis, to deliveries, cycles – which means that there is high competition for this limited resource, says Cllr Heather Acton, Cabinet Member for Sustainability and Parking.The opening of the Kingsway parking bays has been a success and, subject to TfL approval, they will be extended to operate from 1000-2359hrsThe biggest issue remains Buckingham Gate, due to its proximity to Buckingham Palace and the attraction of the Changing of the Guard, which creates congestion, noise and air quality issues with its use by coaches.The ‘cat and mouse’ game of ‘circling’ to try to find drop-off points and parking increases coach movements and has air quality issues.To combat this, parking technology using the ParkRight app works with sensors to show where a free bay is, and then routes the driver to it. It is hoped, subject to funding, to extend this to all coach bays in the future.OverseasRepresenting 200 tour operators and 650 suppliers (such as hoteliers and coach providers) from around the world, Head of Tour Operator Relations Nick Greenfield explained what ‘coaching heaven’ (Amsterdam) looks like, compared with coaching ‘hell’ (Italy), sharing some ideas of best, and worst, practice.The vital importance of tourism to the London economy was set out in considerable detail by the London & Partners Acting CEO Andrew Cooke. The organisation’s strategy is economically-based. Mayor Khan wants to encourage “good growth” and tourism can help this.This is based on attracting visitors who spend the most, rather than those who spend little.Against a background of three years reduced tourism since 2012, in 2015 there were 18.6m overseas visits to London, a 7% increase. With an average spend of £640 per visitor, they generated £11.9bn (up 1%).While the US just edged ahead of France in 2015 as the biggest source of visitors (2.14m, compared with 2.07m for France), short-haul European market generates the most traffic.But the most valuable market for London, by spend, is the USA, whose visitors spent £1.81bn – more than double the next closest, France at £0.76bn. But all this pales compared with the £8.1bn spent by the domestic market.Document and consultations: A City for all Londoners hereULEZ proposal and consultation hereCommentThe Forum brought together representatives from trade associations, TfL, but crucially, those from the boroughs. The part the boroughs play in providing access is vital. Councillors appreciate tourism; yet also need to balance this with the need to protect residential streets from unwanted traffic and balance air quality and other issues. The forum made it clear that progress is being made – but that it is a partnership between all involved, including coach operators and drivers – within the confines of so many groups all wanting access to the same streets and parking.
Yellow Buses has taken delivery of six ADL Enviro400 MMC double-deckers worth £1.3m.L-R: Commercial Director Paul Wren; MD Andrew Smith; Service Delivery Director Phil PannellThe Euro 6 vehicles have leather seats, tinted glass, USB chargers for all seats, free wi-fi, audio/visual next-stop announcements, extra space for buggies and shopping trolleys, and easier-to-read front destination displays.The buses also have full internal and external CCTV and real-time tracking that links to the journey planner on Yellow Buses’ app and website. Andrew Smith, Managing Director, says: “These are impressive state-of-the-art vehicles and a very welcome addition to our fleet.“They will be used across our local network, allowing as many passengers as possible to experience the very best in 21st-century bus travel.”RATP-owned Yellow Buses operates a fleet of 140 buses and 18 coaches with a staff of over 410.
Cumbrian tour operator Mountain Goat is expanding across the North for the 2018 season, with new pick-ups from Manchester, Edinburgh, North Wales and Yorkshire.Liz Chegwin: ‘With new vehicles, we can radically expand services’It is also marketing its private multi-day tours to start from anywhere in the UK, which is aimed at international visitors.It has bought 10 new 16-seat Mercedes-Benz Sprinters, bringing the fleet up to 30 minibuses, and is currently on a recruitment drive.The Windermere-based operator runs tours for small groups, originally around Cumbria, and in Yorkshire from 2016.This year it will rebrand its Yorkshire day tours as Mountain Goat York, with both private tours and daily scheduled services available, while its Cumbria tour pick-ups will expand to Keswick.The company says the changes have been driven by increasing demand from international visitors, including both travel agents and individuals travelling independently.A snapshot of Mountain Goat passengers over the past year reveals that behind domestic visitors, American visitors are the most frequent, closely followed by Japanese, Australian, Chinese and Indian travellers.Liz Chegwin, Marketing Manager at Mountain Goat, says: “Although Mountain Goat has been around for 46 years, we need to keep innovating and moving with the times.“With new staff and new vehicles, we are able to radically expand the range of services we offer across a much larger geographical area. We are focusing on the North of England, but essentially multi-day private tours can start from anywhere in the UK, which gives us greater flexibility and allows us to create a more personalised service.“This is a major benefit for international visitors in particular.”
Masons Coaches is a small family-run business, typical in many respects, but with a special flair for engaging its customers and making an impressionPart of the company’s marketing drive has been professional photography as well as videoAll part of the family: (l-r) Matt, Jo, Candice and JamesLatest addition to the fleet is a 17-plate VDL Futura 2, spec’d to a luxury standardSmall workshop is the domain of company founder Andrew MasonIn the coach industry, a focus on customer service is what makes a lot of businesses thrive.Masons Coaches is one of them. Based close to Tring on the borders of Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire, and run by directors James and Matt Mason, its level of attention to detail and its willingness to go above and beyond for customers is what sets it apart – and it’s why it’s succeeded in areas other operators often struggle with.Take coach holidays. The family business runs a small programme of really successful, well-thought-through tours and excursions, spearheaded by James’s wife Candice since she joined the company three years ago. Not only do they sell well, they’re profitable too.The key is keeping the programme at a nice manageable size so that either Candice or her colleague Jo Jones can act as courier on each tour, ensuring people are really well looked after.“If there are any problems at all, we can sort it out there and then, and that makes a huge difference,” says Candice.She points out that it isn’t fair to expect drivers to drive and deal with all customers’ requirements, complaints and general comfort. She says: “We get people re-booking based on the extra person being there. It’s come through that that’s what’s helping us stand out.”Steady growth, faster growthMasons was founded 35 years ago when George Mason bought a minibus for his son and daughter-in-law, Andrew and Gillian, to operate.The business grew slowly: Andrew and Gillian’s sons James and Matt remember when the office was based at their home in Cheddington, with two coaches parked outside. It wasn’t much bigger when James and Matt joined the business, around 16 and 13 years ago respectively.Gillian left three years ago, leaving her half of the business to her two sons: Andrew owns the other half and remains director and workshop manager, while James acts as Transport Manager, and Matt looks after operations.It’s in the last five years that it’s grown the most: The fleet size has almost doubled to 12 coaches, and the business moved to new premises four years ago that it has already almost outgrown.The site includes its own maintenance facilities, with room for two coaches in the workshop. Other local coach and haulage companies often send their own vehicles here for maintenance work, so it’s a useful sideline.Last year Masons bought its first brand new coach since 2014: A VDL Futura 2 with DAF engine from Moseley (PCV) Ltd, James and Matt’s first purchase as directors. “We needed to update the fleet and we wanted to make a bit of a statement,” says James. “We have coaches going into London, so we had to update for the LEZ.”With upgraded luxury seats, an onboard toilet, fridge and multi-media entertainment system, it’s certainly made an impression on passengers. “Customers are always quick on the phone to let us know if the coach is good,” says Candice.She and Jo talk about all the positive feedback they receive, including handwritten notes and thank-you cards. It’s an inherent part of what makes Masons special: Its personal relationship with customers.For that reason, while the company has grown a lot in recent years, it doesn’t want to move too fast. “We’d like to keep on growing steadily,” says James. “We’ve seen other businesses do too much too quickly, and it’s set them up to fail.”Overwhelming interestThe day trips and holidays side of the business was relaunched in January 2017, at an open day in a local pub.The team were expecting 30 customers, so were surprised and overwhelmed to be inundated with visitors. It was the springboard for a small tours programme of 25 trips in the first year – all of which ran, even with small numbers. When one tour only attracted four clients, Masons hired a taxi to take them so they wouldn’t be disappointed and lose faith in other tours. “We agreed when we started it that we’d try to run every trip,” says James. “It was a learning curve in what trips we can and can’t do.”This year, bookings are strong on a tour programme that Candice has very quickly developed a flair for.“We’ve got people who are willing to pay for something a bit different,” she says. “Anything with food usually sells well. And you can usually fill up a tour involving a boat or a train. Buckingham Palace didn’t sell well, because people have done it before.”A master stroke was the introduction of half-day trips under a ‘Lunch Club’ banner.“I realised that there’s a group of customers who physically can’t get around much, and they don’t want to be out all day, but they still like to get out. The lunch club is designed for people with more limited mobility.” It usually involves a half-day trip with a pub lunch, and Masons usually uses minibuses on these, but they’re growing in popularity.Responding to a needAnother example of Masons’ personal touch is its two school bus services, running from Milton Keynes to Aylesbury’s grammar schools. Registered as commercial routes, they are in direct response to appeals from parents after the council decided to stop running its own service in 2016.“We got so many enquiries from parents in one week, we had to pay attention to them,” says James.“It’s completely new to us. It started with 13 kids on it, but as soon word got out, it was filling up.”Word spread thanks to Facebook and the parents themselves. It has continued to grow, with a forecasted 160 pupils using the services this September.“The feedback we get says our provision is exemplary,” says Candice. “We haven’t had to advertise it.“But we’re not taking it for granted. We listen to what customers want – we’re always listening.”It sends surveys to the parents to find out how it’s running and ask if they have suggestions. It already sends out emails to parents if there are delays on the route, but parents have asked for a text messaging system as well – so Masons is currently looking into that.Social successThe company’s relationships with its staff are a similar story. “We listen to staff,” says Candice. “They’re part of the family.“We have zero staff problems,” she says – how many businesses can say that? “They all do a really good job.”With a couple of father-and-son teams involved as well as the Masons themselves, and with customers given the chance to get to know drivers and ask for their favourites when they re-book, it’s no exaggeration to say that it feels like everyone is family.You can get a good feel for Masons by watching the four-minute video it has just had made for promotional purposes. It features Andrew, James, Matt and Candice, long-serving driver Ken Cato, and a number of happy customers – in a professionally shot and produced video made by local production company Mann Bros.Promoted on social media, the video has been viewed nearly 5,000 times on Facebook alone, with a huge number of positive, touching comments from customers, and a great many shares – including on local community Facebook pages, which help to get the name out.Says Jo: “It’s made the local area more aware of us. People who had no connection to us before will remember that they saw a video about us shared on Facebook.”Candice mentions Facebook’s ‘looking for recommendations’ feature – since the video, if people ask for recommendations for coach hire, more people are recommending Masons Coaches.Generally, the company has mastered how to use Facebook for business and gets a lot out of it. In the two years since it relaunched its tour programme, the team have noticed that far more older customers have email addresses than before, and believe it’s because they use Facebook.Masons also uses Facebook’s targeted advertising, and engages with its clients with friendly, familiar posts about the team. “If we put a photo of Ken on Facebook, all our customers go mad for him,” says Candice with a smile.Close-knit familyThe Masons are a close-knit family and that’s reflected in a close-knit business. “It helps that Matt and James are the most relaxed people in the world,” says Candice. It has good relationships with the local councils, with other local coach companies, and even with the DVSA, which is impressed with its registered school services.For the future, steady growth in new premises is indicated. Being so close to London has its own challenges, especially around air quality, but this is making James and Matt think about other ways to update the fleet: Leasing is a possibility.Says James: “We’ll never be in a position to buy a whole fleet of new vehicles – who will?“But we’re going to continue to do what we do really well. We have exciting plans for the future – all I can say is watch this space.”
First York bus drivers are learning first-hand how to provide an improved on-board experience for blind or partially sighted customers by taking part in a “swap with me” event.CaptionDrivers will experience what it’s like to be on board a bus with limited or no vision.The event was planned for First York drivers with members of the York Blind and Partially Sighted Society (YBPSS). The exercise involved drivers wearing sim specs, which help to simulate different types of sight loss. Drivers were then asked to show a bus pass and to find a seat on board the vehicle.Training is provided to all bus drivers to help ensure they can provide the best possible experience for passengers with sight loss, however passengers are also being asked to remember to stay seated until the bus has come to a stop.
Long-distance touring work is the target for Volvo’s super-high 9900 coach in the UK and Irish markets. Does it suit that application? We put the right-hand drive prototype through a Test Drive to find outVolvo’s 9900 is a distinctively-styled tri-axle tourer that sits at 3.85m highVolvo is targeting the top of the market with the 9900 integral, which made its global debut in right-hand drive form. An undulating window line places it among the most distinctive coaches on the road, and the UK and Irish dealership reports strong interest from buyersIt replaces the 9700 as Volvo’s range-topping option here. As befits a coach in that category, it comes with a host of equipment as standard and much else that is optional.9900s for the UK and Ireland will come only in tri-axle form. The first coach is 13.9m long, but a 13.1m variant is also available. 57 and 53 seats are fitted respectively, but the toilet is demountable and an additional loose seat pair is provided.The first production 9900s for the UK and Ireland will be delivered soon, and one is planned to appear at the UK Coach Rally in Blackpool on 6-7 April.To suit its nature as a tourer, the 9900 has cinema-style seating. Volvo has ensured that views are as good as can be and the driver is also well looked after, with a high-specification cab and excellent visibility.Extensive customisation is possible. A notable development from the previous-model 9700 is that a rear kitchen can be added; the outgoing coach had insufficient headroom to do so, but at 3.85m tall, that is no such issue for the 9900.The first coach is regarded as a prototype, and some minor elements will differ on production examples. Nevertheless, it gives an excellent idea of what the range offers. routeone is the first publication to put the 9900 through a formal Test Drive.Building blocksPower is from the 10.8-litre D11K engine developing 460bhp and 2,200Nm of torque. That is harnessed by the 12-speed I-Shift automated manual gearbox. No fully-automatic option is available in view of the coach’s likely use as a long-distance tourer.Four steps lead to the platform and two more to the 9900’s sunken aisleA 600-litre fuel tank is above the front axle, with twin filling points. AdBlue storage is at the rear nearside, immediately ahead of the radiator.As with all Volvo coaches, the 9900 has I-Start. It uses separate batteries for auxiliaries and for the starter motor to mandate against non-starts.Alcoa Dura-Bright alloy wheels are fitted and a spare is beneath the platform. Tyre size on the prototype is 295/80 R22.5, but on production models width will grow to 315mm.The front dash panel is easily accessed via an external release catch, and the washer bottle is located beneath it.The prototype 9900 has a crew compartment ahead of the drive axle, but that will not be standard; space will instead be used for luggage. As fitted, the bunk area has a heater, a light and a handset to communicate with the outside world.Locker doors are of the manually operated, parallel lift type. No powered option is available. Production 9900s will have a two-handle arrangement on each panel; the test coach has just one.Full-width ski lockers are fitted over the rear bogie. Cantrail lighting can be added as an option. Total underfloor luggage capacity without the crew compartment is approximately 13.1m3.A comfortable tourerEntry is via four steps to the platform and two more to the gangway. Although the aisle is at a constant height, the seating platforms rise steadily to create the cinema-style layout, and hence the step to the rearmost row of seats is quite steep.Lighting is handled well. Blue LEDs are fitted in both the step edges and within the ceiling, while the latter also has white light; when the door is closed its intensity is muted, but when it is open the level of illumination increases. The passenger service units are all-new.A 13.9m the 9900 is a 57-seater; a demountable toilet allows two moreA 32kW air-conditioning unit is fitted, along with perimeter radiators and a Webasto auxiliary heater. The driver sets the desired temperature and the control unit does the rest.Seats in the prototype are to the highest specification available. They are half-leather with a moquette centre, and Volvo has an extensive sample collection at its Coventry sales centre to allow buyers to choose their own colour combination.Fitted as standard to the top-level seats are side flaps, USB charging points, drop-down tables, magazine nets, footrests and lateral displacement. The tables are to a design that uses extended arms, but Volvo expects that an alternative, more conventional arrangement will be more popular.The recline arrangement is unusual. As the seat back tilts, the squab moves forwards and lifts slightly.Comments have been made about the 9900’s glazing arrangement, which is made up of several different-sized panes. Closer examination shows that the pillar spacing is ideal, because none of them intrude on the side view from any seat. Instead, they all line up perfectly.No DVD player is fitted as standard, although the coach does come with twin folding monitors and a Bosch system with a USB input. The idea is that content will be streamed directly via that, although a DVD head unit can be fitted if required. Atop the centre toilet is a small yet neat servery that has been custom-designed by AD Coach Systems. It is to a granite-style finish.For the driverThe cab has Volvo’s customary chunky rocker switches. A one-piece powered windscreen blind is fitted and the manufacturer has been careful to ensure that only a small part of it is solid. The remainder uses mesh to maximise forward views.A further, manual, blind is above the powered signalling window. No péage opening is fitted, but it will be added to production coaches. The windscreen is heated, which is an optional fitment.Adjustment of the Isringhausen seat is good, and it swivels to around 45o to aid access. That is useful in view of the location of the I-Shift selector to the driver’s left.9900 gives excellent visibility and the coach also has no shortage of powerTwo USB charging points are beneath the signalling window and the driver has their own heater radiator, complete with a rotary control valve. A safe is well-hidden adjacent to the door, and various storage areas are dotted around the cab.Within the dash is a heads-up display as part of the driver support system. If a frontal collision is detected as imminent, an audible indication is issued. Then, the heads-up display projects a warning onto the windscreen. If that is ignored, the brakes activate.The gullwing mirrors are complemented by a lower offside pane, which is specific to right-hand drive 9900s.On the roadThe 9900 promises much from a driving perspective, and it does not disappoint. Visibility is excellent thanks to narrow, pulled-back A-pillars, and the scope of adjustment for both the seat and the steering wheel ensures a comfortable position.Independent front suspension, an actively-steered tag axle and a low centre of gravity thanks to a lighter roof structure means that the coach holds the road well regardless of speed. Crosswinds are almost unnoticeable, something that is aided by a slight lowering of ride height at 50mph. Also helping stability is Volvo Dynamic Steering (VDS). In the prototype it is enabled, but in production coaches it can be disabled by the dealer if preferred.When active, no shocks travel upwards via the steering column, and the effort required at low speeds is much reduced. However, VDS does take a little getting used to. The wheel self-centres more rapidly than it otherwise would, and that makes negotiating roundabouts something to be careful about for drivers not familiar with the system.The D11K has plenty of power and progress is made rapidly. Top gear is selected at around 50mph, but under some circumstances 11th is held at that speed.Blind arrangement is one aspect where passengers’ views are consideredAt 60mph around 1,350rpm is displayed; like-for-like that is higher than some other coaches with high-torque engines, but it gives excellent flexibility at motorway speeds. In particular, when clear of a HGV the 9900 accelerates from 56mph quickly in top gear.A reversing camera feeds to an integral dash screen, and parking sensors are fitted at the rear. For a coach of its size the 9900 is easy to drive. Doing so is also very relaxing.The prototype has GPS-based topographical awareness as part of the optional I-See, optimising how climbs are tackled to deliver the best fuel consumption. Eco-Roll can also be specified, which selects neutral on some downhill sections for the same reason, but the prototype does not have it.A touring challenger?The 9900 ticks the boxes that are required of a top-spec tourer. Passengers’ needs have been considered during design and the travelling environment is excellent. Visibility is good and noise levels within the saloon are low; the seats are also very comfortable.Drivers will struggle to find anything to complain about, and they too have been thought of by the manufacturer. The cab is comfortable and quiet and again, visibility is excellent.At 13.9m, retail pricing for the 9900 starts at £295,000. When paying that, buyers will expect to be served well by both the coach and the supplier. Volvo has taken spares supply into account, and it says that components for the 9900 can be ordered through, and supplied to, local dealerships on a next-day basis.It can also provide the 9900 on a lease package, and for an additional charge it can add up to five years’ comprehensive repair and maintenance support, delivered via 90 dealers with coach and bus coverage. Volvo will hold stock 9900s at Coventry, although none are likely to arrive for at least six months. In the meantime, build slots at the WrocÅ‚aw factory in Poland for right-hand drive models are all spoken for.The 9900 is a distinctively-styled super-high coach. Its signature window line is not something that is seen on any other model; it may look unusual, but when it is examined closely the reason for it becomes more obvious. It is well thought out, as is much else on the coach. Volumes are never huge in the 9900’s segment, but it will be a strong contender.Facts and figuresRetail price: £295,000Engine: 10.8-litre six-cylinder Volvo D11KPower: 339kW (460bhp) @1,800rpmTorque: 2,200Nm @1,000-1,400rpmEmissions: Euro 6 using EGR and SCRGearbox: Volvo I-Shift 12-speed automated manualTyres: 295/80 R22.5 (production coaches will be 315/80 R22.5)Length: 13.99mHeight: 3.85mWidth: 2.55mWheelbase (axles 1-2): 6.86mGVW: 24,750kgUVW: 16,348kgFuel economy: 10.4mpg
From humble beginnings in the family home’s kitchen, to now operating a 30-strong fleet, South West Minibuses shows how great things can happen with a strong support networkAs the saying goes: No man is an island. And when setting up a business, it is the support of those around you that can play a huge part in its success.It is the help from his family that Jay Raja, owner and Director of Bristol-based South West Minibuses, attributes to the success of his businessJay was 23 years old when he established his firm in 2005 with one minibus. As business began to pick up, his father, two brothers – Naveed and Sham – and two sisters – Shabnum and Farah – came onboard.Says Jay: “In the beginning, everything that could go wrong did go wrong. If it wasn’t for my brothers, sisters and dad, I could never have got to where I am today.“I believe one of the main reasons the business has been such a success so quickly is because of my family’s support.”Fast forward 14 years and Jay now operates a 30-strong fleet of mini and midibuses and continues to have the help of a strong team behind him.In the bloodAlthough Jay started his career as an engineer, he soon began looking at other career paths that would bring in more money and he decided to become a taxi driver.“Everyone I knew spoke about driving taxis, so I started driving taxis” explains Jay.“However, the first time I drove one, I knew it wasn’t the job for me. But I soon realised that it was all about moving people and the more people, the more money I could make, so I thought ‘let’s start moving more people’.”Jay then bought a minibus which he ran co-operatively with the taxi firm he was working for.“Within a year I decided that it was what I wanted to do, and, with my family’s help, I got my own O-Licence,” says Jay.It was also his fond childhood memories of his dad’s coach firm that encouraged Jay to start his own business.“Throughout my childhood my dad owned a coach company and as children we’d go along during the school holidays and help clean the coaches,” he says.“My dad has been in the transport industry all his life, so I think it’s in my blood.“I started South West Minibuses in February 2005 with a £10,000 bank loan and I bought a used Ford Transit, which I thought was executive at the time.”In the same year, Jay’s brother, Naveed, passed his PCV test and joined the firm, and a second minibus was purchased, with their father – who already had his licence – and brother, Sham, not far behind.Onwards and upwardsThe business came from humble beginnings, with the family home’s kitchen being used as an office.“As we got busier, my mum kicked us out of the kitchen and into the front room. My parents owned the house next door and were letting the rooms. When one of the rooms became vacant, we set up shop in there,” says Jay.“We operated there for a couple of years and grew the fleet to six minibuses. During that time two of my sisters – Shabnam and Farah – started working with me as well.”Jay knew the premises were not ideal but says the turning point was when a customer cancelled their booking because of it.He explains: “We had secured a booking for a wedding and the gentleman wanted to come to our office to pay for it. It was the first time we had a customer came in. He came in, looked around and said: ‘I’m really sorry, I’m not convinced. I’m going to cancel’.”Deciding they needed professional premises that reflected the service they provide, the business moved to a site at Clay Hill in Bristol.As the fleet continued to expand and the needs of the business developed, a bigger space was required. Therefore, South West Minibuses moved to its current site in 2012 – one big enough to house its own workshop.This means all the vehicle maintenance is done in-house, which Jay says is much more convenient and cost effective for the business.Fleet investmentSouth West Minibuses now operates a fleet of 30 mini and midibuses, from eight-seaters through to 33-steaters, on a combination of school contracts and private hire work.Continually renewing and upgrading the fleet is of upmost importance to Jay who says: “We learnt our lesson that the way to bring costs down and be more efficient is by buying modern vehicles.“We invest a lot into fleet upgrades, and I believe we now have 30 minibuses that are the best in Bristol.”The latest additions to the fleet are three 29-seat Iveco Daily 70C18s with Noone Turas 600S bodywork from Midlands Bus and Coach Sales.Jay describes them as being “game changers” for the business and has since ordered another one – this time with 33 seats.The firm also has a 22-seater minibus from EVM being delivered imminently.“They all meet Euro 6 standards,” says Jay. “My aim is to have the whole fleet Euro 6-compliant before a Clean Air Zone comes to Bristol, so I want to stay ahead of the game by upgrading the vehicles.”A strong teamAs the fleet has grown, so has the team behind South West Minibuses, with 32 drivers, two engineers, an operations manager, and office staff Julie and Claire joining Jay and his family.They are all a great asset to the company, says Jay.“Everyone in each of their departments are amazing at what they do,” he adds. “They really care about the business and they are more like extended family than employees.“We have some great people working with us and our operations manager, Kevin, is at the helm – he is such a key person in the office.”Essential softwareOver the years, South West Minibuses has invested in various software to help streamline operations and ensure optimum compliance.This includes Distinctive Systems’ Coach Manager system.“Before this we were doing diary bookings and one day the system failed. It caused a massive problem for us and we decided we had to go digital,” says Jay.“When I was showed Coach Manager, I thought it was amazing and we bought it outright. It took us six months to implement the system fully and we’ve never looked back. We’ve had it for over five years now and we can’t even think about operating without it.”More recently, the firm has also started to use TruTac’s tachograph analysis software.Says Jay: “We started using its system this year and it feels like we’ve discovered the missing piece of the puzzle. Within a year we want to be part of DVSA’s Earned Recognition (ER) scheme, which makes TruTac’s system so valuable.“For me, being part of ER will show how credible I know the company is. I feel being part of it will be a massive achievement that I’ve got a company that is to a high standard in every department and the most compliant.”A bright futureAs well as a move towards a fully-Euro 6 fleet and becoming part of ER, Jay would also like the business to eventually expand into full-size coach work. He says: “We did have two full-size coaches but the mistake we made was buying old ones because the maintenance was so high.“Our next step would be to buy our own premises twice the size of what we have now and start our own coach division which deals with just the coach side, or to purchase a local coach firm.”Starting out at just 23 years old, Jay has come a long way from operating solely with one vehicle to developing a successful minibus firm that he is deservedly proud of – with further growth aspirations in the pipeline.He is a shining example in the industry of just how much can be accomplished through hard work, perseverance and having a strong team behind you.
Previous articleProbe finds company partly responsible for employee’s deathNext articleWoman Grazed By Gunshot in South Bend Carl Stutsman WhatsApp Woman with Service Dog Told To Leave Mishawaka 7-Eleven Pinterest Twitter Twitter WhatsApp Facebook IndianaLocalNews By Carl Stutsman – August 23, 2019 1 424 Google+ Google+ (“7-ELEVEN” by inazakira, CC BY-SA 2.0) It’s not a good look for the 7-Eleven on Main and Catalpa in Mishawaka. A video showing the purported owner of the service station and a woman with a service dog has gone viral online.In the video Candace Mace can be heard trying to explain to the man that her dog is a legitimate service animal that has been trained. She suffers from epilepsy and says that most of her interactions with people have been pleasant, and most are just curious about the animal.The 7-Eleven has not made any comments on the video.Candace spoke with our partners at ABC 57 about the encounter. You can read the full story here. Facebook Pinterest
In the wake of a two-day meeting with EU trade ministers which ends today (19 September), he travels to Seattle next week to meet their counterparts from the US, Canada and Japan for their biannual consultations.Like most meetings of trade officials this autumn, the so-called ‘quad’ meeting will focus on preparing for the first ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in December.But, as is also the case in most trade-centred conversations this year, attention will be divertedby the ongoing feud between Washington and its trading partners over its threatened sanctions against anyone profiting from Cuban property expropriated from Americans. More important to European companies would be progress at next week’s meeting on a number of ongoing debates in the WTO. Before they meet with 100 other colleagues in Singapore, the quad partners need to consolidate some of their own positions.One key point on the agenda will be the goal of a world-wide agreement to liberalise telecommunications markets by next February. A previous attempt failed in April, and EU officials want to prepare the ground for a better result this time.The four trade chiefs will also discuss whether the WTO should push for global deals in several other areas. “We want to hear our partners’ views on investment, competition and labour standards,” said an EU official.Agreement on those issues in Seattle would create a formidable force when the four trade giants reach Singapore. Canada has been hardest hit by the Helms-Burton legislation, and trade officials expect International Trade Minister Arthur Eggleton to complain loudly.Brittan has taken up the cudgels on the Helms-Burton legislation with vigour, even though EU investments in Cuba are almost negligible.On behalf of Union governments, the Commission is drafting a blocking statute which Europeans could use to check the impact of both Helms-Burton and the more recent D’Amato legislation designed to punish Europeans investing in the oil sectors in Iran and Libya.“We want to keep the maximum pressure on the Americans to change Helms-Burton, to show them we will not flinch,” said a Brittan aide this week.While threatening that EU governments could approve the blocking statute next month – perhaps when Union foreign ministers meet on 1 October – he admitted that the regulation would probably not take effect before the US elections in early November.US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky is unlikely to concede any ground to either Brittan or Eggleton in Seattle.
In the bureaucrats’ ideal world, people stay still. Movement creates unpredictability, uncertainty, confusion and the possibility that people will dodge taxes or defraud the taxpayer. So in any country, the state creates obstacles to discourage too much flightiness. In Germany and many continental countries it is a minor misdemeanour not to register your home address with the authorities. You need official approval to change your name. The Anglo-Saxon tradition is different, allowing people to stretch or shrink their names at will. Posh Anthony Lynton-Blair can become plebeian Tony Blair. You can even change your name to something completely different on a whim, so long as you don’t obtain money dishonestly as a result. Similarly, you don’t have to tell the UK authorities where you live. But if you have a business, it must have a real address, available to anyone who asks, with a nameplate on the door showing the physical location. But in the ex-communist countries that have failed to reform public administration (ie, most of them) the lingering control-freakery of the Bolshevik mindset and the legacy of the Ottoman, Hapsburg and Czarist bureaucracies make these requirements far more onerous. Take, for example, the rigmarole involved in moving a one-person business (owned by a friend of your columnist) from one district of Warsaw to another. The first stage is for the owner to change her personal identity card. That takes a month. Then the business owner goes to the municipal office in the place she is leaving and informs them of the move and the new address. That information makes its way at snail’s pace through the Polish bureaucracy to the other municipal office. It typically takes three to four weeks. During this period the business is in limbo. It is not clear which is the legal address: the old one or the new one? Where should taxes be paid? Failure to comply involves time-consuming and even costly penalties. When the municipal office is satisfied that the move is OK, the next stage is to go to the state statistical office and have officials there register the company change of address, and update the “REGON” – the state statistical number. Armed with that, and the new company stamp, the owner then has to go to her bank and write an annex to her company’s contract with it. Then the same procedure happens with her accountant. It is hard to see why this is a legal requirement. If the company is still in business, the owner must take the title deed to the new premises, notarised, and then embark on changing the records at the tax office. Here, as with all the government offices mentioned, the opening hours are inconveniently short and often unpredictable, and the queues long. Knowing the right person can speed things up considerably. But not everyone wants that kind of friendship: obligations cut both ways. The applicant then fills out several different forms, each around ten pages long, which are submitted to the offices dealing with value-added tax, income tax and so forth. Once these are processed, the company can start worrying about its customers, costs and what its competitors have been up to in the meantime. But one obstacle still remains: dealing with the ZUS social insurance bureaucracy. That is time-consuming, too, but need not be done immediately. It is worth noting that none of this – at least in the Warsaw offices dealing with your columnist’s friend – could be done online. Poland’s government talks happily about its plans for streamlining the state machinery. For the country’s long-suffering small businesses, that can’t start soon enough. The writer is the central and eastern Europe correspondent of The Economist.