Top Large Fleet Operator
The winners of these awards deliver consistently excellent customer service. The operators demonstrate their success through sustained effort.
They have shown that they:
- are financially sound
- maintain high operational and engineering standards
- give priority to the Health and Safety of staff and passengers through comprehensive risk management
- invest in their fleet and staff
- form effective partnerships
- identify with and respond to the communities they serve
- always strive to sustain and grow the market for coaches and coach services.
As well as this award for the larger operators (with fleets of over 101 vehicles), there are two others for businesses with fleets of 20 vehicles or fewer and between 21 and 100 vehicles.
From the winners of these three awards, the judges chose an overall winner, named UK Coach Operator of the Year.
For each of the categories, customer nominations were sought from group organisers and other industry clients. Nominated operators are also invited to submit further information to the judges.The judging process also includes 'mystery shopping' of the nominated operators to test their commitment to customer service.
Winner, Gold Award: National Express
Established for more than 40 years, National Express is the UK's largest scheduled coach operator, with 550 vehicles serving more than 900 destinations. All vehicles feature the VUER on board entertainment system and are wheelchair accessible, alongside safety features such as Alcolock and the Lytx Drive Cam system. A new cyclist warning system that provides visual and audible warnings to cyclists when coaches are turning is being deployed across the fleet. Other developments last year include new contactless ticket machines in coach stations and on board, seat reservations on selected routes, and a new 334 south coast to Scotland route. Airport services have also been improved with 25% more services between Gatwick and London, a new A2 service between London and Luton Airport and a new 212 service linking Heathrow, Birmingham and Manchester Airports. A record 19.6m passenger journeys were made last year, up by 250,000 in 2016 and the sixth consecutive year of growth. The Kings Ferry and Clarkes of London are also part of National Express' UK Coach business.
The judges commented that National Express is one of the UK's iconic travel brands, and the entry demonstrated the company's dedication to road safety and high levels of customer service, as well as excellent working practices befitting the industry's leading operator. The brand awareness of National Express benefits the whole industry highlighting the coach as an inter city travel option.
Winner, Silver Award: Lucketts Group
Hampshire based Lucketts Group is an independent coach operator with a fleet of 136 vehicles and 317 employees across four brands; Lucketts Travel, Coliseum Coaches, Solent Coaches and Worthing Coaches. One of the company's key values is 'putting passengers first', something that has generated acclaim not just from customers, 97% of whom would be likely to recommend the company, but also from industry peers. Although Lucketts can trace its roots back for 92 years, it remains as ambitious as ever. Its aim is to double its current turnover to £40m within five years, and become known as the best independent operator in the UK. Over the past year, Lucketts has acquired Solent Coaches, merged its Worthing Coaches and Lucketts Travel holiday programmes, purchased a high specification VIP coach - which the only one of its type in the region - and invested £7.5m in new vehicles. Quite an achievement.
The judges noted that running a coach business for over 90 years and still growing is quite a record. They were pleased to see that the company has ambitious plans for continued growth and treats its employees very well, which no doubt helps the business run smoothly and achieve such a high level of customer satisfaction.
Winner, Bronze Award: The Kings Ferry
Fifty years ago Peter O'Neill established The Kings Ferry in Kent with just one private hire coach. It now boasts a fleet of 138 coaches and a turnover of more than £27m, helped by continued investment and entering new markets. The company is best known for its London commuter services. Last year it added another new route, introduced a mobile ticketing system, and installed the National Express VUER entertainment system, all of which helped deliver a 3% increase in passenger numbers over the previous year. The company has also expanded its corporate business, signing a £2.5m contract with Amazon to provide transport to its 13 UK fulfilment centres.
The judges noted that since acquisition by National Express, The Kings Ferry has expanded its VIP, event and corporate travel while also consolidating Clarkes operations in London, which it took over last year. At the same time, it has increased its profitability.
Finalist: Edwards Coaches
Family owned Edwards Coaches was established in 1924 and operates from Pontypridd in South Wales. It employs over 700 staff and has a total fleet of 300 vehicles including 266 coaches, 20 buses and 14 minibuses. One of the largest coach companies in Wales, it undertakes all aspects of coach operation including holidays, school transport, National Express, private hire and a local bus service. It's a big and expanding operation with its school transport service carrying over 6,500 students every day, while it's very popular holiday business carries over 80,000 customers each year. This year the company has taken on a cruise specialist, reflecting the increasing popularity of this kind of holiday. Edwards is a major local employer with several generations of families working alongside the Edwards family. Managing Director Jason Edwards has been appointed High Sheriff of Mid Glamorgan for 2020, testament to the company's positive impact in the area.
megabus.com is a budget inter city coach operator in the UK and North America and is part of the Stagecoach Group. It began its UK operations in 2003 and now runs to more than 90 destinations across the UK using over 115 vehicles and has over 400 employees. megabus.com continues to evolve and grow its network by operating services from within Stagecoach's own companies, as well as with a number of external contractors. The company launched a new website in the middle of last year which has helped increase the number of transactions and increase revenue.
Finalist: R S Tyrers
RS Tyrers was established by Robert Samuel Tyrer in Lancashire in 1972 with the aim of providing clean and reliable vehicles, and exceeding customers expectations through outstanding customer service. The third generation of the family still run the business with this ethos and they continue to grow the business with this determining factor. Tyrers runs a fleet of 95 vehicles, more than 60% of which are wheelchair accessible, operating out of two depots in Chorley and Bolton. It employs over 100 people, all of whom are highly valued. The company believes that by investing in its employees, it is investing in a brighter future for the company. Tyrers recently attained CoachMarque status, and had its maintenance team and methods described as 'a blueprint for other operators' by VOSA on a recent visit.
Finalist: Shearings Holidays
Wigan based Shearings Holidays can trace its roots back to the establishment of Webster Bros in 1903, but despite its long history, Shearings is constantly looking to the future of coach tourism, which has cemented its position as the UK's largest escorted tour company. Last year Shearings refurbished all its coach interchanges, and began a refurbishment programme updating many of its hotels, which will continue into this year. The company also relocated its head office last year to new premises, which, while offering modern facilities, are still based in Wigan, staying true to its heritage.
Who could be nominated?
The awards were open to all operators of coaches for hire to the general public or used on tours and excursions.
... and by whom?
Group organisers and other clients who hire coaches on an occasional or regular basis were asked to nominate the coach company which has delivered the best service to their groups.