Running a fleet requires a great deal of skill, with businesses having to manage tens, if not hundreds of vehicles, each with a driver and each transporting something, be it perishables, commercial goods or, in the case of coach fleets, passengers.
Whether it's a coach full of holidaygoers, football fans or day-trippers, the contents of a full coach can require more attention than a full lorry. This can make running coaches considerably more complicated than other forms of fleet management. However, like all forms of fleet management, running a coach fleet comes with its own rewards.
To help those who are new to the world of coach fleets and those who are looking to get started, we've provided an insight into today’s market and investigated how you can effectively manage your fleet.
The state of the nation's coach fleets
Like so many other industries, Covid-19 took its toll on the UK coach industry with restrictive lockdown measures coming into full effect when the industry would have been approaching its busiest period. Many smaller fleets were hit the hardest, with many holiday companies and coach-related activities struggling under the weight of the lockdown. Today, however, with restrictions lifted and set to continue to lift across Europe, smaller fleets are finding a place for themselves in the UK market.
Overall, the coach fleet industry is smaller than many other fleet-based industries, such as buses and trucks, but plays a core role in providing an affordable solution across numerous sectors including education, commuting and tourism. To give a sense of scale, there are typically three new buses registered for every new coach registered in the UK.
Across the industry, you can expect to see a wide variety in fleet size, with some ranging from single digits to others reaching 100-150 coaches. In addition, many operators in the UK are managed by family-owned businesses that operate out of one or two depots.
The coach industry is highly seasonal, with peak busy periods landing around holiday times and continuing throughout the summer. Less busy periods tend to occur in winter, where demand is lower outside of festivities or holidays. Typical business models for coaches often revolve around meeting as much ad hoc business as possible in the summer and supplementing it with regular and more predictable business in the winter.
The future of coach travel
With the UK government's plan for net-zero emissions by 2050, coach travel, like all forms of transport in the UK, will have to move away from fossil fuel-based vehicles to battery-powered coaches.
Electric coach travel is currently a popular topic within the industry, with many companies announcing electric equivalents of existing vehicles. However, for some fleet managers, the realities of electric coaches aren't quite up to scratch when compared to traditional coaches. While electric coaches exist and are capable of transporting passengers to and fro, they're often limited by external factors. The lack of charging infrastructure across the UK means that if a coach were to be on a five-day tour of the Scottish Highlands or the Lake District, recharging the battery would fast become a serious cause for concern.
However, relying on electric coaches is by no means impossible, especially if coaches are travelling between major cities where charging points are more frequent, or if they’re transporting passengers on day trips.
Navigating the challenges of coach fleet management
Coach fleet management has its fair share of complications but anticipating common problems can put you ahead when it comes to getting back on the road. Below, we've laid out our top recommendations for keeping your fleet, drivers, and passengers safe and happy.
Look after your coaches
Without your coaches and vehicles, you wouldn't have a fleet at all, making them the most important asset to your business. Therefore, keeping them in good working condition should be crucial for fleet management. Not only does regular maintenance keep your fleet on the road and your drivers safe, but it also keeps your passengers happy, so they’re more likely to travel with you again and again.
Passenger expectations have skyrocketed in the past two decades, with comfy seats no longer being enough for most. Instead, passengers tend to expect coaches to have Wi-Fi access, plug sockets for charging devices, onboard toilets and even entertainment systems.
However, the absolute baseline of passenger expectations for a coach is that it doesn't break down mid-way to a destination. Before considering upgrades and kitting out a coach with the latest technology, it's essential to establish a regular maintenance check on all vehicles. We also recommend that you encourage drivers to carry out preliminary checks before and after every day of driving and report any known issues.
Keep track of your progress
Once you know your fleet and drivers can safely transport passengers, it can be a good idea to consider the wider picture and assess the broader aims for your company. Beyond the initial goals of getting everything set up and operating, looking into how you want to run your fleet and how your management can increase profit or efficiency can be helpful.
One of the best and easiest ways to track business goals is to make your progress measurable. Whether it's keeping track of your distance covered or reducing costs on fuel, being able to compare information month on month will give you a good grasp on how your fleet is performing.
Many companies offer a fleet management system to help you track chosen KPIs, and at Right Fuel Card, we offer a system that allows fleet managers to track the amount of money spent on fuel and produce tailored reports. Our online service means that information is available 24/7, giving you complete control over your fuel card management.
If you're looking to save money on fuel or want to track your outgoings, then you should consider using one of our fuel cards which can provide you with a solution that's tailored to your business needs. We are also hoping to introduce EV fuel cards to our network in the near future so if this is something your fleet might be interested in, then register your interest today.
Matt DoddsWith over 14 years of experience across two of the leading fuel card companies in the UK, Matt Dodds joined RFC Edenred to help lead the development of products to support our customer's move to EV and other alternative fuels, a transition he feels passionately about.