Dover delay problem shifted to coach operators says CTA

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New measures aiming to reduce delays for coaches passing through Dover to Europe risk moving responsibility to coach operators, says the Coach Tourism Association (CTA). The Port of Dover announced that stakeholders including ferry operators, French border control authorities, and the port itself, have agreed to steps that will be implemented to try and prevent a repeat of the lengthy delays seen at the start of the Easter break.

The Port of Dover said that it would introduce a number of measures to ease the flow over the Easter weekend, namely:

  • To reduce coach volumes on the projected peak travel day of Good Friday, ferry operators DFDS, Irish Ferries and P&O would work with their coach customers to spread the travel across a three-day period, from Thursday 6 April to Saturday 8 April.
  • The installation of additional temporary border control infrastructure as contingency capacity for coach processing.
  • French border control authorities providing a full complement of officials to process outbound travellers despite lower coach volumes.
  • Coach and car drivers being advised not to arrive early for sailings, so as to avoid unnecessary bottlenecks in the Dover area.

“CTA welcomes efforts to improve the situation for operators, but it is not a practical solution for operators to change tour departure dates at late notice. In many cases, hotels have been paid for and won’t or can’t provide alternatives. Operators now have the job of speaking with clients, many of whom simply can’t change their arrangements,” said CTA Chair Robert Shaw. “The problem is effectively being shifted to coach tour operators.”

The CTA called on all stakeholders including the Government and border control authorities to prevent the recurrence of long delays at the Port of Dover that impacted coach operators at the start of the Easter holidays. Many of its member operators were impacted by the delays in passport control that began on Friday 31 March, the Association said, with one operator having over 20 vehicles involved. Members reported delays of up to 20 hours with extremely limited facilities for passengers. Some operators turned around on reaching Dover, while others were forced to find early accommodation to ensure drivers’ hours compliance, further delaying their journey.

“The CTA strongly supports the call for additional border staff and an increase in coach priority lanes at Dover in order to speed-up the crossing,” said Robert. “The authorities were aware of high volume coach bookings ahead of time, and the delays are unacceptable. The politics of the situation is not important; what is important is quickly reaching a solution to ensure that our members, and their passengers, do not experience these long delays again.”

The widely publicised problems at Dover also present a threat to coach operators through cancellations of already booked seats on upcoming holidays, and a negative effect on bookings for future travel. “It’s crucial to reiterate that coaches not only reduce congestion, with one coach carrying as many passengers as up to 20 cars, but that coaches are by far the greenest way to travel, with greenhouse gas emissions per passenger up to six times higher by car and up to five times higher by aeroplane,” added Robert. “For a sustainable outcome, it’s more important than ever for governments to support the most environmentally friendly ways of travel, and this means supporting coach operators.”

The CTA said that it, along with many of its member operators, believed that the peak volume of coaches heading through Dover to Europe had passed by Good Friday. “Last weekend was the busiest annual period for coaches passing through Dover as a result of end-of-season ski trip travel for coach groups that coincides each year with the start of the Easter holiday for schools, colleges, and universities,” said Robert. “This offers reassurance to coach holiday passengers that for them, the normal service at Dover hasn’t greatly changed. We expect much faster border controls throughout 2023.”

The CPT called for more border staff, an increased number of coach lanes and greater use of new technology to cure the congestion problems experienced at Dover in response to the delays experienced on the weekend of 1 and 2 April. In a letter to the Port of Dover, the CPT said it would oppose any restrictions on coach numbers, as it would be an unacceptable and backward step.

Instead, it called for adequate resourcing and proper preparation ahead of the Easter weekend and other forthcoming busy periods.

CPT Chief Executive Graham Vidler said: “Coach is the most efficient and environmentally-friendly way of moving large numbers of people across the Channel. Coach passengers should be welcomed and prioritised, rather than being made to wait hours due to unacceptable delays. This is why the Port of Dover needs to work with all parties to properly resource border control checks and the efficient embarkation of people and vehicles on to ferries.”

The trade body proposed a number of solutions, including properly resourcing the border controls by providing more UK and French border staff to speed up passport checks; more coach priority lanes on the approach to the port; and encouraging Irish Ferries and P&O Ferries to introduce a driver ‘app’ like the one used by DFDS, which enables the provision of advance information. The DFDS app reduces the boarding time for coaches by around 15 minutes per vehicle, the CPT said.