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How to Book a Coach

Choosing which coach operator to use can be a daunting prospect but it’s one of the most important elements for those involved in organising group travel.

Starting point

Hiring a coach is a vital part of arranging a group trip for all group organisers.

It might seem a simple task but actually, there’s a lot to consider and discerning organisers do not choose a coach on price and seating capacity alone. There are many different companies with different vehicles and different prices but there are a few things you should consider before making your final decision.

The standard of service, and the quality of vehicles and drivers, can make all the difference. It is important that you choose transport operators for the right reasons. A good operator is easy to contact and responds promptly in a friendly approachable manner.

They have knowledge and experience and are happy to advise on travelling times, comfort stops and other options. It is therefore essential that you choose the right operator for your needs and establish a clear line of communication to ensure your requirements are met and any problems quickly resolved.

Once you have developed a relationship with a coach operator, it is often the case that you’ll stick with them. They come to understand your needs and you can rely on expectations being fulfilled. Having a regular driver who knows and understands your group can be important, but you may also find that one operator is more suitable for one day trip, while another has proven experience in tours abroad. Shopping around for prices gives you a basis for comparison and will also influence your purchasing decision.

Which operator?

There are dozens of coach operators throughout Northern Ireland, but a good place to start is to search through the members of the Federation of Passenger Transport (FPTNI), Northern Ireland’s trade association for the coach and bus industry. FPTNI members conform to very high standards and have a strict code of conduct.

The following is a checklist of items you should look for when hiring an operator:

  • A copy of a current Operators Licence
  • Road Service Licence.
  • Insurance - Motor Fleet, Public and Employers liability and where appropriate, Tour Operator liability.
  • The company’s reputation.
  • Driver - NI Access Vetting.
  • Well maintained vehicles with seatbelts which comply with latest safety standards and are presented in a clean and safe condition.
  • Maintenance Standards.
  • Easy to contact.
  • Prompt response.
  • FPTNI Member .
  • A 24 hour helpline to be used in case of emergency.
  • In the event of a complaint the operation of a formal complaint procedure to deal effectively and quickly with any client dissatisfaction.
  • Membership of trade organisations, or organisations like the Coach Tourism Council, will also show that an operator is committed to certain standards of service.

Buying a package

If you are looking to buy a package from a coach operator (which, for instance, would include overnight accommodation and transport) then you must make sure that they meet the requirements of the Package Travel Regulations, either in terms of bonding, insurance or a trust account.

The following information must be included in any brochure:

  • A clear statement of legal identity of the operator.
  • The means of travel, destination, the itinerary with dates and times of day, and the date of departure.
  • The nature of accommodation and meal facilities offered.
  • A total price, or at least a breakdown of the components that make up the total price, with a clear statement of what is included and what is not.
  • A statement of the booking procedure and conditions.
  • Details of any insurance facilities.

Types of coach

Vehicles are now high specification, comfortable and very valuable, often worth
in excess of £200,000 each. The type of coach that you require can also influence your decision.

For instance, you may have a smaller group and require a 27 seater midi-coach.
Nowadays, regardless of size, most coaches come with facilities such as onboard DVD players, GPS satellite navigation, extra legroom and reclining seats. Coaches are now allowed to be longer in length and many companies will have vehicles over 14 metres to cope with larger groups. It all depends on your budget and your group’s expectation of comfort. Other factors also need to be taken into consideration, including if there are hot drinks facilities on board and who would be liable if they were spilled whilst being served, as well as the legal rules on alcohol on board a coach.

Special needs

If your group includes the very young, elderly or people with disabilities, you need to ensure that the company can provide appropriate vehicles and arrange stops at places where their needs can be met. From 2006, new seatbelt laws have been introduced in the UK that require passengers to wear safety belts if available. So certain requirements need to be paid attention to, along with issues such as the location of emergency exit points. These are all subjects that should be discussed and worked out with your coach operator before you embark on a journey.

Once booked

Once you have booked a coach operator, it is important to ensure that the operator is clear on the identity of the group organiser, as this person will be required to manage the group, including ensuring the adherence of instructions on times of departure. It is also important to confirm and agree information such as the itinerary, which should include a mutual understanding as to when the driver will take legal rest breaks.

Coach parking

Although your coach operator can take care of coach parking arrangements, it is useful to know where to get information on this and how to book as well as whether parking fees will be included in the price you are quoted.

For more information contact:

  • The Federation of Passenger Transport
    Northern Ireland Ltd.
    Federation of Passenger Transport
    Northern Ireland Ltd (FPTNI)
    Ecos Centre,
    Broughshane Road,
    Ballymena,
    Co. Antrim,
    BT43 7QA
    T: (028) 2563 8938
    M: 07525 908714
    F: (028) 2563 2957
    W: www.fptni.org

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