Industry gets behind UK Coach Rally
This year’s UK Coach Rally at Alton Towers Resort saw a fifth successive win for Parry’s International in the Coach of the Year category for its recently-delivered Neoplan Starliner 2. The highest-placed operator in all classes went to rally stalwart Kenzies Coaches, whose Cyril Kenzie was on hand to collect the Alan Goodwin Trophy.
Kenzies also struck gold in the Coach Driver of the Year competition which was won by Darren Stanford, as well as picking up awards for the best loved coach and the top Van Hool trophy.
The Midicoach Driver of the Year was won by Matthew Haines of Haines Minicoaches and York Pullman’s Matthew James was Mini Coach Driver of the Year.
The weather for this year’s rally was much improved on last year although that obviously hadn’t put off north east traffic commissioner Kevin Rooney who returned to take part in the judging and hand out the prizes, despite probably writing off a suit during last year’s deluge at the prizegiving ceremony.
2015 did see a smaller number of operators entering and a much-reduced trade attendance, but the mood amongst competitors remains very positive towards the rally and a group of operators have now vowed to back organisers Paul and Ann Cousins in re-energising the event which will be at a new venue next year, most likely a popular seaside resort.
The rally celebrated its 60th anniversary last year and while the industry has changed enormously in that time, the event still offers a unique event for coach operators each spring. The family-focused atmosphere has been crucial to the rally’s success and longevity; mirroring the enduring family-run business model within the coach sector. And while Alton Towers has provided a good venue for the past few years, it has not been able to provide quite the right ambience with the alternative activities that help keep the family atmosphere alive. Of course, there are the rides in the resort, but many may have tried those previously and the distractions on offer in a more urban setting are likely to work better.
In addition, outdoor events in the British weather - at any time of year - need a worthwhile bad-weather option as offered by The Lanes in Brighton, home of the Rally for many years. If the organisers can create a new home for the rally at a popular seaside destination then there is a real opportunity for the rally to succeed for many years to come.
You only have to talk to the drivers at the rally to recognise the passion they have for the job to see how important the rally is to them. The frantic polishing, buffing and tidying ahead of the judges’ rounds on the Sunday morning is evidence of participants who really care about their work and are a great advertisement for their companies and the industry. This year I was struck by the dedication of owners and drivers from many companies, and especially Edwards Coaches, Decker Bus, Bibby’s of Ingleton, Megabus and Parry’s International whose representatives went to great lengths to impress all the judges.
Of course, the rally has a competitive element which adds to the spectacle, but it is not just about the driving tests and the Concours d’Elegance; it is the social aspect of the event which is what makes it special. Old friends make new friends and hopefully pick up some good ideas on the way. It deserves to have a continuing space in the coach operator’s calendar and we look forward to supporting it for many years to come.