Londoners had their work-from-home bubbles burst today as coach drivers staged a noisy protest at being ‘forgotten’ by the government’s coronavirus support schemes.
Convoys of coaches descended on the capital from different parts of the country, prompting confused reactions on social media as they hit residential areas.
Hammersmith resident Sophie Isles took to Twitter to ask ‘what on earth is happening’ after hearing ‘aggressive’ beeping for two hours solid. Coaches were also heard blaring their horns in Battersea, Barnes and Vauxhall.
Organisers of the #honkforhope protest, who estimate more than 500 vehicles took part, urged ministers to act fast to save the industry as ‘hundreds of thousands’ of children will rely on them to get to school in September.
The Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) said just one in 50 coaches are currently being used yet the industry is haemorrhaging £65 million a month in overheads.
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It warns many of the 42,000 people employed in the sector face losing their jobs as the furlough scheme begins to wind down, and called for an extension of the scheme along with extra cash support.
The body also wants the government to recognise coach operators as part of the leisure industry so they can become eligible for the sector’s support offerings.
The Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund (RHLGF) offers one-off grants of up to £25,000 for small businesses in England but transport providers do not qualify for it.
The coach drivers formed a convoy entering the M4 and along Cromwell Road, eventually reaching Parliament Square and Tower Bridge.
Social media reactions to the stunt ranged from irate to sympathetic.
County Durham-based operator Stanley Travel Ltd claimed they had been warned by the Metropolitan Police not to honk when passing the Palace of Westminster, saying: ‘Sorry to disturb you but we’re just trying to get back to work ourselves!’
Yorkshire-based operator York Pullman, whose drivers ferry thousands of kids to and from school every year, has warned it could be forced to lay off half of its workforce.
CPT Chief Executive Graham Vidler said: ‘Today’s event shows the strength of feeling within the coach industry about the lack of Covid-19 support they have received from government.
‘The industry will be central to helping 100,000s of children return to school in September, but its ability to do so is being put under threat through a failure to provide much needed help at a time when it is desperately needed as a result of unprecedented cancellations and a fall in new bookings.
‘CPT shares the industry’s extreme disappointment that it has been forgotten by government and will continue to press for government to deliver the support the industry rightly needs.’
The Met have been approached for comment.
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