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Selecting a coach operator

Last updated on 06 November 2020

A group’s visit or tour can be greatly enhanced, or ruined, by the choice of coach operator.

It may be that the coach is provided as part of a package by a reputable tour operator but that in itself, sadly, does not guarantee the quality of either the coach or its driver(s), although at least establishments are in a better position when it comes to some kind of compensation.

The following is some guidance as to the sorts of things to look out for. Written assurances may be sought in response to the following questions:


  • must hold an Operator’s Licence. (Blue or orange for the UK, green for international)
  • will hold an ‘EU Community Licence’ if travelling abroad in Europe
  • will have full Vehicle Insurance cover
  • will have full Public Liability cover
  • must subscribe to a 24 hour breakdown assistance
  • must have a 24 hour contact
  • will conform to EU drivers’ hours laws and regulations, to monitor and keep tachograph records
  • must have a system in place to DBS check drivers, if appropriate
  • are they a ‘Confederation of Passenger Transport’ (CPT) member?
  • do they hold “CoachMarque” standard?


  • beware of “personalised” number plates and shiny livery; these may distract from the important bits underneath and disguise the true age/condition of the vehicle
  • will conform to R66 rollover protection regulations
  • conform to all Department of Transport requirements
  • should be fitted with seat belts to all seats. (Service buses, without seatbelts, must not be used, apart from on short local routes, and never on journeys involving high speed roads)
  • should display an Operator’s Disc – this is like a car tax disc in the windscreen and will give the licence number and name of the operator. It will normally be blue (‘standard’ UK only), or bright jade-green (‘standard international’); an orange disc (‘restricted’ to maximum of 2 vehicles) may be acceptable. A different operator’s name on the disc to that of the contracted coach company should not be automatic cause for alarm but should prompt further questioning and, if felt necessary, reference to the Traffic Commissioners’ Area office (see below)
  • visit leader to make visual inspection of interior and exterior of coach, and draw any obvious defects to the driver’s attention


  • are checked and vetted at appropriate intervals regarding their health/fitness to drive, previous driving experience, and convictions
  • have a full, current PCV licence
  • do not have past convictions for serious driving offences – e.g. drink / driving
  • are not facing impending prosecution for any serious driving offences e.g. drink / driving
  • adhere to strict working hours according to tachograph rules and regulations
  • are informed about and prohibited to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • are prohibited to use mobile phones or radios in the coach unless the bus is stationary or the equipment is fully “hands–free” operated
  • know where they are expected to be going and have the means to successfully navigate to the destination
  • have some basic, appropriate, foreign language skills, if travelling abroad, but don’t build up your hopes on this one

It is also possible to do an Operator Search on the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency website to at least verify that an operator holds a current licence that is valid.

Gov.UK: Find lorry and bus operators

Information about the validity of an Operator’s Licence can also be checked at the regional Traffic Commissioners’ Area offices:

Tel: 0870 606 0440 - 9.30am to 4.00pm Monday to Friday.

Once the coach has arrived and before the group departs is a good time for the Group Leader to discuss with the driver about mutual expectations regarding the journey.

Breaks should be planned for the journey so as to minimise the needs to use any on-board toilet facilities as these have a limited storage capacity and, in any case, it is not good to have passengers moving around whilst the coach is in motion.
It may be useful to exchange contact details (mobile ‘phone numbers) in case of emergency or changes in arrangements whilst at the visit venue.

First published 06 November 2020 - Last updated on 06 November 2020