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26 Nov, 2007

Road Transport Union Seeks Classification System for Tour Coaches

Casablanca, Morocco – The International Road Transport Union (IRU) is attempting to create a uniform global classification system for tour coaches that will give them star ratings, similar to the systems used by hotels.

Speaking to the annual congress of the Universal Federation of Travel Agents Associations (UFTAA) here, Mr Oleg Kamberski, Head – Passenger Transport, IRU, said the classification system would harmonise worldwide the standards of comfort, quality and interior fittings of touring coaches and replace the varying systems spreading in several countries, “leading to confusion for users, and risks of false advertising or unfair competition between companies.”

He said the system had already become mandatory for all tourist coaches in Belgium and was now being gradually expanded to other countries in Europe.

Founded in 1948, the Brussels-based IRU is an umbrella grouping of national associations for the operators of coaches, taxis and trucks. With 180 members in 72 countries, it claims to represent the road transport industry world-wide, with its primary mission being to improve safety and environmental performance.

According to Mr Kamberski, the IRU star classification system would be applicable to touring coaches, but in some countries used also for buses/coaches plying long distance interurban and international sectors.

The one to four-star scale is graded according to a set of technical and performance criteria. Mandatory technical standards include such criteria as engine power, comfort of seats (distance between seats, reclining angle, armrests etc.) and minimum requirements for cooling/heating, windows, lighting, acoustics, luggage etc.

Optional equipment include availability of toilets, air-conditioning, video, kitchenette, telephone, wardrobe etc.

The system is intended to guarantee passengers, travel agents, manufacturers, authorities and coach operators minimum uniform standards for each coach category which are clearly identifiable and controllable, and recognised globally.

Said Mr Kamberski, “It will also ensure the transparency of the coach product and prices so that the customer will obtain the level of quality and precise category of coach to meet his needs, and allow the coach operator to apply the right price in relation to the level of quality and comfort of the vehicle provided.”

Explaining the way it would work, Mr Kamberski said national bus and coach associations in the relevant country would be in charge of implementing the system after having signed a “deed of engagement” with the IRU, which would guarantee the enforcement of harmonised standards worldwide.

The national associations would have to set up a National Classification Committee (NCC), often with the participation of other public transport and tourism authorities and private associations of travel agents, tour organisers etc. Individual companies could also join the system by signing a deed of engagement with the association, committing themselves to respect the rules of the system.

The NCC would issue approval certificates that are renewable annually, after the technical inspection of coaches, as well as the standard classification panels placed on every classified coach.

Mr Kamberski said the system would be easy to monitor and hard to counterfeit. The approval certificate would be on watermark paper placed on board the vehicle with numbered classification panels in indestructible plastic.

It would also include self-destructible validity stickers and equipment symbols affixed to the various panels. The system would be flexible enough to accommodate adaptation to technological and market developments as well as to customer needs.

“The introduction of an industry-administered tool to improve quality, comfort and safety of public services by bus and coach would also facilitate trade relationships between coach operators and travel agents, for the benefit of customers, as well as help to improve the quality of service in long distance regular bus and coach lines,” Mr Kamberski said.

The most successful cases involve a formal voluntary obligation of travel agents to order only classified coaches, such as in the Netherlands, Mr Kamberski said.

Future plans include ways to enhance the system to allow a drastic simplification of administration and reduction of costs, creation of a global Internet site and search engine to promote companies and their services offered with classified buses and coaches, as well as a mechanism for monitoring and acting upon customer complaints.

The classification system is part of wider plans to promote road transport and travel by highlighting its advantages over other means of transport, especially in view of growing global concerns over climate change.

Mr Kamberski cited European Union transport figures of 2005 claiming that coaches “are the environmental champions” with only 32 grams of CO2 emissions per passenger kilometre, as against 40 for rail, 125 for passenger cars and 315 for air transport.

They also have an excellent safety record, Mr Kamberski said, with 0.20 fatalities per billion km, as against 4.90 for passenger cars. Air travel is by far the safest means of transport, however, with only 0.01 fatalities per billion km.

Further details are expected to be discussed at the next IRU World Congress in May 2008 in Istanbul.

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