More border staff and greater coach priority at the Port of Dover are among the keys to preventing a repeat of the delays that badly affected departing coach traffic over the weekend of 1-2 April, the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) has said.
CPT’s call comes against a warning from one ferry carrier that a further busy day for Dover departures is expected on Good Friday, 7 April. DFDS has also cautioned that returning coaches may also see delays later in the Easter period and during the following weekend.
DFDS adds that it is “working with coach operators to spread the traffic flow across its two routes from France to Dover” on projected busy return dates. However, it has pointed out that the weekend of 1-2 April – which saw delays generate national media headlines – saw no greater coach volumes than have previously been handled by Dover at peak times.
Against a suggestion that restrictions on coach numbers could be imposed to mitigate future problems, CPT says that such a move “would be an unacceptable and backward step” that it would vehemently oppose. The Port of Dover has promised improvements ahead of the Easter weekend but has not yet said how those will be made.
Distancing itself from the previous debacle, DFDS says that “information about expected travel volumes for the weekend [of 1-2 April], including the number of coaches, was shared with the port and border authorities in advance.” The carrier notes that it did not take last-minute coach bookings.
Neither Irish Ferries nor P&O Ferries would be drawn on the matter. CPT has written to the Port of Dover proposing three solutions to the issue:
- More border control resource on both the UK and French side to speed passport checks
- More coach priority lanes on the approach to the port
- Encouragement of Irish Ferries and P&O Ferries to introduce a driver app in the same vein as DFDS to allow provision of advance passenger information.
DFDS says that it was able to process coach passengers quickly, but notes that delays were down to processing time at French border control within the Port of Dover, where all passports must be checked and stamped.
It has been suggested by one operator that at some points during the weekend, as few as two French border officials were checking documents and that checks were made on an inconsistent basis. Some French border staff boarded coaches but others required all passengers to disembark and proceed through the passport control office, they add.
The operator – which had vehicles stuck at Dover – has attacked a claim from the Port that it saw a 15% increase in coach numbers. “That comment was particularly damaging to our industry, suggesting that we were at fault. It inferred that coaches were turning up at short notice,” the business has fired back.
If the issues are not solved quickly there is a danger of poor publicity impacting future bookings for cross-channel coach travel, the operator continues.