Talks are underway in Brussels that could pave the way to restoration of a 12-day rule for coach tours. The Transport and Tourism Committee of the European Parliament has tabled an amendment to driving and rest time regulations that would re-introduce the possibility for coach drivers to work twelve consecutive days. This would remove the requirement for drivers to take a day off work after working six days in a row.

The limit of six days came into force in April 2007, to bring coach drivers into line with working time regulations set for long-distance freight lorry drivers. Coach tour operators have complained that replacing a driver in the middle of a tour has increased the cost of coach tours, without adding any measurable benefit in terms of safety or the work-life balance of drivers. Drivers have pressed for their days off to be combined into rest periods at home with their families, before and after a long trip.

Coach tour operators and the tourism industry as a whole are being urged to lobby members of the European Parliament and national transport ministers to support the latest proposal for a relaxation of the rules on coach drivers’ rest time.

The measure is part of a major piece of legislation known as the Road Transport Package, aimed at updating European laws on freight and passenger transport, and is due to be voted upon by the European Parliament’s Transport Committee on 31 March and then by the whole Parliament at its April session. All stages of the process need to be completed by the end of April as the term comes to an end and the European Parliament closes down for the European elections in May.

The 12-day rule issue has been tabled in negotiations between the European Parliament and the Council designed to reach agreement on the so-called Road Transport Package, which includes three complex legislative proposals covering rules for access to the international road haulage market, draft regulations on the occupation of road transport operator and – importantly for the tourism industry – a proposal for a set of common rules for access to the international market for coach and bus services. The Parliament voted in favor of re-introducing the 12-day rule at an earlier stage last year. The new amendment now being discussed is to allow a driver to complete a tour of up to 12 days, provided it is a single tour and not a combination of several tours adding up to 12 days work, a restriction introduced to accommodate a demand from the European Commission. Some industry leaders want the proposal to be more flexible and allow for several tours to be run by a driver within a period of 12 consecutive days. This detail faces opposition from drivers’ trade union representatives.

Once the European Parliament has approved the draft legislation, it goes to the Council of Ministers, which is the actual law-making body of the European Union. Here the votes of ministers from all 27-member states are weighted to reflect their respective population sizes. The votes are distributed in such a way that large countries, France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom have 29 votes each, Spain and Poland 27 votes, and so on down to Malta, which has three votes.

For the measure to pass into law, it must get 255 out of a possible 345 votes in the Council, so industry lobbying is focused on securing commitments from national governments to mandate their transport ministers. Of the big players, France is likely to vote against re-introducing the 12-day rule, while Germany is known to be in favor. The support of ministers from other large countries is therefore crucial for carrying through a measure that is much needed by the coach tour sector of the travel industry.

The United Kingdom and Ireland are among countries known to be undecided on the issue, and the road transport industry body, the international road transport union (IRU), has called for a determined effort to lobby ministers to vote in favor.

ETOA has been campaigning for restoration of the 12-day since it was abolished in 2007, on the grounds that coach touring has become more complicated and expensive as a result. In a survey of leading European inbound tour operators who together bring over two million visitors a year to Europe, 86 per cent reported that the restrictions on coach drivers’ hours had hindered their business. None felt that abolishing the 12-day rule had helped.

Tom Jenkins, ETOA Executive Director, said the abolition of the 12-day rule in 2007 had been a huge mistake and there was now an opportunity for European politicians to put it right and undo the damage it had done to the tourism industry. “The inbound tourism industry is waiting with bated breath. Failure to act will further exacerbate Europe’s declining share of world tourism.”

He said there had been an assumption that increasing the amount of rest that drivers are required to take in middle of a cross-border tour of Europe would lead to greater road safety. “This does not appear to have been borne out in reality over the past year, probably because coaches were already an extremely safe mode of travel,” he said. “The 2007 legislative changes had not been based on hard data but on trying to solve a problem that did not exist.

“This is not about safety, it’s about the speed with which Brussels can correct its mistakes. In making coach travel less attractive, the European Commission has encouraged the unrestricted use of cars and minibuses which actually makes Europe’s roads more dangerous.”

Oleg Kamberski, Head of Passenger Transport in the IRU delegation to the European Union, agreed. “There is no issue about safety. The loss of the 12-day derogation meant that coach tours had to be shorter or more expensive because a second driver has to be employed if the tour goes longer than six days. More significantly, customers can choose to drive private cars when they tour Europe and ten cars compared with one coach is much more damaging to road safety.”

The body representing British coach tour operators, the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) said it was actively lobbying UK transport ministers to support restoration of the 12-day rule in the latest round of debate in the European institutions. “We have been working to get some sense restored. The current proposal for a relaxation of the rules on a single journey of up to 12 days is a modest step forward, though perhaps only about ten per cent of where we were before April 2007,” said CPT Communications Director, John Major. “We estimate that costs have increased by about 30 per cent and these have to be passed on to coach tour customers.

“Some national governments have already made up their minds how they will vote. We know France is against but Germany is on side. CPT is lobbying the UK Government to support this modest change and for ministers to support flexibility in coach touring.”