Cromer-based coach initiative wins top award

A Norfolk-hatched initiative to cut the number of empty coach journeys has won national acclaim in the bus industry.

Each week 10,000 trips are made by passengerless coaches, seeing coaching companies missing out on �2m worth of income and pouring more than 3,000 tonnes of harmful CO2 emissions into the air on dead journeys.

Two years ago a small north Norfolk coach operator, Cromer-based Marett's Chariots, launched a venture and website aimed at helping operators to find customers for those wasted journeys, helping efficiency and the environment.

It has grown from having 90 members to more than 700, has expanded into Europe and Africa and just earned a big feather in its cap by winning the top innovation award at the prestigious Route One Operator Excellence Awards.

Managing director Anthony Marett said the idea was sparked by their own experience - as a 12-vehicle company which grew out of the transport needs of the family-run field studies centre at nearby Aylmerton.

Travelling down to the London area empty to pick up children to bring to Norfolk, he realised it made sense to look for business to fill the dead miles journey. provided a central point for operators to seek to fill the coaches - as well as other services such as finding a bus to ferry passengers home if a coach broke down, and a section for buying and selling buses.

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It filled a gap previously only tackled by operators having to phone around sister businesses which took time and expense.

Many coaches did empty-one-way trips to airports, ports, educational trips and holidays. Heathrow alone accounted for 177,000 dead journeys a year.

Big companies such as Arriva and Shearings had signed up for the site, which has also paid off during railway work when train companies needed replacement buses, said Mr Marett.

One incident in London saw National Express needing coaches at short notice - and, through donttravelempty, discovered there were eight coaches from Ireland sitting around idle in between transporting people to and from a conference.

It has also expanded its boundaries to Europe, particularly to help getting people home if a coach broke down. And a franchise version was now being used in South Africa.

Mr Marett felt the UK scheme could come into its own during the heavy coaching needs of the London Olympics in 2012.

He said winning the national award was a big boost, as they had beaten marketing initiatives by major operators such as Galloways and Johnsons.

'I really did not think we had a chance against the big boys,' he said.

Judges at the awards chose the Maretts scheme as it could 'justifiably claim to have transformed the economics of coach operation, providing a service that uses technology to meet a long-standing need for more efficient vehicle and driver utilisation.'