Put Me In, Coach

8 Jun

The interior of an Amphicoach, an amphibious coach. Magical mystery tour, indeed!

When the Mister and I head overseas we’ll largely be riding trains, walking and taking public transportation to get from one place to another.  But jumping on a bus tour in Europe is more popular than I thought.  In the UK alone, 8 million passengers took their vacations on a bus tour last year.

Overseas the kind of buses that are used for long tours are called coaches.  A bus would be the kind used in the city for mass transit.  These coaches have huge amounts of horsepower, suspension for pretty much all kind of terrain and, most importantly, loos.  They also have drivers that need to adhere to strict driving rules.

The Mister had a chance to talk to some truck drivers in Texas once about their driving.  They’d all admitted to driving far more hours than they reported so that they could make enough money to make ends meet.  I know that this is the sad state of affairs for our overland truck drivers.  They typically have too little training, experience and time off.  I’m not sure if that’s the case for truck (or as they say “lorry”) drivers in the European Union but I know that coach drivers have it pretty good.

If you drive a coach in the EU you can only drive 9 hours within a 13 hour period.  This can be extended to a 15 hour period 3 days a week but then extra rest has to be added on.  It used to be that you could work for 12 days without rest but now every six days the driver must have 24 hours of rest and 48 hours within two weeks.  This requirement causes some scheduling issues for tour managers.  I’m sure dealing with the American need for ice cubes would be enough to make me tender my resignation.

The drivers aren’t apt to fudge these rules.  They have monitoring systems in their coaches called tachographs.  These delightful sounding computers track all sorts of data about a specific driver.  Each driver has their own ID card with a smart chip in it that records the hours driven and when, it also tracks where they’ve been and how fast they were going.  A driver can receive a ticket for speeding days after the event, if pulled over.

It sounds a bit like Big Brother to me but the number of fatalities in a continent with a large number of drivers, some of which seem to be daring fate, warrants the concern.  The biggest surprise for me was that the majority of EU drivers seem to be all for these rules.  They know by having limiters on their engines which doesn’t allow them to drive over 100 kph that they cannot be forced to by a hyper tour guide.  They know that the tour managers cannot blame them for the rules as they aren’t the ones making them.

Another rule that few are apt to break is the zero tolerance law for drinking.  Different countries have started to produce beer with no alcohol content as even NA beer has a small percentage in it.  Drivers of any vehicle under 25 have to follow this no tolerance rule as well.

Many of the drivers in the EU make driving a coach their living.  They drive much nicer coaches than they did even 20 years ago and our proud of their work.  If you are lucky enough to visit Europe and participate in a tour it might help to know that they had only two main requests of passengers: be respectful with your volume when speaking and be respectful to the coach itself, it is their home when they are on the road.  Simple enough.  I can certainly wait to throw my garbage on the floor and sing “I’m a Lumberjack” to the Mister when I get home, like usual.

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