Anger at Chambers Coaches grows after fifty people with learning disabilities left stranded

This Chambers coach was spotted parked up overnight on a grass verge in Grace Way, Stevenage.

This Chambers coach was spotted parked up overnight on a grass verge in Grace Way, Stevenage. - Credit: Archant

Concerns about the state of once trusted coach firm Chambers Coaches continue to grow as more groups of people are being let down at the last minute.

This morning more than 50 people with learning disabilities at the St Albans and Harpenden Friendship Scheme were left high and dry after a Chambers coach failed to arrive for their summer trip to Southend-on-Sea. This despite the fact the firm had told organisers yesterday that a disabled adapted coach and a 16-seater mini-bus would be available for the trip.

When organiser Jane Reidy contacted the firm after the coaches didn’t arrive, they told her they could not find the booking diary with her telephone number in it.

Carol Le Grand who runs the Stevenage branch of the befriending service said she was “speechless” at the failing. She said it is vital for her clients with autism and down syndrome to have continuity and certainty and it was “horrendous” they had been let down.

Also last night a coach was spotted in Stevenage parked up on a grass verge on Grace Way overnight with no driver to be seen.

One passer-by who took photos of the abandoned coach told the Comet via Facebook: “This was taken at 5.30am this morning on Grace Way where this coach has been parked up all night. And the operator licence states it should be at the operating centre.”

The new owners of the Graveley-based firm have been struggling to fulfil contracts in recent weeks and the Comet has been contacted by a host of groups and organisations who have been left stranded after booking coaches with the firm.

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Yesterday the Comet was contacted by Rose Griffin, the manager of the Douglas Drive Day Centre to say that members of its stroke survivors group, staff and volunteers were left stranded at the centre’s car park at The Oval waiting for a Chambers coach they had booked to take them to the Dolphin Hotel in Cambridge for a sit-down meal and a day out on July 11.

Mrs Griffin said: “On ringing Chambers Coaches to find out why our coach was late I was told that they did not have a driver, that they would continue to try to find a driver, and come back to me.

“That never happened. I had to ring again to confirm that we were officially stranded.

“Thanks to kind management of The Fisherman pub in Stevenage, all clients were taken there for a lovely meal.”

It follows a catalogue of complaints including 300 students from John Henry Newman School being left abandoned outside the school, a group from Ashtree Primary School being taken home from the Isle of Wight by a replacement firm, and pupils and staff from Woolenwick Junior School being forced to abandon their trip to Frinton-on-Sea – heading to Stevenage’s Fairlands Valley Park instead.

Chambers was one of Stevenage’s most iconic and trusted family firms for 51 years.

It was set up by Cyril Chambers, whose son Martin Chambers and daughter Debbie Tidey continued running the firm until they sold it earlier this year to current managing director Robert Krueger, who also owns Eclipse Coaches of Cambridge and sister company Eclipse Tours, Holidays & Excursions.

A parent company called Varsity Transport Holdings was set up by Mr Krueger for all these firms at the time of the Chambers takeover.

No-one at Chambers was available for comment this morning, but previously a spokesman told the Comet: “In the short time frame that we have owned the company we have had to deal with lots of mitigating factors including vehicle reliability, driver recruitment and other operational difficulties faced by all operators in this business sector.

“When we had to take the decision to terminate our school services this decision was not taken lightly and we have had many discussions with the school as to our position on the services. When the services were terminated we did this to allow as much time as possible for the school to organise alternatives.

“With reference to the Isle of Wight we had a vehicle availability issue, this was notified to the school concerned by email at 5.24pm on June 15. The school were told a different company would pick them up and we arranged this to our best ability. This resulted in a later departure time from the Isle of Wight for which we apologised.

“We’re aware that we’ve let a lot of people down and the owners of the company who are all local and independent are not enjoying the fact that we’ve had to let people down, but we are determined 100 per cent to restore our reputation and we will turn it around.”