|Headquarters||Birmingham Coach Station|
|Service area||Great Britain|
|Service type||Intercity and InterRegional coach services|
National Express is an intercity and Inter-regional coach operator providing services throughout Great Britain. It is a subsidiary of National Express Group. Most services are subcontracted to local coach companies. The company's head office is in offices above Birmingham Coach Station.
Pursuant to the Transport Act 1968, the National Bus Company was formed as a holding company for the many state-owned local bus companies. Many of these bus companies also operated coach services and these were initially branded as National. The National Express brand was first used in 1974 although the coach services continued to be operated by the individual companies.
Coach services were deregulated under the Transport Act 1980, and buses by the Transport Act 1985. In March 1988 National Express was privatised in a management buyout. In July 1989 the company bought ATL Holdings (with operations in Sheffield) and a 50% share in Yelloway Trathen, which was renamed Trathens Travel Services.
In August 1989 the Eurolines services from London to Alicante, Barcelona and Paris were purchased from Wallace Arnold, and the express services (with 29 coaches) in Scotland and to London from Stagecoach. These were operated under the Caledonian Express brand.
In June 1991 National Express was sold to the Drawlane Group. In December 1992 National Express Group plc was floated on the London Stock Exchange.
In its early years National Express had little competition in the long-distance coach market. A number of operators attempted to compete with the company after deregulation in 1980, the largest being the British Coachways consortium, but most had ceased to compete by the end of the decade. However, in 2003, Stagecoach introduced Megabus, a no-frills service whose £1 fares sparked a price war with National Express in autumn 2004. The competition intensified in 2007 when Megabus transferred its London terminus from the Green Line Coach Station into the main Victoria Coach Station.
In November 2007 National Express announced plans to re-brand all its operations under a new unified National Express identity. As part of this the coach operation received a slightly different livery, retaining the red, white and blue theme, but with a new lower-case logo. Coaches started appearing in the new livery from December 2007.
A national network links more than 540 locations, including 59 of the UK mainland's 64 cities, with 1,800 plus services operating every day, increasing to over 1,900 on Fridays. Over 1,000 airport services a day run direct to the terminal for all major UK airports.
National Express offers many routes to destinations across the country. In addition, shuttle and airport services are also operated, although there is no obvious difference to the passenger between a standard, shuttle or airport service with regard to branding.
Many National Express coach routes pass through several town centres, which increases journey times for longer journeys considerably. A smaller number of shuttle services operate at least once an hour over faster direct routes.
National Express operates coach services direct to the terminal for all major UK airports, 24 hours a day, with 1,100 airport services every day, including East Midlands, Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton and Stansted. The Airport brand was created in 2003 when the National Express image brand was updated, merging the former Airlink, Flightlink, Jetlink and Speedlink brands. In the 2007 re-brand, the Airport branding was dropped, although the 'Airport' coding is still used on tickets.
Following the introduction of guidance from the UK Government on avoiding non-essential travel, services were replaced from 24 March 2020 with a limited network of services for passengers with essential travel needs. However, due to declining passenger numbers as a result of the restrictions, all services were suspended from 6 April 2020. Services restarted nearly three months later on 1 July, on about a quarter of route mileage and with reduced frequencies. The company gradually increased services on some routes but in October 2020 began to reduce the number of journeys again, following the implementation of new COVID-19 restrictions.
During the second national "lockdown" in November 2020, the company continued to run services albeit to a severely reduced timetable. After the ending of the month-long lockdown the company mainly restored the pre-lockdown timetable but with some alterations due to parts of the country being placed in different "tiers" of restrictions.
As a result of the discovery of a new, more transmissible variant and the implementation of tighter restrictions prohibiting travel in many areas of the country, services were significantly reduced by the end of December 2020. On the implementation of a third national lockdown in January 2021, services were again suspended from 11 January. Eleven weeks later, limited services again resumed on 29 March.
The majority of National Express services are contracted on long-term agreements to local coach companies, known as partner operators. As part of the contract, operators are required to use coaches in full National Express livery. On occasion, an operator will use its own branded vehicle due to lack of availability, but will be penalised financially for doing so. A wider list of additional operators are also available to bid for occasional work on the network – usually providing a one-off duplicate service to meet demand. Whilst still having to meet strict criteria, these coaches are usually not in National Express livery.
National Express operates some services itself, primarily those between Stansted, Heathrow and Luton airports, and Victoria Coach Station, London Liverpool Street and Woking.
Below is a list of partner operators:
National Express tickets are available through a variety of methods, including on-line and telephone booking, and varied pricing structures. Traditionally, tickets are sold through National Express ticket offices at coach stations, or by third-party agents at bus stations and travel agents. These sell tickets generally at the 'Standard Fare' or the 'Advance Fare' when booking in advance. A similar ticketing structure applies with the telephone booking service. Since 2013, tickets have also been available for purchase from the Post Office.
With the introduction of competition from Megabus, more competitive internet-only Funfares were introduced. These often have stricter conditions imposed, such as being non-refundable, and are restricted to certain corridors.
Other ticket types include 'Season Tickets' and 'Multi-rides', aimed at frequent travellers, although in many cases FunFares are cheaper; and BritXplorer, which allows foreign tourists unlimited travel for a specified period.
National Express offers several discounts to customers.
National Express and its franchisees operate a number of vehicle types.
The primary coach type on the network is the Caetano Levante, which may have 2 or 3 axles. This has been the main vehicle of choice since 2006. The most recent Levante III was introduced onto the network in July 2018.
Other branded vehicles used on the network include (in order of quantity):
Having withdrawn all its double deck coaches after an accident in January 2007, in October 2016 National Express placed six Caetano bodied Scania K410s into service.
In the mid-1980s during the Rapide era, an on-board tea service and on-board televisions were in operation. These were given extensive advertising campaigns as shown on the BBC Three documentary History of the Coach.
In April 2001 National Express phased out its on-board catering service, having already phased out its on-board television service in the 1990s. However, in late 2004 National Express launched NXTV or National Xpress Television. Rather than showing a whole film as on an aircraft, NXTV would instead show various episodes of British television series such as A Touch of Frost, My Family and Top Gear, all of which were commissioned by ITV and the BBC. The service was displayed on small monitors situated above the overhead luggage compartments, powered by a motor to move downwards and upwards while the programming would be played from a DVD drive at the driver's dashboard.
The service was phased out in the summer of 2006, due to a lack of interest in purchasing headphones, available at vending machines in the major stations and also via on-board vendors before a journey. The reason for the service's failure was that the headphone jack was compatible with any headphone, removing any reason to buy those offered. Also, by the time NXTV was launched, the Apple iPod was already at its height of popularity, diverting interest away from it. Programming was also very limited, with many of the episodes being frequent repeats from terrestrial television. The headphones were later given away free when the service was about to be ceased. The advertising slogan was "Television shows as you board the coach".
National Express Coaches now offers free WiFi on most coaches.
Since National Express started operating, incidents include:
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