National Express coach at Birmingham Coach Station
ParentMobico Group
HeadquartersBirmingham Coach Station
Service areaGreat Britain
Service typeIntercity and InterRegional coach services
Stansted Airport
Heathrow Airport
Leeds Edit this at Wikidata

National Express[1] is an intercity and inter-regional coach operator providing services throughout Great Britain. It is a subsidiary of the British multinational public transport company Mobico Group. Most services are subcontracted to local coach companies. The company's head office is in offices above Birmingham Coach Station.[2]


Duple Dominant bodied Leyland Tiger in Liverpool in 1982 in the original livery

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.[3][4]

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.[5] In July 1989 the company bought ATL Holdings[6] (with operations in Sheffield) and a 50% share in Yelloway Trathen, which was renamed Trathens Travel Services.[7][8]

In August 1989 the Eurolines services from London to Alicante, Barcelona and Paris were purchased from the tour operator Wallace Arnold, and the express services (with 29 coaches) in Scotland and to London from Stagecoach. These were operated under the Caledonian Express brand.[9]

In June 1991 National Express was sold to the Drawlane Group.[10][11] In December 1992 National Express Group plc was floated on the London Stock Exchange.[3]

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.[12] 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.[13] 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.

National network

A national network links more than 540 locations, including 59 of the UK mainland's 76 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 English airports. It does not serve any airport in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.[citation needed]


Plaxton Premiere bodied Volvo B10M at Manchester Airport in April 2003
Stagecoach Yorkshire Plaxton Panther bodied Volvo B12B in the 2003 livery at Southampton in 2008
Selwyns Travel's Plaxton Elite bodied Volvo B9R in Liverpool

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.

Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic

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.[14] Services restarted nearly three months later on 1 July, on about a quarter of route mileage and with reduced frequencies.[15] 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.[16] Eleven weeks later, limited services again resumed on 29 March.[17]

Franchised operators

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:[citation needed]


National Express tickets are available through a variety of sources. Most tickets are booked on-line through both the company's own website and many third party sites. Telephone bookings are also available as are tickets through the traditional channels tickets of National Express ticket offices at coach stations, third-party agents at bus stations and travel agents. Since 2013, tickets have also been available for purchase from the Post Office.[18]

All fares are revenue managed with a range of prices, meaning that cheaper fares are generally available for those booking well in advance of travel.

With the introduction of competition from Megabus, founded in 2003, more competitive internet-only Funfares were introduced on some routes. These were phased out with the introduction of a full range of revenue managed fares from 2017.

There are several ticket types available, ranging from the cheapest restricted products, to a fully flexible product.


National Express offers several discounts to customers.


Edwards Coaches Caetano Boa Vista at Bristol bus station

National Express and its franchisees operate a limited number of vehicle types with bodies made by the Portuguese holding Salvador Caetano to the company's specification.

The primary coach type on the network is the Caetano Levante, which may have two or three axles. This has been the main vehicle of choice since 2006. The most recent Levante III was introduced onto the network in July 2018 and an updated version Levante IIIa from 2023. There is no two-axle version of the Levante III.

The only other branded vehicles used on the network are 10 Caetano Boa Vista double deckers.

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.[19] followed by a further 4 in 2018

On-board services

National Express Rapide coach

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 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 for 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.

See also


  1. ^ Companies House extract company no 232767 National Express Limited
  2. ^ "LSH plays integral role in £15m redevelopment of Birmingham Coach Station". LSH. Archived from the original on 9 October 2011.
  3. ^ a b National Express Group: Our History National Express
  4. ^ National Express Group PLC and Saltire Holdings Ltd Monopolies & Mergers Commission February 1994 page 3
  5. ^ Express sale set for DTp approval Commercial Motor 10 March 1988
  6. ^ Companies House extract company no 2036613 Airlinks The Airport Coach Company Limited formerly Airport Express Trains Limited formerly ATL (Holdings) Limited
  7. ^ Companies House extract company no 1792858 Trathern Travel Services Limited formerly Yellow-Trathern Express Limited
  8. ^ National snaps up ATL Commercial Motor 27 July 1989
  9. ^ National Express grows Commercial Motor 10 August 1989
  10. ^ Companies House extract company no 1946383 Burroughs Hill Limited formerly Drawlane Group Transport plc
  11. ^ Drawlane team snaps up NEG Commercial Motor 4 July 1991
  12. ^ Townsin, Alan (1992). "Coach deregulation arrives". The British Bus Story – The Early '80s: The Die is Cast. The Transport Publishing Company. pp. 22–24. ISBN 978-0-86317-170-3.
  13. ^ New Identity for National Express Group National Express 15 November 2007
  14. ^ Xie, Qin (2 April 2020). "National Express to suspend all coach services". The Independent. Archived from the original on 18 June 2022. Retrieved 3 April 2020.
  15. ^ Calder, Simon (18 June 2020). "National Express will start running coach services again on 1 July". The Independent. Retrieved 4 August 2020.
  16. ^ Wright, Greg (8 January 2021). "National Express to suspend all coach services due to pandemic". Yorkshire Post. Retrieved 9 January 2021.
  17. ^ Calder, Simon (25 March 2021). "Coach travel back on in England from Monday". The Independent. Retrieved 26 March 2021.
  18. ^ "National Express Tickets - Post Office". Retrieved 18 March 2018.
  19. ^ National Express dips toe in double-deck coach market Route One 26 October 2016

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