Coach services in the United Kingdom

Coach services in the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has an extensive network of long distance coach services ("American English": intercity bus services).

In British usage, coach services are distingushed from bus services in several ways. Coaches travel longer distances, have separate compartments for luggage and do not stop as frequently as buses. It is common, but not universal, for coach travel to require advance purchase of tickets, whereas on buses tickets are always bought on board. The distinction is not absolute, and some coach services, especially in Scotland, operate as local bus services over sections of route where there is no other bus service.

The coach market today

The coach market can be divided into several sectors:

* Intercity services, in which the players are
** National Express, the dominant operator in England and Wales
** Megabus, part of Stagecoach, who operate a no-frills service requiring advance booking on the internet
** Scottish Citylink, the dominant operator in Scotland.
** Parks of Hamilton, who operate some routes in Scotland
** Bus operating companies, usually running shorter distance coach services than National Express. Examples are the Oxford Tube (part of Stagecoach), Oxford Espress (part of the Go-Ahead Group) and Stagecoach Express
** Independent operators, mostly with one or two routes each: Bakers Dolphin [ [ Bakers Dolphin website] ] , Berry's Coaches [ [ Berry's Coaches website] ] , Thandi Coaches [ [ Thandi website] ] and others.
** Ulsterbus, the state-owned company which runs coach services in Northern Ireland

* Airport services, operated by
** National Express, using the National Express Airport name
** EasyBus, operating from London to the London airports
** RailAir, linking airports to railway stations
** Oxford Bus Company, under the Airline brand name

* Commuter coach services, in the London area
** Green Line, owned by Arriva
** National Express, following its acquisition of The Kings Ferry
** New Enterprise Coaches, owned by Arriva
** Armchair [ [ Armchair website] ] , owned by ComfortDelGro Corporation
** Independent operators: Reliance Travel [ [ Reliance Travel website] ] , Marshalls [ [ Marshalls website] ] , Richmond's [ [ Richmond's website] ] , Clarkes of London [ [ Clarkes of London website] ] and others

* International services, operated from the UK by
** Eurolines, a franchise operation co-ordinating the international services of National Express, Bus Eireann, and continental operators
** [,index.php Eurobus Express] , to France, Belgium and other countries
** several Polish operators, such as [ Alga] and [ Sindbad] , to Poland
** [ Bohemian Lines] and [ Turancar] to the Czech Republic and Slovakia
** [ Ecolines] to Latvia
** [ Ozbus] to Australia

National Express and Scottish Citylink are mostly franchise operations. Coaches are contracted in from many operating companies.

In addition there are numerous operators of coach excursions and tours, and coaches for charter.



Intercity stagecoaches were rapidly killed by the arrival of the railways in the 1830s and 1840s [Dyos, H.J. & Aldcroft, D.H. (1969) "British Transport, an economic survey" Penguin Books, p.225] . Stagecoaches and charabancs were still used for short journeys and excursions until the early years of the 20th century, and the first motor coaches were acquired by operators of those horse-drawn vehicles. For example, W. C. Standerwick of Blackpool acquired its first motor charabanc in 1911 [ [ W C Standerwick Ltd by Peter Gould] ] , and Royal Blue, in Bournemouth, acquired its first motor charabanc in 1913 [Anderson, R.C.A. and Frankis, G. (1970) "History of Royal Blue Express Services" David & Charles p.28] .

Motor coaches were at first used only for excursions. In 1919 Royal Blue took advantage of a rail strike to run a coach service from Bournemouth to London, but this and similar services only operated as excursions, i.e. round trips with no intermediate stops.

Early history

The first scheduled service to carry passengers from both ends and to and from intermediate points was the Greyhound Motors service between London and Bristol, started on February 11, 1925 [Hibbs, J (1986) "The Country Bus" David & Charles, p.100] .

The coach industry expanded rapidly in the 1920s, a period of intense competition. Several bus companies, including Midland Red, Crosville and Red & White, started coach services. By 1930, no fewer than 18 companies were running coaches between Oxford and London [Flitton, D.(2004) "50 Years of South Midland" Paul Lacey ISBN 0 9510739 8 2, p.41] .

The Road Traffic Act 1930 introduced a national system of regulation of passenger road transport. It led coach operators to eliminate competition by buying competitors and by reaching agreements with competitors to share services and pool revenues. Many of the independent companies were bought by the two major bus groups, the Tilling Group and British Electric Traction. In 1932, a group of coach operators opened Victoria Coach Station in London, which became the London terminus for most coach services. In 1934 six coach operators formed the Associated Motorways consortium, and other co-operative arrangements were made.

The government required coach operators to suspend services in 1942, to conserve fuel. Services recommenced in 1946.

The post-war years

In 1948 and 1950, the government acquired the Tilling Group and Red & White bus companies, and Scottish Motor Traction, so that a large part of the coaching industry fell under state control. The 1950s and early 1960s were prosperous times for the industry, before foreign holidays became commonplace and car ownership spread. The Beeching cuts of the early 1960's generated more traffic for coach operators. Then in 1968 BET sold its bus companies to the government, so that most of the industry became state-owned. Only a few independents, such as Yelloway and some smaller operators, remained.

In 1972 the National Bus Company formed National Travel, which became National Express, to run long-distance coach services. Most of the coach operations of NBC's subsidiaries in England and Wales were franchised to National Express. The bus companies mostly continued to own the coaches, but were required to adopt the National Express brand white livery. In Scotland, and between England and Scotland, coach services continued to be operated by subsidiaries of the state-owned Scottish Bus Group.

Unlike many local bus services, coach services continued to make profits. The spread of the UK's motorway network in the 1970's cut journey times dramatically, and coach travel had a significant cost advantage over rail travel.

Privatisation and Competition

Under the new Thatcher government, express coach services were deregulated by the Transport Act 1980, six years before the deregulation of local bus services. This led to a flurry of new coach operators, but they could not shake the dominance of National Express. An exception was the Oxford to London coach route, where two companies (now owned by the Stagecoach and the Go-Ahead Group) continue to compete fiercely.

National Express was sold to its management in 1988, and floated on the stock exchange in 1992. In 1985, Scottish Citylink was formed to run coach services to and within Scotland - as a franchise operation, like National Express. It too was sold to its management in 1990, but in 1993 it was sold to National Express. In 1997 the Competition Commission ordered National Express to sell Scottish Citylink, following the award of the ScotRail franchise to National Express. [ [ Competition Commission Report 1997] ] In 1998 Scottish Citylink was sold to ComfortDelGro Corporation.

In 2003, Stagecoach started its Megabus operation in England and Scotland. This brought back national competition, and fares started to fall.

In Scotland, competition between Megabus and Scottish Citylink drove Stagecoach to a joint venture with ComfortDelGro in 2005 to operate both companies' coach services. The Competition Commission ruled in 2006 that the joint venture reduced competition [ [ Competition Commission Report 2006] ] , and in February 2008 Stagecoach announced the sale of some services, operating under the Saltire Cross brand, to Parks Motor Group. [ [ Press release February 4, 2008] ]


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