Scheduled express coach services are a vital part of our transport system, alongside local bus services and the rail network. Services to airports, tourist attractions and for students, for example, can all act to reduce car travel by as much, if not more than, other forms of public transport. The growth of competition in the market, together with the continued development of brands such as Green Line, Scottish Citylink, Megabus and National Express, shows that the express service sector is dynamic and plays an important role.
Winner: The Oxford Bus Company, the airline
Oxford Bus Company's "the airline" continues to grow and to offer a high quality service at "turn up and go" frequency from seven departure points in Oxford direct to Gatwick or Heathrow Central Bus Station and now to Terminal 5.
With daily 24 hour coverage the airline is clearly a thriving business with excellent operating and commercial standards - enabling it to win this award for the second year in a row.
One of the cornerstones of success, which impressed the judges, is the attention to detail for every aspect of the airline’s operation. This even includes specific diversionary route training for drivers which, coupled with real time tracking, means that most services facing traffic problems are able to take alternative routes without undue delay to passengers heading for their planes.
Serving a very wide cross section of customers, and with an ongoing investment programme in fully accessible coaches that include free onboard WiFi, the airline undoubtedly continues to go from strength to strength.
Stagecoach West Scotland, X76/X77 Express Network
The X76/X77 express network has become an indispensable high quality group of coach services between the main Ayrshire conurbations of Cumnock, Kilmarnock and Ayr to the city of Glasgow.
With peak time headways of 5 or 10 minutes, these services have grown extensively over the last 3 years and still continuing to grow. Furthermore, they are an integral part of Scotland-wide Stagecoach/Citylink, and as such provide access to other services throughout Scotland.
The judges were particularly impressed by the increase in patronage of 25% and revenue growth year on year of 29%. Feedback has indicated a significant amount of modal shift, clear evidence that these coach services provide exactly what passengers want.
Transdev Lancashire United, Lancashire Way X40/X41
Lancashire United’s Lancashire Way would certainly make an excellent case study on how to transform an express service.
Five years ago the X40/X41, linking the East Lancashire towns of Accrington and Haslingden with Manchester, was a faltering tendered service running every 2 hours. Lancashire United, working closely with Lancashire County Council, has developed this coach service to become fully commercial.
Now with a frequency of every 30 minutes Mondays to Saturdays and an improved Sunday service, passenger numbers have grown by 95% between 2004 and 2007.
This impressive transformation has been achieved through an effective marketing strategy and using modern attractive accessible vehicles with a distinctive livery. Transdev Lancashire United is quick to acknowledge the importance of the role played by the dedicated team of 16 drivers, who have made a significant contribution in the growing success of the Lancashire Way.
National Express, Wembley Service
In 2007, National Express became the official transport supplier to Wembley Stadium and official travel partner of the England football team and FA Cup. In doing so it launched an innovative coach operation that has opened the new national stadium up to thousands of people all over the country, giving them direct, environmentally friendly, value-for-money service to the biggest sporting and music events in Europe.
Whilst not fully conforming to the criteria of scheduled express services the judges felt this innovative forward thinking venture deserved a special commendation for its contribution to the express coach market.
Who could be nominated?
The award was open to operators of express services on their own account or who contract out to others (e.g. National Express or Scottish Citylink).
Criteria and Entry Requirements
The winner of the Express Coach Operation of the Year award demonstrated delivery of consistently excellent customer service; the company will be sound financially, maintaining high operational and engineering standards, giving priority to the health and safety of passengers and staff through comprehensive risk management.
The Express Coach Operation of the Year demonstrated investment in fleet and operating staff, formed effective partnerships, identified with and respond to the markets it serves and, through its quality of operation, continually strives to sustain and grow its market.
Entries were judged on the quality of the submissions made, which were required to:
- Address the issue of customer relations:
- For own-account operators, explain how the company maintains and improves customer relations. Submissions should discuss, but not necessarily be limited to, the use of customer satisfaction surveys, suggestion and complaint handling procedures and customer newsletters
- For contracted operators, provide evidence of feedback on customer relations performance supplied by the operator’s clients if possible
- Explain the company’s approach to catering for specific customer groups, for example mobility impaired passengers
- Provide evidence of the operation’s employee relations policies, including:
- equal opportunities
- employee development programmes.
- Provide statistics on timekeeping and lost mileage
- Report any Traffic Commissioners’ action in the three years prior to entry and the operator’s responses
- Provide information to demonstrate the financial sustainability of their activities. This could come, for example, from the most recent audited accounts for the two years prior to nomination and include:
- Capital investment: amount per £1,000 turnover; changes in fleet age profile
- Commercial performance: % operating profit margin
- Movement in reserves.
- Demonstrate the operator’s approach to risk assessment in all its activities including:
- a commentary on Health and Safety issues for the past year, supported by reports on any significant incidents
- remarks explaining how the operator assesses the impact of its activities on staff, passengers and the general public and has monitoring and control measures to reduce risk and the level of the residual risks
- describe the operator’s approach to environmental matters and social responsibility.
- submit evidence on the approach taken to transport integration, partnership working, response to the policies of local transport authorities on the route(s) and how it fosters and contributes to the life of the communities it serves.
- submit evidence by statistics to confirm patronage and revenue trends, and statistical evidence of modal shift.
Shortlisted entries were assessed by “mystery travellers” to measure the operators’ standard of service.