National Express revises entire network ahead of partial restart of operations

The familiar sight of National Express coaches returns to UK roads on Monday 29 March with the UK’s largest coach operator promising its customers more in 2021. It has also axed its online booking fee and made it easier to change or cancel bookings.

The full suspension of services due to lockdown has given National Express a “unique opportunity” to change its network.

It is the first public transport operator of any mode, to reveal ‘new normal’ timetables and routes.

Key points:

  • The first coach departs Manchester for London Victoria at 00:01 on Monday 29 March
  • The initial limited timetable on 29 March is 20 routes/services with c.120 locations. This is equivalent to around 15% of its standard intercity network
  • Around 200 drivers will be back behind the wheel on day one
  • New full UK-wide timetable will offer quicker journey times, increased punctuality and improved connectivity

The first coach will depart Manchester for London at 00:01, ending an 11-week full suspension of services in response to the national lockdown from 5 January 2021. 

Unlike local bus, trams and national rail, intercity coach services did not receive any funding to operate during lockdown, meaning that National Express, Megabus and other providers all ceased operations after Christmas 2020.

The restart comes with a significant number of changes that promise customers a better overall experience when booking and travelling with National Express in 2021. 

National Express’ reduced network map, when operations restart on 29 March 2021

An initial limited timetable, equivalent to around 15% of the standard intercity network, will be “expanded quickly” adding new locations and routes and increasing frequency as restrictions are lifted and customer demand grows. 

Details of the full network and timetables have yet to be revealed.

A new full UK-wide timetable will offer quicker journey times, increased punctuality and improved connectivity. For example:

  • Average journey time between Birmingham and Manchester has been reduced by 20 minutes
  • There will be 12 daily journey options from Leeds to Bristol (previously four) with an overall quicker journey time by 30-60 minutes

And with more people predicted to take a domestic break this year, the new schedules will include all major UK holiday destinations. 

Chris Hardy, MD National Express UK Coach, says: “We want to make coach travel more convenient and with even greater value in 2021.”

“We’ve removed the booking fee for any purchases made through a National Express online account and included more options to claim a refund or amend a journey if circumstances change.”

“It’s a great feeling to be getting hundreds of drivers back behind the wheel. We’re excited to play our part in the UK public’s safe return to travel.”

From the onset of the pandemic, a no-quibble amendment or full refund within 28 days was offered to all customers and over 100,000 coachcards have been extended by 12 months. 

Chris Hardy continues: “This is just the beginning of a better National Express. We’ve always focused on doing the right thing for customers and by continuing to do so, we will grow back quicker and stronger.”

This includes significant investment in making the iconic white coaches the greenest fleet on the road. The average age of a vehicle is only three years old and every one meets the highest possible engine emission standard (Euro VI).

The significant covid-secure measures put in place last year will remain, including:

  • A reduction in the number of seats available on all coaches and social distancing in both stations and on vehicles. 
  • Enhanced cleaning in both stations and on coaches, including regular aerosol based disinfection –  sometimes called ‘fogging’.
  • An additional filter on the air conditioning systems of all coaches to reduce bacteria and corona type viruses; and improve air quality.
  • Temperature screening before allowing travel with anyone with a high temperature reading not allowed to travel and given a full refund.
  • Provision of PPE and use of protective screens on vehicles and in coach stations 
  • The requirement for customers to wear face coverings when in stations and travelling on coaches, in line with Government guidelines.

Chris Hardy adds: “This is a challenging but exciting time for us. Like the rest of the population, we look forward to being able to see friends and family, go on holiday, attend events and visit attractions again. National Express has always helped make this happen and we look forward to doing it once more.”

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