megabus services bounce back

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Stagecoach-owned megabus has announced a major service uplift from 1 October that will see new destinations and increased working with partner operators. Richard Sharman looks at the details

The pandemic has seen intercity coach services in the UK experience reduced networks, full suspension – except in Scotland – and varying levels of service as the market recovered.

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Following the Government’s guidance to stay at home and stop all non-essential travel, megabus decided to temporarily suspend its coach services in England and Wales, with no journeys running after 10 January. The only exception to this was services within Scotland and the M11 service from Glasgow to London via Manchester and Birmingham for essential travel only, as advised by the Government guidance at the time. As restrictions eased, the network recommenced operation again from 29 March on a reduced level, with 15% of pre-covid services operating to serve key towns and cities across the UK. Service levels were increased from 12 April, and the express coach operator confirmed that it had received a surge in booking for the late May bank holiday and as the summer school holiday period commenced. In the next phase of its network rebuild, megabus plans to work with more independent operators and increase its weekly mileage to 200,000.

Yellow Coaches operates the M3 service between Poole and London, with one trip extended to serve Weymouth. RICHARD SHARMAN












South coast expansion

Whilst services were suspended a lot was going on behind the scenes at the megabus head office in Rugby. The opportunity was taken to use the time the coaches were off the road to give many of them a fresh coat of blue paint and apply new vinyls with a yellow swoop at the rear.
In addition, the management team was also busy planning for what was anticipated to be a busy summer of people taking ‘staycations.’

The company identified that the south coast was going to be one of the key attractions in the UK and that its services were already in demand in that area. In early May 2021, it was announced that megabus would partner with independent operator Yellow Buses to operate to some new destinations. The Thursday to Monday M3 service commenced operation on 21 May using Yellow Coaches drivers and megabus’ Plaxton Elitei coaches, operating between London, Heathrow Airport, Southampton Bournemouth and Poole, with one service extending to and from Weymouth and Dorchester.

David Squire, Managing Director of Yellow Buses, said at the time of the service launch: “As the local operator of bus services in the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole conurbation and south Dorset area, it is great for the local operator to be able to work with megabus to provide the services. megabus offers a great service, and like us expect the highest of standards from its drivers, so you can be sure of a great experience when travelling with us. The drivers are all local to Bournemouth and the surrounding area, so always have some help and advice to anyone visiting the area for the first time.”

Two new Plaxton Panthers and three Neoplan Tourliners will operate on MIT Luxury Travel’s M6, M10 and M15 departures. RICHARD SHARMAN











Long standing partner operator MP Travel will operate the M45 service to Birkenhead. RICHARD SHARMAN












Network expansion

From 1 October the megabus network will again undergo a major change, as Mark Venables, Managing Director for megabus, explains: “The major service uplift will see our network serving more destinations than we did pre-Covid, we will also be increasing the frequency on some of our key corridors. We will achieve this by using some Stagecoach resources, but we are also happy to announce that we will be supporting independent coach operators as we expand our business too. Around half a dozen new coach operators will be joining our network from 1 October. All coaches will be to full PSVAR specification and initially carry partial megabus branding. The expansion is a reflection of how we think the market will return for intercity leisure travel, and that we have every confidence that we can deliver what customers want in terms of locations, frequencies and price points. It has been brutal for the coach sector for so long that it is refreshing to do something to say to our customers and partner operators that we are ready to increase our network and grow the business again. We know that things are not back to normal yet, and they may never be how they were, but it is great to be able to make new plans again rather than just managing what you have got under the restrictions due to the impact of the pandemic.

“But this is more than just a new chapter for us, we are happy we can have a significant number of independent coach operators involved in our expansion whilst increasing our customer offering. For example, will we be offering a total of 55 departures a week between Manchester and London without having to change coaches. Partner operators MIT Luxury Travel, MP Travel, Orion Coaches and ReadyBus will provide some of the extra capacity. Another corridor that will receive a boost is the Nottingham to London M22 service, which will go from two trips a day to four and call at Loughborough and Leicester. This will be operated by a mix of our coaches and ones from Prospect Coaches of Lye. Sheffield and Leeds will also see additional departures in the peak periods. We are also creating new links for the north west of the country with the M45 service. It will serve the Stena Line Port at Birkenhead and then travel to London via Ellesmere Port, Chester, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Derby and Northampton. This service will be operated by existing partner operator MP Travel.

“The North East has not been left out of our expansion plans and we will be adding Hartlepool to our network on weekends with an M12 service operated by Hodgsons Coaches, which will also be providing an additional service between Middlesbrough and London on Fridays. On the South Wales and Bristol corridor we will be introducing an additional departure from Swansea, whilst six additional departures will operate in the peaks from Bristol on the M10 service, some of which will be provided by Euro Coaches, Goldwings and MIT Luxury Travel.”

Readybus will operate on the M15 service from London to Manchester with a Scania Irizar i6. RICHARD SHARMAN












Orion Travel will operate on service M15 with a Van Hool Altano until a new vehicle arrives. RICHARD SHARMAN












Hodgsons Coaches will operate on service M12, and offer a new destination at weekends by serving Hartlepool. HODGSONS COACHES












New London airport links

megabus is already a key player in airport service provision to London’s big airports. Heathrow is served by the M3 from the south coast, the M10 from South Wales and the M15 from the North East and North West and now the returning M6 service from the South West. Combined, these services offer a coach every 30 minutes from London Victoria to Heathrow. In addition, partner operator Oxford Bus Company provides a link to Gatwick Aiport with its Airline service every two hours, whilst it also provides frequent departures to High Wycombe Coachway and Oxford.
Luton Airport is also frequently served by partner operator Green Line’s 757 service.

As holidaymakers and frequent flyers begin to head to the airport again, megabus has forged a new partnership with Airport Bus Express (ABE), part of Autostradale Group, to add Stansted Airport to its network from Stratford City bus station. When flight levels increase, the service will be extended to serve London Victoria, creating further links for customers from all over the UK.

In an innovative move, megabus is also selling tickets for ABE’s coach services in Italy, allowing customers to buy connections both between London and Stansted and between Milan’s three airports (Malpensa, Linate, and Bergamo Orio al Serio) and Milan Central station creating a one-stop-shop for customers travelling between London and Italy to make travel as simple as possible.

Mark said: “People are increasingly confident about travel and even those who have managed to get away already seem to want to travel again. Demand has grown steadily over the summer within the UK and our airport services are becoming more popular each week. It makes complete sense that we offer travellers an easy way of booking tickets to and from Stansted and from the start of 2022, linking up ABE’s services with the rest of our network will put Stansted within even easier reach for millions. It is a pleasure to partner with ABE and Stansted Airport to offer a sustainable and affordable way of getting to and from Stansted and Milan airports.”

Alberto Bartalozzi, Managing Director of ABE said; “It is a pleasure to partner with megabus. We hope this agreement represents the first step of a long collaboration. Our goal is to ease the way of travelling to and from Stansted Airport, having the advantage to provide passenger transportation and tourism services to all passengers heading to the most interesting parts of Italy, relying on the experience of a 100 year old company, based in the heart of Milan City.”

Steve Mills, London Stansted’s Surface Access Manager, said: “We welcome the announcement of this new partnership between megabus and ABE, which will provide a broader range of onward transport options for our passengers. It will offer an affordable and sustainable service for those wishing to travel from our airport directly into the heart of London and vice versa. We expect it to prove highly popular.”


megabus offers a coach every 30 minutes from London to Heathrow Airport. RICHARD SHARMAN












Euro Coaches will operate on the M10 between Bristol and London. KARL OAKLEY












Reintroducing services

“The service increase and network expansion will see our coaches travelling 200,000 miles per week, an increase of 55% compared to what we are operating today,” enthused Mark. “In addition to our new intercity and airport services, we are also reintroducing some previously operated services. We are re-establishing the M6 service to Devon and Cornwall, with daily trips to Exeter and Plymouth and a service five days a week to Falmouth. This will be operated by MIT Luxury Travel. The M37 service between Birmingham, Coventry, Cambridge and Norwich will return with two departures each way operated by Prospect Coaches and Freestones Coaches. The M37 was previously one trip each way at weekends, but we have taken the decision to double the frequency and run it on Mondays too.”

Recruitment opportunities

“As we all know the industry is currently being affected by a drivers shortage, and as such we currently have vacancies at our Bristol, Cwmbran, Rugby depots and our outstations at London Victoria, Tibshelf and Woolley Edge motorway services,” explained Mark.
“Here at megabus we are a professional company and enjoy what we do, we are an inclusive employer, where everybody is welcome no matter what ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. What matters to us is that the best possible customer experience is given. A driver coming to work for us will benefit from comprehensive training, and we put a lot of emphasis on wheelchair lift training, and it is very important to us that anybody who travels with us feels safe and show that we care. As a society, post-pandemic, we need to be more caring and to be successful you need to reflect that in your offering to the customer, and we reflect that in our customer service training.

“We believe in a good home/work balance for our staff at megabus. Some people like to work nights, weekends, have nights away and so on, others don’t, so we have several duties and rotas to suit the needs of our drivers. In addition to driving roles, we also have some positions available at our head office in Rugby, this includes opportunities in marketing and for a Network Planner and Commercial Assistant,” he continued.

“As the network gets busier, we will also be reintroducing Customer Service Assistants at our key locations such as Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. We will also be bolstering existing staff at London Victoria.”

Anyone interested in viewing the current vacancies megabus has should visit tthe website at

Fleet investment

“We are also keen to do what is best for the environment at megabus, so we are going to be retrofitting the 14 remaining Euro V Plaxton Elitei coaches with Euro VI exhaust systems,” explained Mark.

“We are always looking at new technology to upgrade our fleet to zero-emissions, but right now that technology can not cover the distances we require for intercity travel. It will be a great day when a coach does enter the market that is capable of travelling 600 miles without the need for charging. Euro VI engines for intercity coach travel are the best option for us at the moment, and they are extremely clean. It is the right thing to do to use the cleanest emission vehicles that we can source, and of course, we want to go beyond that and we will when the right solution is brought to the industry. Until then we must keep encouraging people out of their cars, and by increasing our network reach and frequencies we are doing our part for the environment. The engineers and innovators will continue to develop solutions and we will adapt them as soon as we can, and being part of Stagecoach is something we are proud of as the group has always been earlier adoptors and innovators when it comes to the latest in vehicle technology.”

Prospect Coaches will operate two brand new Irizar i6 coaches with DAF engines on its M22 and M37 departures, these are due to gain megabus branding in the coming days. PROSPECT COACHES













Arriva’s Green Line service between London and Luton Airport is on the network, with tickets available on the megabus website. RICHARD SHARMAN