Transport Secretary announces up to £3 million for coach services to meet Christmas travel demand 

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Funding package announced to support coach travel over Christmas

A support package worth up to £3 million that will enable coach operators to provide additional scheduled services over the Christmas travel window was announced on 12 December by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

Snap will be making a return with services from three locations. SNAP

The government is working with the coach industry, including National Express, megabus and Snap – who together provide a network of coach services covering Great Britain – to ensure extra scheduled services are provided over the Christmas travel window (23 to 27 December), including on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

Coach operators are currently running reduced networks due to the impact of Covid-19 on demand. The funding will enable scheduled coach operators to boost services to up to 75% of pre-pandemic services – helping more people travel safely to their Christmas bubble should they wish. The move will make up to an additional 80,000 seats available.

The government has set out that people can travel to form a Christmas bubble, composed of no more than three households, between 23 and 27 December. Anyone travelling to or from Northern Ireland may travel on 22 and 28 December.

To minimise disruption and help people travel safely to their bubble, the government set out a series of measures last week, including:

  • Lifting 100s of miles of roadworks;
  • Enhancing rail services;
  • Postponing and accelerating rail engineering works; and
  • Cutting ticket charges.

The new support for scheduled coach services builds on this and ensures that, should there be pressure on rail services, people will have alternative travel options.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, said: “We’ve already set out important measures so journeys can run as smoothly as possible this Christmas. Today’s funding announcement for the coach sector goes one step further, ensuring there are more options available for people wanting to travel to celebrate with loved ones and friends. We remind everyone that it’s essential to plan their journey and book ahead, be considerate of other passengers and staff across our transport network, and follow the guidance, including keeping space and wearing a face covering, unless exempt, on public transport.”

Christmas travel co-ordinator Sir Peter Hendy said: “This is very welcome, as it gives additional and flexible Covid-safe public transport capacity for the Christmas period. I’ll continue to assure transport provision so we can get everyone to their Christmas bubbles safely. Please book early to help achieve that.”

Alison Edwards, Head of Policy at The Confederation of Passenger Transport UK, said: “The pandemic has made it challenging to run scheduled coach services. It’s welcome to see this recognised by government. Coaches provide a vital means of transport during the Christmas period and will be running throughout the festive period, including on Christmas Day. This funding will mean more coaches on our roads to help people travel safely and ease overall pressure on public transport.”

National Express will be increasing the frequency of 38 routes including Bristol-London, Birmingham-London, Birmingham-Manchester, Birmingham-Bradford and Cardiff-London. They will also be introducing nearly 20 new direct services, some of which include Cambridge-London, Leeds-Manchester and Hull-Birmingham. Some of the additional locations being added to the current revised network include Cambridge, Hull, Peterborough, Sunderland and York. These changes will be starting from 18 December and running every day, including Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

Additional megabus services to the South West will include Falmouth, Plymouth, Exeter, Cheltenham, Gloucester and Swindon. RICHARD SHARMAN

Chris Hardy, Managing Director, National Express Coach, said: “Maintaining the UK’s largest network of scheduled coach services has been challenging but we’ve worked hard to provide safe, low-carbon travel over the festive season. This funding will allow us to increase the frequency of some routes, introduce new direct services and add more locations on our 23 to 27 December timetable. We’ll initially be doubling the mileage of the network and will further increase the number of vehicles and seats available on routes as necessary. The flexibility of coach travel means we can respond to demand and quickly and safely increase capacity with Covid-secure measures in place.”

Snap will be operating coach services to London from Bristol, Cardiff and Nottingham. Thomas Ableman, Founder & CEO of Snap, said: “We’re thrilled to be able to help people see their family at Christmas. Our network of incredible quality local coach operators are ready to get people to where they need to go with safety, security and a smile. We know people have really valued their local small businesses this year, so are sure they’ll continue to do so by booking their travel with a local coach operator through Snap.”

In reaction to the announcement, Stagecoach-owned megabus has added an extra 5,600 socially-distanced seats on its coach services.

With support from the Department for Transport, Stagecoach can offer extra megabus seats from all the major cities and many regions across the country including the North East, Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham, Bristol, Cardiff and London. Additional seats will also be offered on services to and from Glasgow and Edinburgh.

The agreement with government will also allow megabus to provide services from additional places across the South West including Falmouth, Plymouth, Exeter, Cheltenham, Gloucester and Swindon. There will now also be services running to and from the north including Doncaster, Bradford and Scunthorpe with extra stops at Cambridge and new services to Great Yarmouth.

Around 50% of the previously available seats throughout December have now sold out, with cities such as Sheffield, Newcastle and Leeds showing big spikes in demand. Wednesday 23 and Sunday 27 December are the most popular days for travel and now thousands of extra seats are on sale, megabus is urging people to book ahead, especially as rail services are expected to be busy.

Students have also been successfully using megabus coaches to get home for Christmas, with figures showing a 90% increase during the student travel week, compared with the previous week. Extra coaches were provided on many routes.

Mark Venables, Managing Director for megabus, said: “Direct and high frequency intercity coaches are an increasingly popular travel choice and this year in particular, they will play a vital role in helping families and friends to be reunited for Christmas.

“On the busiest days in December, we have already sold around 50% of the capacity we had available, so it’s great news that we’re working with the UK Department for Transport to increase the number of seats on our services in the run up to the festive break. This agreement also means we’re able to add many more towns and cities across the South West and Northern England onto our network.

“We know that coach and train seats are booking up quickly, and with the increase in advance ticket sales that we have seen, we’re urging people to plan ahead and book travel as soon as possible.”


National Express will be increasing frequencies on 38 routes. RICHARD SHARMAN