Working with Flix: the inside view

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A brand new Neoplan Tourliner is due for delivery for the new service. RICHARD SHARMAN

Belle Vue is the latest coach company to partner with growing express intercity operator FlixBus. Richard Sharman talks to both companies about the reasons behind the latest service announcement

FlixBus announced last month that it is to launch a new service between major cities in the north-west and north-east of England with new partner Belle Vue. Belle Vue has been trading since 1993, and offers a range of services covering school and corporate travel, private hire and coach tours. The company has won several gold, silver and bronze accolades at the UK Coach Awards.

Based in Stockport, it will begin serving FlixBus passengers on the new route between Manchester, Leeds, Middlesborough, Sunderland and Newcastle at the end of this month with a regular daily service. The route will open up a new cross-country corridor in the north of England for the green travel brand, which has pledged top offer ‘more affordable, sustainable and reliable transport options than ever before.’

Another step


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“There is no doubt looking at the announcements we have made over the last few weeks and months that we continue on the path and the mission we set out to build the UK’s largest intercity network, and that we are proving we are committed to that strategy,” explained Managing Director of FlixBus UK Andreas Schorling. “That strategy is based on a business model that relies on strong partnerships with high quality operators, and that is why the FlixBus team and I are excited to announce that Belle Vue is joining the FlixBus network this month. We have been in discussions for some time, and Phil from Belle Vue has got to know me and my team and we have now reached the step of launching this brand new service.

“It is fundamental for us that we work with high quality operators who share the same long term goals as us when it comes to building a network. We are confident that we have found such a partner in Phil and Belle Vue. I have personally been extremely impressed with the way that they have been able to find a team of friendly, customer focused drivers in a way that is scalable in the future as our relationship grows.

“Manchester is a key location for us when it comes to building our network, we have a strong customer base on the corridor between London and Manchester, with Birmingham along the route, which has been important to us from day one. Now, thanks to working with Phil, we are really able to put our flag up in Manchester and have a local presence there. We are also excited that, thanks to this partnership, we are able to open this new corridor which will link Manchester in the North West to Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the North East.

“This move is in line with the Government’s agenda of ‘levelling up the north.’ Transport is a fundamental element that is required in society, and because we want to establish partnerships with high quality operators for decades, we see this new partnership has the potential to grow over the years and expand on what we have started to build.”

FlixBus’ new northern route will link Manchester, Leeds, Middlesbrough and Newcastle. FLIXBUS UK

Becoming a FlixBus partner

Belle Vue’s Managing Director Philip Hitchen has led the coach company for over 30 years, and says the new partnership offers new opportunities for growth, diversification and commercial success: “I first met Andreas and Senior Business Development Manager Frederic Weil last November,” he recalled. “One thing that was clear to me from that meeting was the goal to build the number one coach network in the UK. I was very keen on joining the network and starting a service, but at the time there was a driver shortage in the UK, and we already had a number of commitments in the coming months. We measured the success that FlixBus had enjoyed so far in the UK, and always had a view of joining the network, but I wanted to be sure that we could give any new service the time and resources it would need.

“In the last 10 months I have been involved in the recruitment and training of our driver team. It is not so much getting the drivers, but getting the right quality of driver, which is part of our ethos at Belle Vue. We feel we have done that. We offer various service in corporate, education, tours and network services, so our system is to put the right type of driver on the right type of service. Fifteen months ago I didn’t feel we in a position to make that move onto the network, but we have kept in touch. Fast forward a few months and we are ready to go.

“We see this as a very early stage of a three to five year process to help Andreas and his dynamic team grow the FlixBus network and balance the north with the south in terms of building a sustainable network. We are excited to be part of the FlixBus vision, we feel we have the operational team and fleet to really embrace this opportunity.”

Selecting the right route

“The FlixBus team came up with the original idea for the new North West to North East route. At the time we were looking around at our options to create an extra revenue stream for the business by getting involved in express coach work. We had done some duplicate work in the past, but were really interested in growing our own network, so the opportunity to work with FlixBus came at just the right time,” explained Phil.

“Coming in at this early point of FlixBus’ journey means we can grow services together, as I believe we are the right partner in the north of England to make this happen.

“The route that the new service takes between Manchester and Newcastle-upon-Tyne is not very well served at the moment, so it has the prospect of being a very busy route. The first 12 months will be something of a pioneering stage, but we can see it being very successful as our market research has shown that the train network along this route can be very congested and unreliable. We feel we can bring a better timetable and comfort level to our passengers.”

“The railways have seen a fair bit of disruption in recent months, and a lot of people are now looking for travel options that are not by train, so it is important to us to offer an alternative that provides the public with a reliable service, that is also affordable. Coach services are also sustainable, especially when compared to using a car,” added Andreas.

“At FlixBus we have the ideas of the corridors that we would like to provide our customers, but we always consult with our partners who often have the local knowledge. We look at their input before we both agree on the route. This has played out with Phil and his team, who know the areas well and what will work. Designing and providing services together with the operator is key to the FlixBus model and partnership.”

The introduction of the new service will also allow for connections to the wider FlixBus network from Manchester, such as the 023 to London and the 030 to Glasgow, and their night service variations. RICHARD SHARMAN


“Coaches are always the most affordable and efficient way to travel when it not only comes down the cost, but also looking after planet,” enthused Andreas. “When it comes to pricing on the route, we will use our yield management programme, which was developed in-house by FlixBus. The price of the ticket that is sold is determined from each search that customers are doing on the website and takes into account availability of places and then creates the best possible price for our customers.”

Cross-country journeys often seem the poor relation compared to north-south routes, whether by car, by coach or by rail. The M1-M62 Newcastle-Manchester axis is currently served by National Express and megabus, both of which offer a number of direct journeys per day on the corridor, with ticket prices between £17 and £30 for a journey tomorrow at the time of writing, and lower if booking well in advance. It is also a corridor which has seen a high level of travel disruption in recent months as a result of ongoing difficulties at rail operator Transpennine Express which have led to significant delays and cancellations to services. Rail tickets for the same journey stood between £35 and £45 when checked, with some as high as £86. FlixBus tickets on the route will start at £4.99,

A new coach for a new service

“It is important for us to offer our new customers the highest level of comfort, so we have a brand new Neoplan Tourliner due to be delivered for this service in the coming days,” explained Phil. “As an operator, we already have this vehicle type in the fleet in the fleet and really like the quality that the MAN Neoplan Tourliner product.

“We feel that the Tourliner delivers unparalleled comfort and performance. In addition, we have specified our new vehicle for the route with digital mirrors to increase fuel economy and for improved vision. We ordered the vehicle in June last year and should have taken delivery of it in February, but unfortunately, some of the parts for the model are made in Ukraine and those factories have been destroyed during the war, so there has been a slight delay. But MAN Truck & Bus in Manchester has kept in constant contact with us and we are expecting delivery very soon.

“The tri-axle 13-metre Tourliner will be delivered as a 61-seater, but we will be reducing the seating slightly to give our customers more leg room and comfort. The vehicle is to full PSVAR specification and has a wheelchair lift fitted behind the nearside front axle.”

The FlixBus experience

“We deal with multiple operations teams on different contracts through our business, as we have lots of school and corporate contracts, but I have to say that the FlixBus team has been very diligent. If we need an answer to a question, they reply within minutes rather than days,” said Phil. “Communication has been open since day one, and the planning of the route, driver training, sorting uniform and looking at revenue streams have all been very impressive. I feel we have a great working relationship.

“Joining FlixBus is not about gaining short term income, it is more about being part of a vision to build something long term. With the greatest respect, some operators have a short term vision and are always looking for the quick win. I often find when there is a lot of building to be done at the start, there is often a lot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We are looking at a five year vision with this project; it’s a bit like building a house really, you wouldn’t want to move in when you are still putting concrete in the foundations. We think over 12 to 36 months on this network we can bring a great deal of support and strength and build that network on a slow steady basis to have a long lasting impact.

“This is a golden opportunity for Belle Vue, and if other operators take the right approach, it is a golden opportunity for them.”

Andreas concluded: “The recent expansion of our network with existing partners, alongside this new relationship, is a testament to the success of our business model and our desire to win the market, opening new connections across the country.”

The new service is planned to launch on Thursday 27 April.

75% of Belle Vue’s fleet size is dedicated to providing school transport services. RICHARD SHARMAN