Pursuant to the Transport Act 1968, the National Bus Company was formed as a holding company for the many state-owned local bus companies. Many of these bus companies also operated coach services and these were initially branded as National, the National Express brand was first used in 1974 although the coach services continued to be operated by the individual companies.
Coach services were de-regulated under the Transport Act 1980 and buses by the Transport Act 1985. In March 1988 National Express was privatised in a management buyout. In July 1989 the company bought ATL Holdings with operations in Sheffield and a 50% share in Yelloway Trathen, which was renamed Trathens Travel Services.
In August 1989 the Eurolines services from London to Alicante, Barcelona and Paris were purchased from Wallace Arnold, and the express services in Scotland and to London from Stagecoach with 29 coaches. These were operated under the Caledonian Express brand.
In June 1991 National Express was sold to the Drawlane Group. In December 1992 National Express Group plc was floated on the London Stock Exchange.
For most of its existence, National Express had little, if any, competition in the long-distance coach market. A number of operators had attempted to compete with the company after deregulation in 1980, the largest being the British Coachways consortium, but most had given up competition by the end of the decade. However, in 2003, Stagecoach introduced Megabus, a no-frills service whose £1 fares sparked a price war with National Express in autumn 2004. The competition intensified in 2007 when Megabus transferred its London terminus from the Green Line Coach Station into the main Victoria Coach Station.
In November 2007 National Express announced plans to re-brand all its operations under a new unified National Express identity. As part of this the coach operation received a slightly different livery, retaining the red white and blue theme, but with a new lower-case logo. Coaches started appearing in the new livery from December 2007.
National Express offers many standard routes to destinations across the country. In addition, shuttle and airport services are also operated, although there is no obvious difference to the passenger between a standard, shuttle or airport service with regard to branding.
Many National Express coach routes pass through several town centres, which increases journey times for longer journeys considerably. A smaller number of Shuttle services operate at least once an hour over faster direct routes.
National Express operates Airport services to a number of different airports, including East Midlands, Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton and Stansted. The Airport brand was created in 2003 when the National Express image brand was updated merging the former Airlink, Flightlink, Jetlink and Speedlink brands. In the 2007 re-brand, the Airport branding was dropped, although the 'Airport' coding is still used on tickets.
Nearly all National Express services are scheduled to use vehicles with a wheelchair lift. These vehicles feature a wider entrance and a completely flat floor throughout the coach to aid mobility for all. The NX Magic Floor Lift is incorporated into the passenger entrance and when deployed, the wheelchair is locked in place and the customer safely and securely uses the same standard three-point seat belt as other customers.
A very small number of regular coaches on the network do not yet contain wheelchair access, although with pre-booking it is often possible to schedule an appropriate vehicle where necessary. All these vehicles are expected to be withdrawn from normal service by mid-2013. Certain one-day a week journeys and duplicate services are not operated using vehicles featuring the 'Magic Floor Lift'.
Newer vehicles include reclining leather seats, plug sockets, air conditioning and a large toilet.
The majority of National Express services are contracted on long-term agreements to local coach companies, known as Partner Operators. As part of the contract, operators are required to use coaches in full National Express livery. On occasion, an operator will use its own branded vehicle due to lack of availability, but will be penalised financially for doing so. A wider list of additional operators are also available to 'bid' for occasional work on the network - usually providing a one-off duplicate service to meet demand. Whilst still having to meet strict criteria, these coaches are usually not in National Express livery.
National Express does operate some services itself, primarily services between Gatwick, Heathrow and Luton airports, and Victoria Coach Station, London Liverpool Street and Woking.
Below is a list of partner operators:
National Express tickets are available in a variety of methods and different pricing structures. Traditionally, tickets are sold through National Express ticket offices at coach stations, or by third-party agents at various bus stations and travel agents. These sell tickets generally at the 'Standard Fare' or at 'Advance Fares' when booking in advance. A similar ticketing structure also applies with the telephone booking service.
With the introduction of competition from Megabus, more competitive internet-only Funfares were introduced. These often have stricter conditions imposed, such as being non-refundable, and are restricted to certain corridors only.
Other ticket types include 'Season Tickets' and 'Multi-rides', aimed at frequent travellers, although in many cases FunFares are cheaper; and BritXplorer, which allows foreign tourists unlimited travel for a specified period.Coachcards
National Express currently offers a range of four coachcards to customers which allow discounts on National Express tickets. These are:Young Person Coachcard – Available to young people aged under 26 and to full-time students of any age. This discount card allows a third off the standard fare, plus 10% off events services.
Family Coachcard – Available in a '1+1' or '2+2' format, this enables one child (3–15) to travel for free with one full fare paying adult (or 2 children with 2 adults).
Senior Coachcard – Following the Governments scrapping of the Concessionary half price fares for the over 60's in October 2011, National Express introduced a Senior Coachcard which enables the holder one third off the standard fare. Initially, these were not valid on services to/from airports, however following complaints from passengers, this restriction was removed in March 2012.
Disabled Coachcard – Following the government's scrapping of the concessionary half-price fares for disabled people in October 2011, National Express introduced a Disabled Coachcard enabling the holder one third off the standard fare. Initially, these were not valid on services to/from airports but, following complaints from passengers, this restriction was removed in March 2012. Students and those under 26 can also get 10% off events services.
National Express and its franchises operate a number of different vehicle types.
The primary coach type on the network is the Caetano Levante (which is used on both 2 and 3 axles). This has been the main vehicle of choice since 2006.
Other branded vehicles used on the network include (in order of quantity):Plaxton Elite (2 and 3 axle versions)
Van Hool Acron (Tri-Axle - only used by Chalfont)
Irizar i6 (Ulsterbus only)
Caetano Boa Vista (double decker)
Having withdrawn all its double deck coaches after an accident in January 2007, in October 2016 National Express placed six Caetano bodied Scania K410s into service.
In the mid-1980s during the Rapide era, an on-board tea service and on-board televisions were in operation. These were given extensive advertising campaigns as profiled on the BBC Three documentary History of the Coach, profiling various uses the public makes of such public transport systems.
In April 2001 National Express phased out its on-board catering service, having already phased out its on-board television service in the 1990s. However, in late 2004 National Express launched NXTV or National Xpress Television. Rather than showing a whole film as on an aircraft, NXTV would instead show various episodes of British television series such as A Touch of Frost, My Family and Top Gear, all of which were commissioned by ITV and the BBC. The service would be displayed on small monitors situated above the overhead luggage compartments, powered by a motor to move downwards and upwards while the programming would be played from a DVD drive situated at the drivers dashboard.
The service was quickly phased out in the summer of 2006, due to a lack of interest in purchasing headphones, available at vending machines in the major stations and also via on-board vendors before a journey. The reasons for the service's failure was that the headphone jack was compatible with any headphone, removing any reason to buy those offered. Also, by the time NXTV was launched, the Apple iPod was already at its height of popularity, diverting interest away from it. Programming was also very limited, with many of the episodes being frequent repeats from terrestrial television. The headphones were later given away for free when the service was finally about to be ceased. The advertising slogan was "Television shows as you board the coach".
National Express Coaches now offers free WiFi on selected coaches. This is most commonly found on board the newer Caetano Levante fleet.
Since National Express started operating, there have been few crashes involving its coaches, including:26 July 1974: Three killed and over 30 injured when a double-decker overturned on the M1 near Luton after swerving to avoid an earlier collision.
17 August 1983: Three killed on the M4 motorway near Swindon when a lorry careered into the side of a coach.
3 August 1985: One killed and 40 injured when a double-decker overturned on the A1 in County Durham after swerving to avoid a sheep on the carriageway.
In 2007, two coaches were involved in separate fatal accidents, in January and September.
On 4 September 2009 at Gatwick Airport, a Ford Ka collided with and ended up underneath a National Express coach. The single occupant of the car, 34-year-old Melanie Wisden from Ely, Cardiff was crushed and killed instantly. She had just dropped a friend off at Gatwick Airport's North Terminal. The coach driver was taken to hospital and treated for shock. One coach passenger suffered a minor wrist injury. The subsequent road closures caused tailbacks stretching back as far as the M25 and beyond.