The Oxford to London coach route is an express coach route between Oxford and London along the M40 motorway. The Oxford Tube, which is operated by Stagecoach, runs up to five coaches an hour via Lewknor, Hillingdon in West London, and Shepherd's Bush, and terminates on Buckingham Palace Road, Victoria. The X90, which is operated by the Oxford Bus Company, runs up to three coaches an hour via Baker Street and terminates on Buckingham Palace Road.
With a total of 150 journeys a day in each direction it is the highest frequency long distance coach route currently operating in the United Kingdom. By way of comparison, there are 15 coach journeys a day from Cambridge to London.
The Oxford Tube operates a fleet of 26 Van Hool Astromega TX27 double decker coaches that were introduced in July 2014. Rather than turnover its fleet on a regular basis, Oxford Tube renews its entire fleet in one go every five years.
Tickets are also sold via the Megabus network.
The Oxford Bus Company operates the X90 service every 15 minutes at peak times, using Plaxton Panther bodied Volvo B12B coaches. and are fitted with advanced telematics resulting in a fuel consumption of 10.37 mpg‑imp (27.2 l/100 km), which works out at 468 mpg‑imp (0.604 l/100 km) per seat.
In 1919 William Beesley of Oxford formed a company called South Midland and by 1924 offered excursions to London by charabanc. This became a daily service, and by 1928 it had become a regular coach service picking up and setting down passengers en route.
South Midland had competitors. By 1930, 18 companies were running a total of 58 coach services between Oxford and London every day. After the Road Traffic Act 1930, the competitors quickly reduced to two: South Midland and Varsity Express. Varsity Express used the A40 via High Wycombe and Uxbridge, South Midland ran via Henley-on-Thames, Maidenhead and Slough.
In 1933 the Eastern Counties Omnibus Company acquired Varsity Express (which also ran a service between London and Eastern Counties' base at Cambridge). In 1934, the Tilling Group (Eastern Counties' parent) moved the Oxford service of Varsity Express to a closer group company, United Counties.
In 1934, South Midland was running seven journeys a day, and Varsity Express ran eight journeys a day. The day return fare was 6/- (30p).
In 1942 the Government compelled coach operators to suspend operations. In 1945 South Midland was sold to Red & White. Operations resumed in 1946, but by 1950 both Red & White and United Counties had been nationalised and were controlled by the British Transport Commission. The BTC transferred control of South Midland to Thames Valley Traction, and in 1952 transferred the United Counties service to South Midland. During the 1950s and 1960s, South Midland ran coaches between Oxford and London about every hour, alternating between the High Wycombe and Henley routes.
Non-stop coaches started in 1963, reducing the journey time to 2 hours 15 minutes. In 1968 the Oxford Bus Company became state-owned when British Electric Traction sold its UK bus interests to the government. At the beginning of 1971 the state-owned Transport Holding Company merged South Midland with the Oxford Bus Company, which adopted the trading name Oxford South Midland. The two routes were combined with Oxford Bus Company's bus routes from Oxford to High Wycombe and Henley, and given numbers: route 30 (Oxford-Henley-London) and route 70 (Oxford-High Wycombe-London), changed to 390 and 290 in 1975.
The M40 motorway between London and Oxford was opened in stages from 1967 to 1974. Occasional non-stop services used the motorway, but in 1977 a regular non-stop service was started as route 190, later renumbered X90. In the 1980s a non-stop service, the X70, was also started between Oxford and Heathrow Airport.
In the 1980s the 290 stopping service was combined with Green Line’s London to High Wycombe route.
The UK express coach sector was deregulated by the Transport Act 1980 and the UK bus market by the Transport Act 1985.
In 1983, Oxford South Midland was split into two in preparation for deregulation. The London services went to the Oxford Bus Company, which was sold in a management buyout in January 1987.
Competition appeared in 1987 when Thames Transit, commenced operating in Oxford and started its own express service to London, branded the Oxford Tube. The Oxford Bus Company branded its service Oxford Citylink. Since then competition on the non-stop routes has been fierce. Both companies have been taken over: Oxford Bus Company by Go-Ahead Group in 1994 and Thames Transit by Stagecoach in 1997. Both companies have continued to innovate, with better coaches, more frequent services, Wifi on board, and all-night services. The Oxford Tube brand has endured, whereas the Oxford Bus Company's London route was rebranded the Oxford Express in 2000, espress in 2004, and X90 Oxford-London in 2012. The Heathrow service was rebranded the Airline in 2001.
In 2003, Stagecoach introduced Megabus to the route, using different termini in both Oxford and London. However, in November 2004 the Megabus service was replaced by dedicated seats on the Oxford Tube.
The stopping services to London declined. The High Wycombe service (290), which had become a joint operation with Green Line, passed entirely by the 1990s to Green Line, who operated the route only between High Wycombe and London and ceased it altogether by 2003. The Henley service (390) originally went all the way from Witney to central London via Henley and Heathrow. It was eventually curtailed at Heathrow Airport, but even then Thames Transit could not make it pay and in 1996 replaced coaches with minibuses and renumbered it X39. Stagecoach later cut the route at Henley, and in 1999 it was taken over by Thames Travel.
On 11 December 2010 at 23:00, an Oxford Tube coach overturned on leaving the M40. 17 passengers and the driver were taken to the John Radcliffe Hospital with five people needing surgery for broken bones. The driver was convicted of driving without due care and attention having been charged but acquitted of dangerous driving.