Stagecoach bus route X5
The X5 passes the Network Rail National Centre in Central Milton Keynes in June 2012.
|Operator||Stagecoach in Bedford|
|Vehicle||Volvo B9R (2009-2014), Volvo B11R (2015-present)|
|Peak vehicle requirement||18 (as of January 2015)|
|Predecessors||Stagecoach United Counties|
|Start||Oxford, Gloucester Green bus station|
|Via||Central Milton Keynes, Milton Keynes Coachway, Bedford, St Neots|
Stagecoach bus route X5 is an inter-urban bus service linking Oxford and Cambridge via Bicester, Buckingham, Milton Keynes, Bedford and St Neots. The route started in 1995 with an hourly service which was increased to half-hourly in 2005; new vehicles were introduced in 2009 and again in 2015. It has since won two awards. There is a half-hourly service for much of the day. Vehicles advertise free WiFi access, air conditioning and leather seats and are wheelchair accessible. The route carried 500,000 users in 2008; passenger numbers have grown by 150% between 2004 and 2009, leading to some problems with overcrowding. As of 2014, according to Stagecoach East's Managing Director, Andy Campbell, the route carries on average 1.3 million passengers annually. It is primarily operated by the group's Stagecoach in Bedford division.
Route X5 was launched in September 1995. It operated hourly and provided a number of new links between towns which had not previously been connected by bus or rail services. It was initially branded as Varsity, a reference to a pre-World War II service between Oxford and Cambridge via Luton, and to the Varsity Line, a railway route between the university cities closed in 1967. The western part of the route replaced an infrequent Stagecoach United Counties service between Oxford and Bedford. The route was initially operated with a variety of high-floor coaches.
The route remained largely unchanged until August 2004, when it was diverted via Roxton and Wyboston to replace withdrawn local services. Further changes around the same time saw the X5 diverted to serve Eaton Socon and St Neots town centres rather than serving the towns via a stop on the A421 bypass road, thereby adding to the journey time between Bedford and Cambridge. However, evening journeys were sped up by avoiding Eltisley, which was instead covered by another route.
Early in 2005 the X5 was doubled in frequency to operate half-hourly. This received some positive feedback, although evening services were criticised for being too infrequent and offering few through journeys.
In 2006 the route briefly faced competition in the form of an air service between the two termini operated by Sky Commuter. This followed an unsuccessful attempt by Alpha One Airways to operate on the corridor.
In April 2007 the route was curtailed within Oxford to terminate at Gloucester Green bus station site and no longer serve the little used final section to Oxford railway station. The changes were in part due to new European Union driver hours limits.
A modified double-decker bus with extra luggage space was trialled in 2007, with a view to introducing double-deck operation on the route, but was not deemed successful, so the service continued to be operated with high-floor Volvo B10M coaches.
In 2008 the route was rebranded as Cross Country, a name also used for the X4 service between Milton Keynes and Peterborough. Passenger numbers improved dramatically, with over 500,000 users in 2008.
New coaches were introduced to the route in March 2009. In August 2009 it was reported that some passengers in the St Neots area were being left behind by coaches on the route as they were too full. This problem escalated in December 2009, when higher than expected loadings saw many evening journeys significantly overcrowded. Between 2004 and 2009 patronage increased by 150%. Another name used to promote the service was The X Factor.
The service was slightly rerouted in August 2011 to serve the town centre in Buckingham instead of stopping at the more remote Tesco superstore. Its timetable was also recast, with additional peak-hour journeys introduced.
On 22 September 2014, Stagecoach Group announced that they were investing £6.5million into Stagecoach East's bus and coach fleets operating in Cambridge, which included plans for 18 new coaches for route X5. These coaches, like their predecessors, are to be fitted with Plaxton bodies, but using the Elite body instead of the Panther body. They will also be fitted with Euro 6 specification engines, making the coaches among the most environmentally-friendly in Europe. Capacity of the coaches will be increased from the current 49 passengers/47 passengers and one wheelchair to 57 passengers/55 passengers and one wheelchair. The new coaches are expected to enter service by the end of 2014.  As of 4 January 2015, the new coaches have been entered into service.
The X5 connects Oxford to Cambridge via Bicester, Buckingham, Milton Keynes, Bedford and St Neots. It provides interchange facilities for national north-south services at Milton Keynes by serving Milton Keynes Coachway and Milton Keynes Central railway station.
The route is 85 miles (137 km) long, and largely follows the path of the notional Oxford-Cambridge Arc. The eastbound service commences at Oxford's Gloucester Green bus station. It then heads for Bicester, stopping near the Bicester shopping village and Bicester town centre (Manorsfield Road). The route calls at Bicester North railway station (added to the route in 2008), then moves on to the town centre of Buckingham, before heading for Milton Keynes.
In Milton Keynes, the service stops at the Milton Keynes Central railway station to interchange with the West Coast Main Line and the Stagecoach bus route X4 to Peterborough and route 99 to Luton Airport, at Milton Keynes Shopping Centre and at the Milton Keynes Coachway for interconnection with National Express north-south services. The route continues to the Bedford bus station, where drivers change over. Thereafter, the service diverts through Eaton Socon where it picks up a number of passengers for its next stop in St Neots and then on towards Cambridge. Entering the outskirts of Cambridge, it serves the park and ride site at Madingley Road before reaching its terminus at Cambridge's Parkside on Parker's Piece.
The route uses a fleet of seventeen Volvo B9R coaches with Plaxton Panther bodywork. These vehicles, which were purchased new in 2009 include free WiFi access, air conditioning and leather seats and are wheelchair accessible. They carry route branding for the service, although the Cross Country branding used in some marketing does not feature on the vehicles.
As of 4 January 2015, Stagecoach East introduced 18 new Volvo B11R coaches fitted with Plaxton Elite bodywork, to replace the now 6 year old Plaxton Panthers. These coaches, much like their predecessors, offer free WiFi access, power sockets, air conditioning and leather seats. However, the new coaches have a capacity of 57 passengers/55 passengers and one wheelchair, compared to their predecessors' 49 passengers/47 passengers with one wheelchair. For the Plaxton Elite coaches, Stagecoach have used a new livery compared to that seen on most of their buses and coaches. The livery features a blue colour scheme, with a sky blue towards the front of the coach and a navy blue containing outlines of Stagecoach's logo in sky blue towards the rear. The route branding has also been updated with new logos and includes Buckingham as a destination served by the route.
Following the 2008 relaunch the route won two industry awards. The first came at the 2009 UK Bus Awards, where the route won the Express Operation of the Year award by a unanimous decision. A year later, the route won the Coach Marketing award at the 2010 UK Coach Awards for a promotion effort by Stagecoach.
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