Stagecoach bus route X5
The X5 passes the Network Rail National Centre in Central Milton Keynes in June 2012.
|Operator||Stagecoach in Bedford|
|Peak vehicle requirement||17|
|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 and new vehicles were introduced in 2009. It has since won two awards. There is a half-hourly service for much of the day. Vehicles have 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. 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. 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The route remained largely unchanged until August 2004, when it was diverted via Stewartby and Lidlington to replace withdrawn local services.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.
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 and serves selected stops on Woodstock Rd. It then heads for Bicester, stopping near the Bicester shopping village and Bicester town centre (Market Square towards Oxford, North Street towards Cambridge - in summer 2013 the stop will revert to the bus station which is currently being redeveloped). 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.
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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- "Inter-urban bus services". Commission for Integrated Transport. Archived from the original on 2011-01-01.
- County to pick up stranded bus passengers - Biggleswade News - Bedford Today Archived 1 January 2011 at WebCite
- "Another Oxbridge first". The Daily Telegraph (London). 2006-02-06.
- "Simon Calder: Is Varsity a match for the UK's railways?". The Independent (London). 2010-03-06. Archived from the original on 2011-01-01.
- "Oxbridge bus survey (From Witney Gazette)". Archived from the original on 2011-01-01.
- "New coach fleet for cross country service". TXNews. Archived from the original on 2011-01-01.
- "New-look buses are too popular". Cambridge City News. Archived from the original on 2011-01-01.
- "Passengers left in cold as buses 'too full'". Cambridge City News. Archived from the original on 2011-01-01.
- UK Bus Awards - Express Operation of the Year 2009 Archived 1 January 2011 at WebCite
- Change of bus route as X5 to stop in Buckingham town centre Buckingham Today, 6 August 2011
- X5 stops – Stagecoach
- "Stagecoach X5 - FAQs". Archived from the original on 2011-01-01.
- Table 65a GB rail timetable winter edition 11: 12 December 2010 - 21 May 2011
- UK Coach Awards ceremony 2010 Archived 1 January 2011 at WebCite