Wednesday 16th October 2019
Xplore Dundee, the National Express owned bus company in Dundee, launched a brand new airport express coach service back in June linking the city directly with Edinburgh Airport via the A90 and M90.
Four months on I thought it was a good time to take a look and see how it was doing so took a ride north from the airport earlier this morning and was pleasantly surprised and suitably impressed at how well it’s doing.
Airport services are notoriously hard to build custom for as they lack regular customers day in and day out; it takes a huge effort to get the service known in the marketplace and persuade passengers flying in and out of the airport to change their travel habits.
This airport service, numbered X90 (although not prominently displayed), runs seven days a week every ninety minutes with an end to end eighty minute scheduled journey time meaning two coaches are needed to run the very intensive 24/7 service – with just one return journey missing in the middle of the night.
Fares are reasonable for an airport service of this kind at £16 single and £22 return with advanced booking rates of £12 single/£18 return and other discounts for students and families. Scottish concessionary passholders travel free.
The X90 departs from stance E right outside the entrance to Edinburgh Airport’s terminal building, although the shelter is dominated by advertisements and promotional posters for First Glasgow’s route 600 I wrote about back in July.
There is a timetable for the X90 displayed together with fares information.
I arrived in good time this morning to watch the 08:20 arrival from Dundee which came in at 08:12 and an impressive 22 passengers alighted.
The driver supervised the unloading of luggage from the lockers and then got straight back in the ‘cab’ to load up the twelve of us waiting for the departure at 08:30.
I was a bit surprised to see a farebox by the entrance door of the coach and was relieved to see a contactless Ticketer ticket machine by the driver who confirmed cash was taken (as well as bank cards) and put in the box and reassured me change was available if needed.
It all seemed a bit of an odd arrangement if drivers carry cash for change giving to have a farebox. Still, none of the eleven other passengers paid cash either as most had an advance ticket or a concessionary pass so the farebox was an irrelevance.
We left spot on time at 08:30 with a local radio station playing quietly on the driver’s in-cab radio and made our way via the A8 to the M90 and were soon crossing the new Forth Road Bridge.
The road layout means it’s easier for Dundee bound buses and coaches to use this route rather than the newly classified ‘bus and coach only’ old Fourth Road Bridge.
The coach was presentable and comfortable. Leg room was adequate. There was a toilet on board but no usb sockets nor wi-fi showing its age but it was a smooth non-stop journey, literally, all the way to Dundee where we arrived 70 minutes later at 09:40.
I noticed we passed the southbound coach on the M90 after exactly 35 minutes travelling indicating the 80 minute scheduled timing looks to include a generous ten minute allowance for delays. We hit the outskirts of Dundee exactly one hour after leaving the airport at 09:30.
As we arrived at the terminus in Dundee which is at a stop midway between the train station and main city centre bus stops, there was already a good crowd of about 18 passengers waiting to board the next departure at 10:00.
The arriving driver jumped out to help unload luggage for those from the airport and load luggage of waiting passengers while a fresh driver got in the cab to check tickets calling out those pre-booked should come on board first. It seemed a slick operation.
Twitter followers with local knowledge advise the service has been doing so well that duplicates have run in the afternoons which is very encouraging to hear.
Xplore Dundee certainly seem to be on to a winner with the X90 and a few more months of growth will no doubt see a frequency increase to hourly – certainly by next summer I would think. It’s heartening to see a new market being developed successfully especially as I didn’t detect a major spend on promotional collateral for the X90.
Indeed I was flummoxed trying to find out about the service on the Xplore Dundee website with nothing about the service on the home page and to find the timetable I needed to know the route number for the Find A Timetable tab, which I didn’t know, so first had to Google search that!
At Edinburgh airport I noticed when exiting both the domestic and international arrivals just past a stylised map of the Airlink network you’re directed to the exit towards the tram terminus and then have to walk back via the bus stops for Lothian’s 200/400 and 100 Airlink routes before reaching the X90 stance.
At least the X90 is listed on the information displays inside the terminal though, if you look hard enough.
I also noticed if you turn right from arrivals rather than as directed left, you reach a more convenient exit right by stance E and interestingly pass by a ScotRail ticket vending machine (TVM) which is programmed to sell tickets to all stations and checking Dundee brought up an inclusive bus and train ticket using the Stagecoach 747 to Inverkeithing on its route to Halbeath Park and Ride. Ironically the TVM idle screen makes reference to ‘Xpress’ – the branding used by Xplore Dundee!
I doubt many passengers would spot this TVM, let alone use it for what is now a longer and more expensive journey to Dundee involving a change from bus to train so perhaps not surprising the X90 is doing so well.
Whilst at the airport last night and this morning I also tried out Lothian’s new tri-axle E400 buses recently introduced on their Airlink 100 route which runs frequently between the airport and city centre.
These really are massive beasts – more tri-axle mega sized Enviro 400s – and their new livery definitely gives them a classier presence than previously.
I travelled into Edinburgh yesterday evening and enjoyed the mood lighting upstairs until spotlights suddenly came on right above my head sitting in the front nearside giving a feeling of being rather under a floodlight – especially when they got even brighter when we stopped at a bus stop and the doors opened.
The new interiors have done away with tables in favour of more plush seating with a deep red patterned moquette which looked a little dated when I first saw it but grew on me as I travelled and the seats were certainly very comfortable…
….except the back row of five on the upper deck which were far too upright and very uncomfortable.
At the front of the upper deck there are five single seats on the nearside which makes for a larger circulation area at the top of the stairs.
The lower deck has a large offside luggage rack as before, although I understand there are plans to extend this as it’s slightly smaller than previously existed. It looked pretty big to me but I know passengers are wedded to more and larger luggage in their travels than ever before. The buses also have centre exit doors.
As with Lothian’s previous batch of tri-axles there are two large monitors at the front of the upper deck with one giving next stop announcements including, uniquely, sign language as the audio plays out, while the other has more generic marketing material as well as airline departures from the airport and estimated arrival times at upcoming stops by the bus, although last night this was erroneously showing the next journey rather than the current one.
I travelled back to the airport earlier this morning just as it was getting light so had the opportunity to see the livery close up. It’s classy.
It’s definitely an improvement on what went before and I noticed the new brand colours have been followed through to signs and posters at the airport as well as the ticket office by the departure stance.
I bought my £7.50 return ticket, which is good value, on Lothian’s mobile app and luckily spotted these are only valid once activated for five minutes so held back activating until I was confident the bus doors were opening and I could step aboard.
Unlike First’s route 500 from Glasgow airport which takes the motorway and runs fast into the city centre. Lothian’s Airlink runs limited stop along the A8 past Edinburgh Zoo and Murrayfield stadium among the stops observed. Journey time is half an hour and it’s a fairly swish ride utilising bus lanes for much of the way.
I would imagine the interior could feel slightly claustrophobic on a very busy bus at peak times, but both my journeys last night and this morning were lightly loaded and I enjoyed smooth and comfortable rides on two very impressive looking buses.