Wednesday 15th July 2020
Meet Kevin Green. He must be the most optimistic entrepreneur in the transport industry right now. And he’s such a friendly and affable guy too.
I met him today while he was driving one of three smart Volvo coaches he’s bought to operate the Bracknell Express; a brand new express coach route that started running between Bracknell and Heathrow Airport this morning.
Delayed from its long planned introduction just as lockdown hit, Kevin’s new venture CJJ Coaches (“For us it’s very much about going that extra mile”) has begun operating a Covid reduced timetable incorporating a one coach operation on a two hourly frequency (seven daily journeys) between 08:00 and 21:40 rather than his original plan of an hourly service (nineteen journeys) from 03:30 to 23:30 using all three coaches.
Kevin’s original timetable also included stops at both Terminals 2 and 3 after serving Terminal 5, but the slimmed down operation only calls at Terminal 5 on its way to Heathrow’s Central Bus Station.
End to end journey time is just 47 minutes; scheduling 30 minutes from Bracknell to Terminal 5 and 17 minutes to skirt round the airport perimeter to the Central Bus Station.
Despite being relatively close to Heathrow, Bracknell hasn’t enjoyed a regular quick public transport connection to the airport for staff and passengers. Kevin reckons he’s spotted this as a gap in the market.
Reading Buses operate the hourly Green Line branded route 703 between Bracknell and Heathrow Terminal 5 but it runs via Winkfield, Legoland, Windsor and Slough so takes much longer with an eighty minutes journey time.
Fares on the new Bracknell Express are a very reasonable £6 single and £10 return, and rather peculiarly an ‘open return’ at £13 which I can’t see many people buying when they can make a £1 saving by just buying two singles. I think Kevin will be adjusting that very soon. These prices compare very favourably with First Bus operated RailAir from Reading (£20 single) and Guildford (£9 single) – which I see both returned from furlough last weekend, albeit the Reading route is just a one coach operation with departures at 04:00, 06:15, 10:15, 12:30, 14:40, 17:00, 20:00 and 22:20. Guildford runs hourly with three coaches reflecting the funding provided by Heathrow Airport no doubt.
Back to the Bracknell Express, where there are also early bird tickets which can be booked online “30 or more days in advance of the current date” saving £1 on the standard fares for both the single and return. These prices are listed on the company’s website as being “for a promotional period”.
A ‘Bracknell Transfer’ for just £2 provides a “pick-up/drop-off service from a local address … using our ‘in house vehicles” which is a bargain price for that ‘first mile’ of your journey if you’re a resident of Bracknell heading off to the airport. This facility is provided by Kevin’s mainstay business CJJ Chauffeurs Ltd.
Tickets can be purchased in advance online from CJJ Coaches’s website or card payments are accepted on board the coach at the time of travel. Concessionary passes are valid although Kevin is still resolving the administrative arrangements for reimbursement.
Kevin tells me there’s an arrangement with Reading Buses for acceptance of their 703 season tickets and Heathrow Airport’s staff discount travel scheme also applies and Kevin is hoping arrangements will soon be in place for through tickets from South Western Railway although passengers may opt for the Carlone Buses X442 shuttle from Staines (albeit it has a significanrly curtailed timetable at the moment).
The CJJ Coaches website provides a facility to list “dates and times of coaches that have limited or no seating capacity”. Reassuringly and not surprisingly it was showing “All seats currently available” for today’s inaugural operation.
Kevin’s decided to pick up from alongside Bracknell station rather than the bus station opposite so he doesn’t interfere with Courtney/Reading Buses. He’s got an arrangement with Network Rail and South Western Railway to pick up alongside where the taxis wait for an initial six months and he told me he was paying for this facility which seemed to me to be a bit of a check of the train companies to be charging him.
And as we chatted some more Kevin took me totally by surprise when he told me Heathrow Airport aren’t funding the Bracknell Express. Until then I’d assumed this initiative was yet another bus route Heathrow was splashing the cash to fund along with the aforementioned X442 and the 459 via Iver as well as other bus routes in the Windsor, Dedworth and High Wycombe areas and the already mentioned Railair RA2 from Guildford, all of which I’ve blogged about before.
My respect for Kevin suddenly shot up realising he’s taking all the commercial risk on the service, especially launching it at this exceptionally quiet time. He optimistically pointed out BA’s pulling out of Gatwick means there’s now a variety of holiday destinations such as Tenerife from Heathrow, and after all, the height of the summer holidays, such as it’ll be in 2020, is fast approaching,
Kevin explained although there’s no funding, the Airport is helping promote the service and giving it moral support.
I arrived at Bracknell’s rather uninviting rail station in good time this morning to catch the Bracknell Express’s third journey of the day to Heathrow departing at 12:09. I’d missed the Mayor of Bracknell’s launch earlier this morning and it seems four passengers had travelled on the first two journeys.
You need a leap of faith the service picks up from alongside the station as there’s no bus stop sign or timetable on display at the moment confirming the precise departure location. Kevin is waiting for SWR/Network Rail to help with this so I recommended he get on and put something up himself otherwise he’ll find himself still waiting after the initial six months is up!
Careful thought has gone into anti-Covid arrangements as Kevin unloaded a stand from the coach’s locker displaying advisory notices and a container of sanitiser for us all to use as we boarded.
It was nice to see Kevin’s wife and a friend arrive to take a ride to support the new venture and we all set off spot on time at 12:09 with information board and sanitiser safely stowed away back on the coach.
The coach is a nice comfortable Jonkheere bodied Volvo which had a previous life on Dublin’s Aircoach service. You wouldn’t know it’s almost 12 years old.
Kevin has thoughtfully included information about the new service and a complimentary branded pen in each seat back pocket which is a nice touch.
We had a very smooth lunch time ride out of Bracknell taking just 12 minutes to the M3 and 16 minutes after gliding along the free flowing M3 and M25 we pulled into the infamous dark and dingy Terminal 5 bus station at Heathrow.
I nipped off to check the inevitable absence of any timetable information on the designated departure point and recommended Kevin takes the initiative to post details of the service here too.
So much for Heathrow Airport helping promote the service. As reported in previous blogs Terminal 5 is notorious for perpetuating out of date irrelevant bus and coach information. They really are hopeless.
It took another 16 minutes to drive around Heathrow’s perimeter, noting the vast empty car parking areas, and then through the tunnel under the runways to arrive in the Central Bus Station just after 12:55. A nice smooth run and professionally driven.
I bid my farewells to Kevin and wished him all the very best of luck with this new venture. I think he’s very brave to be launching in the current climate but I truly admire his positivity and optimism.
I did suggest he should tap up Heathrow for some funding – at least to help with the initial period while trying to get established. I really think they owe it to him in recognition of his commitment bearing in mind all the other routes they’re supporting.
Having checked TfL’s journey planner for the best way to head on to Victoria I was a bit surprised to see the top recommendation for the next journey was the National Express route A4 departure at 13:00, taking just 40 minutes. It’s the first time I’ve seen TfL recommend National Express, which is a welcome development.
Normally the journey planner spews out as the first option the outrageously expensive (£22) Heathrow Express train to Paddington and then the Underground to Victoria which takes about 35 minutes depending on the slickness of the connection at Paddington. I’m guessing the Covid reduced half hourly frequency means it’s not so liked by the algorithm.
I usually opt for the Piccadilly and District Lines (changing at Hammersmith) for a more reasonable £5.10 and a 43 minute journey time.
But as I haven’t been on the Underground since before Covid I decided to continue that abstinence and opt for the 40 minute NatEx option instead and quickly bought a ticket (£10 single) from the vending machines in the waiting area (the ticket offices were closed) and jumped aboard having had my temperature checked at just before 1300, alighting in Victoria Coach Station at precisely 13:40 having enjoyed a free flowing ride along the M4 and Great West Road.