There was a time when jointly operated inter-urban bus routes were quite common not least between adjacent subsidiaries of the National Bus Company. It made for an efficient way to operate a route which linked towns many miles apart which were located in different bus companies’ territories’.
One of the most extensive operations I was involved in during my career was in the early 1980s when South Wales Transport, National Welsh and Bristol Omnibus collaborated to jointly run the ExpressWest branded route from Bristol to Cardiff, Swansea, Llanelli and even some journeys extended to Haverfordwest.
In Sussex there was a three-way operation at one time on the route between Brighton and Tunbridge Wells with Brighton & Hove, Southdown and Maidstone & District while along the coast, route 799 was at one time operated by Brighton & Hove, Brighton Buses and Hastings & District between Rye and Worthing. There were many other examples all over the country.
Deregulation put an end to many of these arrangements with competition law preventing bus companies from agreeing fares and ticket prices meaning each having to act independently often to the puzzlement of passengers when prices differed. As the years have passed bus companies have circumnavigated some of these restrictions, particularly the acceptance of each other’s return tickets, even if technically they may not always be the same price.
There are currently eight inter-urban routes operated on a commercial basis by two bus companies as follows:
8 Salisbury to Andover
Operated by Salisbury based Go-Ahead owned Salisbury Reds and Stagecoach South from its Andover base.
The route runs half-hourly from end to end with Stagecoach operating extra half-hourly short journeys between Tidworth and Andover.
Marketed as Ativ8 both companies used to operate branded buses on the service but more recently while Salisbury Reds have updated its branding, for now, Stagecoach has yet to downgrade to its standard livery but it’s probably on borrowed time.
30 Cardiff to Newport
Operated by Cardiff Bus and Newport Bus on a half-hourly frequency, it’s the only example of a jointly operated service run by two municipally owned bus companies.
But it’s unfortunate the timetable shown on the Newport Bus website only shows its own buses with 90 minute gaps where Cardiff Bus buses run – you need to know to click on the “PDF Timetable” icon to get the full jointly run timetable.
Newport Bus also operate an X30 every two hours between Newport and Cardiff taking just 39 minutes and running via Heath University Hospital Wales rather than the 51 minutes taken by buses on route 30, but Cardiff Bus don’t get involved in that speeded up option.
X38 Derby to Burton-on-Trent
This fast route taking just 35 minutes uses the A38 linking Derby and Burton-on-Trent running to a twenty minute frequency and operated by TrentBarton and Arriva.
88 Colchester to Halstead
I hesitate to include this one in the list as you’d be hard pressed to call it a ‘joint service’. Both First Essex and Go-Ahead owned Hedingham operate a route 88.
Both routes run between Colchester, Lexden, Eight Ash Green, Wakes Colne, Earls Colne and Halstead.
First Essex buses leave Colchester’s Osborne Street at 40 minutes last the hour, arriving Halstead 55 minutes later from where they return from Conies Road at 38 minutes past the hour.
Heddingham’s buses leave Colchester Osborne Street at 10 minutes past the hour also taking 55 minutes to Halstead returning at 08 minutes past the hour.
So it’s a nicely coordinated half-hourly service, except it’s not advertised as such – only as two separate hourly services. Not very Bus Service Improvement Plan is it?
271/2 Sheffield to Castleton
These routes are jointly operated by Hulleys and First South Yorkshire on a 60-90 minute frequency. First Bus brands the routes as Peak Link. Hulley’s journeys do a double run to serve Bradwell Memorial Hall on the journey from Castleton to Sheffield whereas First South Yorkshire do the same double run on the outward journey from Sheffield.
Commendably the only information on both websites confirms there’s full ticket inter-availability between the operators.
350 Hull to Scunthorpe
Branded as Humber FastCat, this service which crosses the spectacular Humber Bridge is jointly operated by Stagecoach and East Yorkshire on a half hourly frequency.
Whereas most joint services have equal shares between the two bus operators, here Stagecoach is the dominant operator with East Yorkshire contributing just one bus running four return journeys a day (three on Sundays) every three hours.
Again clicking on line the East Yorkshire website only shows its rather sparse three-hourly timetable and you have to know to click on the ‘PDF Timetable’ icon which then brings up Stagecoach’s full timetable for the route (including the East Yorkshire journeys).
It’s good to see both operators continue to use similarly branded buses for the service – the only one of the eight routes to enjoy this commonality.
373 Tiverton to Cullompton
This is the most recently introduced jointly operated bus route having been introduced in July 2022 consequent upon Stagecoach rerouting its route 1 between Exeter and Tiverton so it no longer served Sampleford Peverall and Tiverton Parkway station.
These two locations are instead served by tendered hourly route 373 which is operated by both Stagecoach (two buses) and Dartline (one bus).
Fortunately Devon County Council’s timetable shows every journey because Stagecoach’s only show’s its own with a gap where the Dartline journeys operate while Dartline’s webpage links to Devon County Council’s details.
685 Carlisle to Newcastle
Perhaps one of the most famous of joint routes for those who’ve been in the industry for many years as it became a cause célèbre for split licences/registrations when differential laws were introduced for drivers hours for routes over 50 km in length – at that time being a joint United and Ribble service.
Operated nowadays by Arriva and Stagecoach Cumbria and North Lancs, a few years ago the hourly service via Brampton, Haltwhistle and Hexham was branded as Cross Pennine with a nice Best Impressions livery.
Sadly neither Arriva nor Stagecoach are interested in such fineries these days but at least both promote the same nice looking timetable without distinguishing between which operator runs which journey.
That’s the sum total of jointly operated inter-urban routes operated on a commercial basis.
There are also a number of jointly operated urban routes run on a commercial basis under formal Partnership arrangements in Oxford (Stagecoach and Oxford Bus), Merseyside (Arriva and Stagecoach), Sheffield (Stagecoach and First Bus) and the West Midlands (National Express West Midlands and Diamond).
Oxford’s routes 1 (Stagecoach) and 5 (Oxford Bus) between the railway station, city centre and Blackbird Leys run to a combined 5 minute frequency (10 minutes each route) and while the city’s route 8 is run by both operators every 7-8 minutes combined with each operator running every 15 minutes between the city centre and Barton.
In Merseyside there are seven routes jointly operated by Arriva and Stagecoach as part of the area’s Quality Bus Network.
Routes 10/10A/10B run between Liverpool Page Moss and St Helens with 14 buses per hour on the full route.
Routes 14/14A/14B/14X run between Liverpool and Croxteth every 5 minutes.
Routes 17 and 30 run between St Helens and Sutton Manor every 10 minutes
Route 53 runs between Liverpool and Crosby every 7-8 minutes.
Route 82 runs between Liverpool and Garston/Liverpool South Parkway with 20 buses every hour between Liverpool and Garston and 10 buses every hour between Liverpool and either Liverpool South Parkway or Speke.
Routes 86/86A/86D run between Liverpool and Allerton Road, Garston or Liverpool South Parkway station every 5 minutes to Allerton Road.
Routes 471/472 run between Liverpool and Heswall or Barnston every 10 minutes.
There are six bus routes which could be considered “joint” in Sheffield following joint arrangements first introduced in 2013 under the “Sheffield Bus Partnership” brand later updated to “Buses for Sheffield”.
Route 1 – First has withdrawn from this and it is no longer joint although First calls it’s version route 1a. There is now a very similar route north of the city centre but they’re very different in the south.
Route 7 (Stagecoach) – Routes 8/8A (First Bus) between Ecclesfield and Crystal Peaks running a coordinated timetable on the same route north of the city but via two different routes to Crystal Peaks in the south.
Route 24 (First Bus) – Route 25 (Stagecoach). These routes (Lowedges to Woodhouse) are similar on both sides of the city albeit with a bifurcation via Beaumont Road North (24) or Harborough Avenue (25) to and from Woodhouse in the east of the city.
Route 52 (Stagecoach) – Route 52a (First Bus). Minor differences at both route ends but the core of these routes (Woodhouse to Hillsborough/Wisewood/Loxley) is the same.
Route 83 (First Bus) – Route 83A (Stagecoach) follow identical routes in the north of the city from Ecclesfield as far as Hunters Bar where the routes bifurcate with the 83 serving Bents Green and the 83A to Fulwood. Sundays sees both operators run route 83.
Route 120 (both operators use the same number) between Halfway and Fulwood is identical but is operated in two overlapping sections on Monday to Saturday daytime with the full route joint all the way evenings and Sundays.
There are three routes in the West Midlands jointly operated under a Quality Bus Partnership arrangement.
Routes 31/32 (Walsall – Mosley/Lower Farm); 40 (West Bromwich – Wednesbury); and 42/43/43A (West Bromwich / Dudley/Bilston).
There are also a small number of tendered bus routes operated on behalf of local authorities where a daytime service is operated by more than a single bus company, including two being part of the TrawsCymru network. These are aside from the many examples where evening or Sunday timetables may be operated by a different bus company to the daytime commercial operator – such examples are too numerous to document here.
Route T10 (Corwen and Bangor) is operated jointly between Llew Jones and K&P Coaches.
Route T12 (Machynlleth and Wresham) is operated jointly by Lloyds Coaches and Tanat Valley Coaches.
Other tendered bus routes
Route 585 between Aberystwyth and Lampeter with six return journeys is run jointly by Lloyds Coaches and Evans,Tregaron as well as ‘positioning journeys’ run by Mid Wales Travel for its route 588 and Brodyr James Coaches runs a school contract journey on the route, all on behalf of Ceredigon County Council.
There are a number of tendered routes in the Outer Hebrides run by more than one bus company including routes W2, W7, W8, W13, W14, W16, W17 and W18 (mostly due to Lochs Motor Transport winning tenders and sub contracting to more than one company per service involving Aitken Island Travel, Bus Na Comhairle, D A Travel, Grenitote Travel, Hebridean Transport, Alisdair Macdonald, Peter Maclennan, John Macquarrie, Murdo Maciver, South Harris Coaches and Tagsa Uibhist) while in Monmouth the three town routes – coincidentally numbered W3, W4 and W5 – are run by both the County Council and Phil Anslow Travel.
Interestingly among the many suggestions and comments from readers which led to this list being compiled was one from Brian Davis who reported: “for a short period of time in the early 2000s route 50, Horsham – Cranleigh – Dorking via a variety of rural villages, was jointly operated by six bus operators at the same time (on some days of the week all six ran on the same day): Arriva Surrey, Buses 4 U, Carlone Buses, Compass Bus, Countryliner and Palaeobus. The timetable was a complicated mess with a different timetable every day and different journeys taking different routes. The timetable is still very confusing but these days it is just one operator (Buses 4 U) running it (and it does not serve Cranleigh any more and runs much less frequently). All six of these operators were running under contract to Surrey County Council”. Which probably holds the record for joint operation!