Competition in the UK Express Coach Market 25 Years After Deregulation: the Arrival of Megabus.com
D Robbins, School of Services Management, Bournemouth University, UK
The paper analysis the impact of the first significant competition to a monopoly provider in the UK express coach market for 20 years. It explores what factors have enabled more effective prolonged competition this time.
Express coach services compete for longer distance, predominantly inter-city travel, with car and rail. They largely cater for the leisure and tourism market with VFR traffic as a large component. They hold a relatively small market share, around 18 million passengrs per annum. Until recently, the sector had suffered many years of stagnation in terms of passengers carried and also product development and innovation but that has changed over the last 3 years with an important new entrant to the market. A vibrant and growing express coach sector has the potential to impact on the UK rail renaissance but is unlikely to impact upon the dominant car sector with the possible environmental benefits that could bring.
Express coach services in the UK were deregulated in October 1980. Following the creation of a free market for the provision of express services a number of established coach companies entered the market and there followed a short period of intense competition on some routes (Robbins & White 1986 : Robbins 1989). One consortium of coach companies attempted to establish a rival national network to compete with National Express whilst other companies operated independently and competed on one or two routes, usually between their home base and London. Different strategies were employed by the new entrants with some companies competing predominantly on price whilst others attempted to establish innovative products. Although a number of companies initially achieved encouraging results many others struggled from the inception of their express services and by the mid 1980s virtually all the competitors had withdrawn their services to leave National Express with a near monopoly.
Research established there were significant barriers to market entry which severely impeded the new market entrants and favoured National Express (Cross & Kilvington 1986 : Jaffer & Thompson 1986 : Robbins & White 1986 : Robbins 1989).
A now privatised National Express retained its virtual monopoly until 2003 when the launch of Megabus.com represented the first introduction of a major competitor on a variety of key routes since the early 1980?s. It operates on 40 routes. This paper examines the impact of this new round of competition and contrasts both the operational and the marketing strategies adopted by Megabus.com with those that had been used by new market entrants in the 1980s. It identifies significant cultural, social and technical differences between the 1980s and 2000s which have changed the operating environment and explores the degree to which barriers to entry are still a factor and the strategies employed to overcome them.
The study includes a survey of both National Express and Megabus.com passengers conducted on one route in December 2006 and January 2007. It presents a profile of express coach users in the 21st century including details on price paid, motives to travel by coach, general travel habits and a
demographic and socio-economic breakdown. It establishes there are significant differences in the consumers attracted by the two operators highlighting Megabus.com?s success at targeting specific segments of the express coach consumers. Generally, passengers travel at a lower price on Megabus.com services despite the introduction by National Express of price discounting strategies that can be exploited by the informed traveller.
The paper also presents a market share analysis based on observational data collected from all departures by both operators over a two week period in December and January 2006 / 7 measuring the level market penetration by the new entrant. . Their respective average load factors are also compared.,
The paper concludes that express coach users are motivated primarily by the low cost of service. The internet has proven an essential component in Megabus.com?s entry to the market and as a strong motivator in the choice of the service for some consumers.
Cross.A.K., & Kilvington.R.., (1985) Deregulation of Express Coach Services in Britain, Gower
Jaffer.S.M. & Thompson.D.J., (1986) Deregulating Express Coaches : A Reassessment, Fiscal Studies Vol 7 No 4, November.
Robbins.D.K. & White.P.R, (1986) The Experience of Express Coach Deregulation in Great Britain Transportation 13, pp 359 - 384.
Robbins.D.K., (1989) Marketing Express Coach Services in a Deregulated Environment , Transport Marketing Vol 2 Issue 1 pp10 - 18.
Association for European Transport