British Bus Companies
Reading time: 26 minutes.
Though not an exhaustive list of all the bus companies operating in the U.K., this hopefully sends you to the right places for more information on many services that are being operated. In the main, my idea is to include those operating scheduled services with modern buses and not those solely involved in the private hire business or offering heritage services.
The list goes beyond the number of operators with which I have personal experience because I want to maintain a library for anyone to consult. At times, that will include me since I am bound to want to go somewhere new or check on a service that I have used for a while.
Such is the ebb and flow of the bus industry at the moment that the list will change over time and entries already have appeared and disappeared. Some of these changes may happen without my noticing them, so please let me know if anything needs adding or updating because I have missed something.
When this company started trading in 2008, it was known as New Adventure Travel and I wondered how it could sustain its growth in South Wales, especially when new buses are being added to the fleet too. In 2018, they were bought out by Comfort DelGro with a change of name and livery coming later. While I first encountered them when they took over Monday to Saturday bus services in Gower from First Cymru, their network now includes Swansea, Cardiff, Brecon and many other places in their area.
It came as a surprise to me to see this Sunderland-headquartered multinational transport conglomerate being bought out by Germany’s Deutsche Bahn a while ago. Its bus operations used to feature much of the old Crosville network and that once made it a pervasive operator in Cheshire. The forthcoming closure of its depots in Macclesfield and Winsford means that its presence in the area will be limited to the west of the county. That follows its desertion of the old Crosville strongholds of Aberystwyth and Dolgellau in mid-Wales. This has been a company in retreat from some places for a long time, and it looks as if it will hold out in places with better bus patronage.
Council-owned bus companies are becoming ever rarer but Wales’ capital city sports one as its predominant operator. After years with ever-ageing Volvo Ailsas, the fleet was completely modernised in recent years with Scania single and double-deckers now dominating it. Recent rote realignments to take account of the changes in the city have attracted some criticism concerning the reduction of service at Cardiff Central station.
Though private coach hire may be their mainstay, this operation also provides bus services linking such places as Shrewsbury, Welshpool, Newtown, Aberystwyth, Llanidloes and Llandrindod. In so doing, they traverse a part of Wales that might not be so easily accessible. What caused me to learn about these was an as-yet unrealised interest in walking around Pumlumon, where both the River Severn and the (Welsh) River Wye rise. There should have been a National Park centred hereabouts, but that has not come to pass. Nevertheless, it may not stop me from paying a visit to an otherwise overlooked area of hill country.
Centrebus is a privately-owned operator that seems to have crept up on a lot of us as they have spread out from their base in Leicester. They also own Bowers who are listed earlier and jointly operate the Huddersfield Bus company with Arriva. It’s not a bad pattern for a business started by former Arriva employees.
It is a set of local bus services around Whitby that drew my attention to this operator, and they do private hire too. As if that were not enough, they also offer a summer season open-top bus tour around their home town and vintage bus hire is yet another thing that they do.
This is a major independent bus operator in Devon with several services operated in conjunction with the local council and Dartmoor National Park Authority as well as others being provided on a commercial basis. This is worth a look if visiting places such as Newton Abbot (their main base), Okehampton, Teignmouth, Paignton and Brixham.
Now owned by Centrebus, this smaller operator started in north Staffordshire before turning its attention to Cheshire. For a time, the Cheshire operation was its mainstay after selling its Staffordshire operations to Arriva. However, 2014 saw this situation change with D&G taking over the bus business of Bakers and then buying out Arriva’s Wardle Transport in Stoke-on-Trent. These acquisitions were funded by the sale of South Lancashire Travel to Rotala and has made the company one of the major players in Cheshire East with substantial interests in Staffordshire too. Now, it looks as if they will be taking over from Arriva in much of Cheshire once their Macclesfield and Winsford depots close.
This Rotala-owned operator has expanded from their West Midlands base and that shows in their website. Not is the Northwest of England included, but the network now serves Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Shropshire, Staffordshire and Surrey as well as pre-existing haunts in Warwickshire, West Midlands and Warwickshire. So far, the network is confined to England and the website offers travel news, timetable information and online ticket sales too.
This is yet another private hire operator that has branched into running bus services and these serve places such as Auchterarder, Crieff, Perth and Stirling. Most of the routes are school services, but there are a few that should interest other travellers. The one between Stirling and Auchterarder passes along the north of the Ochil Hills and that is sending my mind wondering about another hike through their extent.
This operation only came to my notice through an article in Buses magazine and connects Dundee with both Edinburgh and Glasgow using electric coaches. There are numerous stops along both of those routes, though this is a book-ahead service and no a hop-on one. There appears to be a focus on comfort too with some services getting booked out while others may be available up to ten minutes prior to departure. The innovation is an interesting one, so this is an operation to watch, since intercity coach travel may not appear all that compatible with the use of electric vehicles.
For far too long, the First strategy was to cut costs in the pursuit of profitability with service frequencies and bus quality suffering along the way. That has been changing in recent years though there also has been a period of selling off companies in places like Wigan, Chester and even London, there is an attempt at reinvigorating local companies with First’s operations in Somerset getting rebranded as Buses of Somerset. Around Taunton, liveries are in green and there scarcely is a mention of the First name anyway. More of that is needed along with continued investment in new vehicles for First to transform travel in the right way. It’s long overdue.
The entry of this German upstart in the international interurban coach market came at the height of the pandemic, but the operation is persisting. Like other similar operations, it works with contractors to provide its services. Its current network largely spreads out from London with routes serving Scotland, the English West Country and North as well as other places. The global operation has expanded rapidly in the last ten years or so and that makes one wonder about its sustainability. Only time will tell…
What gets this largely private hire operation included here are the three scheduled bus services that they run around their part of Scotland. One rounds Gareloch and is operated in conjunction with Wilsons of Rhu, who are included later on in the list. This is a seven-day operation with even half-hourly running on Monday to Saturday daytimes. Then, there is a Monday to Saturday service between Helensburgh and places on the shores of Loch Goil that also takes in some on the side of Loch Lomond too. Lastly, they run a Monday-to-Saturday service on the more distant Isle of Jura too even if it looks like a strange inclusion among others on the list. Timetables for all of these are on the website and that is what’s needed for any company’s inclusion here.
In many ways, Go-Ahead is unusual for such a large company in that it allows its subsidiaries to retain distinctive identities. It is for that reason that you see a bundle of different company names above, They are headquartered in the northeast of England and I remember a Go-Ahead Gateshead fleet name from a visit to Newcastle for a conference in the mid-1990’s, my first visit to England as it happened. Because of where they are located, I don’t get much of an opportunity to sample the group’s bus services, but that’s another story…
In Éire, there is Bus Éireann’s Expressway while Scotland has Citylink and National Express extends its interurban coach network’s tentacles throughout mainland Britain. So it is no surprise that Northern Ireland has its home-grown variant and that’s where Goldline comes in.
This Bedfordshire operator provides a range of bus services serving places in its native county while extending its reach into parts of Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire. For a company started in 1999, they appear to have accumulated a good selection of routes and now are set to operate via Luton’s new busway too.
The foundation of this company was the result of a joint venture between Centrebus and Trent Barton that became reality at the start of April 2012. Bowers’ old depot at Chapel en le Frith has shut, and all operations are based at the former Trent Barton depot at Dove Holes instead. Trent Barton wasn’t a major player in the part of Derbyshire surrounding Buxton, so the resulting network gained a bigger contribution from Bowers’ roster. Some that were operated by Trent Barton include the Monday to Saturday Buxton town service to and from Harpur Hill, the 199 from Buxton to Stockport and Manchester Airport along with the Transpeak service that crosses Derbyshire. Some services go as far as Macclesfield in neighbouring Cheshire and there is even a Macclesfield town service that they operate as well.
Though no longer in the Hulley family, this long-standing Derbyshire operator continues to trade from its base in Derbyshire. Though scheduled services were what caused the company to be started around 100 years ago, the decline in bus patronage over the decades has meant the development of a private hire business. Today, both sides of the business continue in existence and there’s little sign of that changing too. Their website disappeared from the web earlier in the year, so they were dropped from this list. It’s good to see their return.
The name may not suggest it, but this operator has a sideline in contracted bus services. At the time of writing, there were only two of these. One was a park and Ride service in Stirling and another a local service in Clackmannanshire. Timetables need to be sought elsewhere, and you have to wonder if the bus side of the business will persist.
This may not be a part of the world that would come to mind as a place for me to visit, but this bus operator does seem to care about its business, so it deserves a mention. Interestingly, they seem to name some of their vehicles too and a good number of them are very modern. All the usual information that you’d need is on here though I wouldn’t mind learning a bit more about the company.
This is another Wellglade subsidiary, this time in Loughborough. The same penchant for quality that applies to Trent Barton applies here too. The company is smaller though with a focus on a smaller number of routes around its base. They still include town, university and airport services so there’s a good mix on offer here.
It would appear that private coach hire is the mainstay of this operator, who is based between Callander and Killin. However, it operates a year-round Monday to Saturday C60 bus service between Callander and Killin. There used to be other services, but there is only one these days. Even so, it could have its uses for exploring an area that has much hill walking to offer.
This is the main bus company in the city of Edinburgh. Even after all the years of Conservative party governance, this has remained in council ownership even though it has partially floated on the London Stock Exchange. The company has always offered good and frequent service in clean modern buses, setting an example for many other operators.
My impression is this private hire coach operator is a relatively recent entrant into the business of bus service operation following business failures in North Wales. The Vale of Conwy would be their main patch, but their reach also extends into Gwynedd and Denbighshire too. Places like Conwy, Llandudno, Llanrwst, Betws-y-Coed, Blaenau Ffestiniog, Bethesda and Corwen all form part of their route network.
It may seem surprising given the size of the place but Machynlleth used to host to no less than two bus depots next to its train station until Arriva closed down one of them. The one that remains is owned by local independent public service and private hire operator Lloyd’s. Council contracts and Arriva’s exit have allowed the family-owned business to operate a goodly number of routes for which timetables are available on the website, so it’s a worthwhile port of call.
This west Norfolk operation is a recent entrant to bus service provision and has expanded from a single route between King’s Lynn to Hunstanton to become a larger network. It is a local company that has benefited from an upheaval in the area, so it will be interesting to see how things go from here.
As well as being a private hire operator, this Nottinghamshire firm also operates some bus routes around Newark-on-Trent and Nottingham. It was during a spell of snow when I learned of the company’s existence because they needed to cancel their last services between Nottingham and Newark-on-Trent due to the road conditions. Let’s hope that stranded no one even if they did do it for safety reasons, with the best of intentions in other words.
This is again a useful provider of services in the Loch Lomond area, especially around Balloch now that they have gained SPT contracts once held by Garelochhead Coaches. Their work for the SPT also involves the provision of several demand-responsive services along with some other scheduled services within the transport agency’s area. Since contracts come and go, there is a good deal of sense in their offering a private hire business as well, but it is the public bus services that matter here.
It was a 2011 trip to Dunoon that reminded me of this operator and that got it included in this collation in the first place. Then, its network centred around Glasgow, Renfrewshire and Inverclyde but there have been acquisitions in Dundee and East and Central Scotland since then. The former was a National Express operation now trading as Xplore Dundee while the latter was the last of the First Group operations that once stretched from the Scottish Borders through Edinburgh and the Lothians to Stirling and Clackmannanshire. It appears to be a quality operation that invests in its fleet, so it will be interesting to see how things go from here.
Stagecoach’s Megabus operation has been something of an upstart in the intercity coach market, but it does seem to be establishing itself as time wears on; that tie-up with Scottish Citylink (see below) surely must have helped. Its buy-ahead (on the web) approach may not suit those who prefer an unplanned hop-on service but having £1 fares between the likes of Manchester and Leeds certainly does appeal. North American visitors may wonder at the British focus of the piece, but it did start on this side of the Atlantic before it crossed the water.
Like Dublin, Belfast has its own bus company offering services across the city.
When Arriva deserted Aberystwyth, this is who took over the town services that it once operated. There are a surprising fourteen services in all and some are in service only during university term times. Other than the town services, the company offers private coach hire and details of this appear on the website along with timetables for the scheduled bus services.
This once independent company is now part of Diamond and their services extend from Burton-on-Trent to serve numerous places such as Lichfield, Ashby-de-la-Zouch and Swadlincote as well as East Midlands Airport. Their network includes several town services around Burton, and they also operate school bus services.
Though mainly a private coach hire operation, they also operate daytime services between Shrewsbury to Stiperstones and Bishop’s Castle, Monday to Saturday. The only thing to watch is that the last services of the day are in the late afternoon and there are no evening or Sunday services any longer. With careful planning, they still help with day walks though.
Now facing an upheaval following poor financial performance due to imprudent indebtedness, this is the operator running the majority of the express intercity coach services across the U.K. although their services miss out a lot of towns, Macclesfield for instance, and other places receive a patchy service, of which North Wales is an example.
This is another of those rare beasts, a Welsh municipal operator. This Newport is a city on Wales’ south coast not far from Cardiff, and it runs interurban services to its near neighbour as well as services within its home city.
There are quite a few things that you can do with a fleet of coaches. First, there are private hires and excursions but scheduled express intercity coach services are another possibility and this pervasive operator proves it by offering all of this. For decades now, they have undertaken National Express and Scottish Citylink work, but a more recent innovation has been their taking over services previously run by the latter of these following a Competition Commission inquiry.
As well as offering private hire coach services, this Pontypool-based concern also provides bus services around Torfaen and Monmouthshire. It was their network around the latter that drew my attention to the company since one of their routes gets you between Chepstow, Tintern and Monmouth in the lower reaches of the Wye Valley, a part of Wales that I fancy visiting sometime.
Now owned by the Rotala group, this company was the subject of some controversy when Stagecoach acquired it as a hostile takeover with some fierce competition preceding that outcome. The intervention of the Competition Commission meant that Stagecoach had to sell off some of its business in the Preston area and the re-emergence of Preston Bus as a Rotala subsidiary took place late in 2010. It’s been an eventful ride for what once was a council-owned operator and I hope that its future is less dramatic than its recent past. The website has been refreshed, and timetable information is on there as you would expect.
Though the website’s front page is all about private coach hire, it is their Dales & District bus services that gain them their inclusion here. These serve Yorkshire’s northern dales with places like Hawes, Keld and other such spots seeing much-needed services. Major towns like Richmond, Ripon and Northallerton also feature on their routes around Wensleydale and Swaledale, so they are good staging posts for onward explorations.
This operation came to light while exploring travel options to and from Heathrow Airport. At the time or writing, there are three routes: on each serving Reading and Watford (the most recent of the lot) with another serving both Guildford and Woking. These are near enough to round the clock operations with reading enjoying a half-hourly frequency at times while the others get an hourly one. You can book a seat in advance, but there is the flexibility of using another departure if your flight is delayed, dependent on the availability of capacity.
RATP may have its stronghold in Île-de-France, Paris and its surrounding area in other words, but it has had a shareholding in Transdev that was converted into the acquisition of no less than fifteen former Transdev subsidiaries that included London United. The former retains the lack of travel information that typical of its website in its Transdev days.
Here is proof that you can have a vibrant council-owned bus company in England, and the website does what you’d expect in that they operate scheduled services and then share new, fare and timetable information via the web.
If you go exploring Pembrokeshire without a car, the chances are that you’ll end up on a bus service operated by this local company. In its own way, it adds to the distinctive feel of the area not to have a big transport conglomerate dominating its bus market. That leaves Richards as the biggest operator around there, and they offer a fair number of services alongside their private hire coach business.
This family-owned North Norfolk operation has an extensive network spreading out from Norwich as far as the coast and features a mix of coastal and inland routes. As the name suggests, there also is a private hire side to a business trading since 1975. Hopefully, that long history makes for a stable bus network in the area too.
It is their provision of bus services around such places as Kington and Knighton that gets this operator listed here, but they also operate services around Hereford as well. This is a scenic if overlooked part of the Welsh Marches where you will find Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail as well as other walks, and it is always good to be able to use public transport to get to these. Private hire is another part of their business, something that should not come as a surprise given how limited bus routes are around their patch.
This company has been around for more than a hundred years, and they operate a variety of council-supported services across County Durham and around Darlington. That means that you will need their services to get to Middleton-in-Teesdale from Barnard Castle, but they also serve other places around Barnard Castle, Bishop Auckland and Durham.
When this became a joint venture between Comfort DelGro and Stagecoach, I began to have concerns about undesirable results such as a certain lack of responsiveness to demand, changes in contracts and the outbreak of bus wars. Since then, things have settled down with innovations like Citylink Gold coming on stream. After all, it remains the coach company that operates many of the express bus services between major Scottish towns and cities, blessing Scotland with a decent network of express coach services. Even so, you do have to watch out for eccentricities in some of the timetables, especially with destinations in the Scottish Highlands.
If you need to get between Fort William and destinations such as Mallaig, Morvern and Ardnamurchan, then this family-owned firm could be conveying you. Service frequencies are such that it’s best not to bet on a day trip but go for the multi-day option instead. Nevertheless, that’s only what this part of Scotland deserves.
This has been one of the more innovative operators who always seem to be updating their bus fleet and experimenting with new services such as the Oxford Tube and MegaBus. In Scotland, they once were the biggest operator, yet there have been a lot of changes over the years. There was the chance of a merger with National Express, but that was stymied by a Competition Commission inquiry only for a private equity group to buy out Stagecoach. What that means for the future is something that remains to be seen.
Numerous bus services in Powys and Shropshire are operated by this family business, and they could have a use for getting to and from walks along the Offa’s Dyke Path national trail. Many are operated on council contracts and there are express services offered on a commercial basis too. Service frequency can vary, so it is best to check timetables before you travel. Aside from the bus service work, private hire, driver training and vehicle maintenance all form part of their diversified operations.
This operation began following the loss of a school bus service and has expanded from serving a single school in Birmingham to other parts of the West Midlands and onto Berkshire, Liverpool and Surrey. In addition, there are services to football grounds on match days and occasional services to Drayton also operate. Its involvement in local bus services is only beginning, it seems, and they run from Birmingham to Maypole and Redditch with the latter of these only seeing one return journey a day. For a company started by a teacher with transport industry experience, it has a well-developed ethos that talks about offering car users a travel alternative and keeping passengers up to date regarding running times using text messaging and a phone app. Telephone-based customer service also is something that gets emphasis as does the returning of lost property, probably especially a concern with those school services.
Until the last few years, this was an independent operator serving South Yorkshire and Derbyshire. Since then, it has been acquired by Wellglade, the owners of Trent Barton, and the website now features route and timetable information. The addition of this information is what got the site added to this listing and is a very welcome result of the acquisition. Before then, there was nothing of that kind, and it was a disappointing state of affairs to notice.
All of these are subsidiaries owned by French company Transdev with those in Yorkshire and Lancashire being part of the Blazefield group. The London company doesn’t seem to provide much in the way of travel information while the others very much do so, and you are set to wonder if they expect Transport for London to pick up the slack in that area. Nottingham City Transport is co-owned with Nottingham City Council, the latter retaining the majority shareholding.
Apart from Arriva, there are a few local operators in the Northumberland that run services on behalf of the council and this is one of them. Their turf is the part of the county between Alnwick and Berwick-upon-Tweed and the site has timetable information for what they operate. Quizzically, the times are dispensed using an unusual menu-based interface rather than the more usual timetable displays or journey planner functionality; once you get over that, it does its job. The site is new for 2009, and it’ll be interesting to see if there’s another one for 2010 given the way that things are organised. Like many a travel company, they also turn their hand to private hire and organised excursions too.
Trent is a name dating from the National Bus Company days and the establishment of its joint venture with Centrebus to serve Buxton and its surrounding area, called High Peak, means that it can concentrate its efforts on services in south and east Derbyshire along with Nottinghamshire.
This is Northern Ireland’s equivalent of Éire’s Bus Éireann and so is an essential port of call for getting about this part of the world.
There cannot be many bus companies that began life at the behest of a university, but that exactly is what this one is. It was started by the University of Hertfordshire in the southeast of England to provide student transport in its catchment area. However, things have expanded from there to include services offered to members of the public too. That meant a name change from UniversityBus to the present-day Uno with the strap-line being “the university bus for everyone”. A look down its list of routes reveals many Monday to Friday services though ones are operating at weekends too. All in all, it’s amazing what can happen to an idea once the wider public comes in on the act and that certainly seems application to Uno’s operations, which fan out from its base in Hatfield to include locations such as St. Alban’s, Hitchin, Stevenage, Borehamwood and Watford to name but a few.
Also branded Warrington’s Own Buses, this council-owned operator continues to hold its own and even beat off incursions from rivals a decade or more ago. Recent investment has made an impact even if Sunday services have suffered as a result of the current economic climate.
This lot is well worthy of a look because they remain the predominant operator of scheduled bus and coach services around Argyll, Bute, Mull and even in Glasgow. They also operate coach services on behalf of Scottish Citylink with a direct service between Glasgow and Edinburgh Airport, complementing their more usual Oban and Campbeltown departures from the same city.
Rhu is located on the shore of Gareloch not far from Helensburgh and this operator has three scheduled bus services on offer in addition to its private hire business. Timetables for all their scheduled services are available on the website. One of these is a Helensburgh town service and another goes around Gareloch with a frequency and a spread of the day that would shame others, and it runs seven days a week too, albeit with reduced Sunday frequencies; working with Garelochhead Coaches probably helps on this one. Lastly, there’s a link between the Vale of Leven Hospital and Royal Alexandra Hospital with the occasional extension to Helensburgh. There’s a fair mix between all of these and the inter-hospital service is more regular from Monday to Friday too and even offers a mid-evening run on all days of the week.