Thames Transit

Thames Transit

Thames Transit was a bus and coach company which operated in the Oxford area. As well as running a number of local services, they also ran a regular service to London (via the M40 motorway) called the Oxford Tube. It now carries approximately fifteen million passengers a year using just under 200 vehicles. The company is now part Stagecoach Group, and has been since July 1997, upon acquisition it was merged with Stagecoach South Midlands but was demerged in 2004 into Stagecoach Oxfordshire. Until then, the company traded under the Thames Transit name, under the ownership of Transit Holdings International.


Thames Transit was founded in March 1987 by Harry Blundred, a former bus driver and controller whom, following deregulation of the UK bus industry, purchased the Devon General bus company in Devon before starting Thames Transit from scratch in Oxfordshire with buses cascaded from his Devon operation. Blundred started Thames Transit with just two routes - the number 1 route between the Blackbird Leys housing estate and Oxford city centre - and a coach route numbered 100 and branded as the Oxford Tube, running scheduled express services between Oxford and London.

Competition with the City of Oxford Motor Services (which trades as the Oxford Bus Company) services has remained fierce, and in the mid-1990s a price war erupted, with for example the price of a 12-journey ticket between Oxford and London costing just £15. The price war was abandoned before these unsustainable prices could drive either company out of business, but even the regular fares remain competitive compared to equivalent rail services.

The firm struggled under intense competition from the incumbent City of Oxford Motor Services, but ultimately succeeded in increasing patronage through a series of innovative approaches. Among these, the use of branding was particularly successful in the case of the Oxford Tube. Later branding efforts were not always so successful, and Oxford Tube is the only brand name to survive today.

The firm is famed for introducing minibuses to Oxford. The original vehicles on local routes were sixteen seater Ford Transits, colloquially referred to as 'snoopys' given their resemblance at the front to the cartoon character. The buses featured a single front entrance and exit door and room for four standing passengers. They eased initial recruitment concerns because drivers did not have to hold a PSV licence to drive them. The primary reason behind their use, however, was that Blundred felt greater profitability could be gained through running small buses at a high frequency, rather than running larger buses half-empty at a low frequency.


In 1989, Thames Transit expanded with the acquisition of South Midland, the former country area of The City of Oxford Motor Services, primarily operating rural routes in Oxfordshire. This acquisition strengthened Thames Transit's hand against City of Oxford Motor Services, providing it with several routes where it was the sole provider.

The company then grew significantly in the early 1990s, introducing larger Mercedes-Benz minibuses with 32 seater capacity and purchasing new vehicles for the Oxford Tube coach service, which was starting to perform well against rival City of Oxford's Citylink service. City of Oxford itself had been forced to spread its defensive tactics following the South Midland acquisition, and this allowed Thames Transit to grow.

In 1994, the firm purchased its first midibuses in the shape of thirteen 9.8 metre step-entrance Dennis Darts. Thirteen of these were purchased for the original number 1 route, and new branding was applied with the buses adorning a giant blackbird called 'Bertie' and the service named 'The Blackbird Flyer'. Continuing the minibus philosophy, the buses were scheduled every 4-5 minutes. Noticeably, there was a large increase in traffic away from City of Oxford as passengers responded to the new branding and vehicles of Thames Transit.

The new vehicle type and the use of branding proved proved to be a precursor for other route changes; the company later incrementally introduced the Rose Hill Runner, City Cavalier, Kidlington Cavalier, and Witney Weaver, as brands for existing routes which were upgraded to brand new Dennis Darts. It also introduced branding on the X9 Park and Ride service running between Oxford's largest P&R, Redbridge, and the northern Pear Tree Park & Ride. The branding in this case was 'Gloria Glide', with buses featuring a picture of a six foot female chauffeur and the slogan 'Park & Ride with Gloria Glide' - which generated accusations of sexism by the University of Oxford.


In 1994, City of Oxford Motor Services was purchased by the Go-Ahead Group, significantly strengthening its competitiveness. Following an effective rebranding and new vehicles to replace the older vehicles which were looking somewhat jaded against Thames Transit's improved services, City of Oxford launched 'New Fare Deals' in March 1995, symbolically referencing Thames Transit's entry into the city. New Fare Deals slashed prices on the routes where the two providers competed, while City of Oxford withdrew from less profitable routes to ramp up frequencies on the most lucrative and competitive corridors. Combined with new and spacious vehicles on some routes and staff poaching tactics, this significantly weakened Thames Transit's competitive strength. At this time the firm introduced two new branded routes, The Wood Farm Woodman and The Marston Pony, in direct competition with long-established City of Oxford routes. Both routes were a flop - partly because they used tired vehicles but also because they failed to run frequently enough given the attenuation of staffing under the pressure of the 'bus war' with City of Oxford.

The 'bus war' was concluded in autumn 1996 with both firms withdrawing from routes and putting up prices. Thames Transit withdrew from the Park & Ride service, as well as withdrawing the Woodfarm Woodman and Marston Pony routes. It switched coaches scheduled between Oxford and Heathrow under a short lived express 'Heathrow Tube' service, back to a longer cross country Heathrow route numbered the 390, which didn't compete with City of Oxford's long-established express Citylink X70 service to Heathrow (later rebranded 'The Airline').

In July 1997, Harry Blundred announced the sale of Thames Transit to Stagecoach Holdings PLC for just over £8million. The company since then has traded under the Stagecoach name, using 'Stagecoach Oxford' and then 'Stagecoach in Oxfordshire' on local routes but retaining the hugely popular Oxford Tube brand name on the London express service.

See also

* Oxford to London coach route

External links

* [ Stagecoach Oxford]

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