How to get from Oxford to London

or more accurately, COACH WARS: Oxford Espress vs. Oxford Tube

For the past half year, I’ve been commuting back and forth from Oxford to London every week (not every day, though). In that time I’ve been able to make a thorough appraisal of the best way to make the journey.

Oxford is approximately 56 miles from London and according to my roadmap, it should take about 1:15 to make the journey by car. On the other hand, a train takes about 55 minutes and, in theory, is less variable. Both of these times are rather optimistic estimates. The car time assumes that you encounter little to no traffic, while the train time doesn’t factor in commuting times to the station or the not infrequent delays on the rail service.

It wouldn’t really be worth me writing about the value of taking a car instead of the train or vice versa because firstly, I don’t drive, and secondly, they’re such different forms of transport that I don’t think anything I say would really matter to anyone. Some people are rail travellers and some are drivers; the two groups are separated more by ideology than reason, much like Apple and Windows users.

However, Oxford is an anomaly among cities near London in that it has not one but two highly frequent coach services that run 24 hours a day. These coaches offer a real alternative to both car and train by virtue of being right in the middle of the two; they are reasonably quick, cheap, regular and make multiple stops in the centre of both cities. The only problem is that the two services are, on the surface, almost identical. Or are they? Frequent commuters will know how important it is to pick a good service early on in order to get season ticket savings, so here’s a guide to which service is best.

The Basics

Oxford is an anomaly for another reason. The two coaches are run by two bus companies – the Oxford Bus Company and Stagecoach. Both companies operate full and near identical local services in Oxford, with near identical pricing. The advantage of this is that Oxford has a very pervasive and frequent public transport system for such a small city. The disadvantage is that the two companies obviously do not take each others tickets and their route numbers are different, meaning customers often become confused. I don’t use local buses much but I haven’t been able to discern any real difference between the two companies.

The Oxford Espress, aside from having a horrible name, is run by the Oxford Bus Company. The coaches are normal single-deckers, whereas Stagecoach’s Oxford Tube service uses custom-made double-decker coaches.

Cost

You can find out the fare prices for both services from the links above. At the time of writing, on both services a single from Oxford to London (and vice versa) costs £10, while a return costs £12. There are discounts for concessions and students, and unsurprisingly, these are identically priced as well.

In fact, all the prices are identical. Occasionally one service might introduce a new fare, as the Oxford Tube did with its cut-price ‘Nightrider’ which offers discount return travel after 3pm, but within weeks the other service will copy the entire idea, right down to the name; the Oxford Espress isn’t fooling anybody with its ‘Night Owl’ service.

Result: Draw

Route

Both services start at Gloucester Green bus station in Oxford and end at Victoria. They make near identical stops in Oxford and they also stop at Hillingdon (a tube station 30 minutes out from Victoria) but the similarities end there.

The Oxford Tube tends to make more stops in general. About 30 minutes out from Oxford, it stops at a place in the middle of nowhere called Lewknor Turn. It’s a dark little lay-by that presumably serves people living in nearby villages. In London, the coach stops at Shepherd’s Bush, Notting Hill Gate, Marble Arch before getting to Victoria. The more perceptive of you will realise this can involve an awful lot of traffic in rush hour.

The Oxford Espress shuns Lewknor Turn and instead of diving straight into London, it takes the flyover and goes directly to Baker Street. This saves a little on the traffic.

Clearly there’s not much to distinguish the services in terms of routes, and your choice will no doubt be influenced by the stops in London and how close they are to where you want to go. For my part, I always go to Victoria so it makes no difference to me.

Result: Draw

Speed

This is where it gets interesting. Since the Oxford Tube is a double-decker coach and generally attracts more passengers, it takes longer to load up and disembark at every stop. Furthermore, I find that its route, especially the Lewknor Turn stop, lengthens any given journey by approximately 10 to 20 minutes depending on the time of day.

The Oxford Espress’ route, with two fewer stops, combined with its smaller capacity, mean that it definitely wins on terms of speed. The quickest journey I’ve had from Oxford to London has been on the Espress and it took 1:15, while the Tube took slightly longer. In rush hour, both services can take up to 2:30.

Result: Espress wins

Frequency

Both services run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. From Monday to Saturday they both run approximately every 10-15 minutes during the daytime and every 20 minutes in the early morning and late evening.

However, it’s at night when the differences emerge. The Oxford Tube runs coaches every 30 minutes during the wee hours from 2am to 4am on most days, while the Oxford Espress only manages a coach every hour. Both services run every hour from 4am to 6am or so. For most people this difference is really not an issue but if you go for any nights out in London, then the difference between waiting 30 minutes and an hour is very significant.

Result: Tube wins

Reliability

In my experience, the Oxford Espress is slightly more reliable in terms of its coaches being spaced out evenly in time. This is probably due to the fact that it doesn’t take as long to load or have as many passengers. In terms of coaches breaking down, anecdotal reports indicate that the Tube suffers more, but that might be down to response bias. Still, I could well believe it since the Tube’s double-decker behemoths, though they may be brand new and well maintained, are inevitably more prone to breakdown than standard-issue single-deckers.

Result: Espress wins

Chances of getting a seat

Not the best of titles, but important nonetheless. Since the Espress, for some reason, has proportionately fewer passengers I find it easier to get a seat on board. I have never seen a full Espress coach while I often see full Tube coaches. This is very important for those people who place a high value on having two seats to themselves.

Result: Espress wins

Comfort

For a long time, the Espress won this competition hands down by offering air-condition and power sockets where the Tube didn’t. With its recent fleet upgrade, the Tube now also offers air conditioning and power sockets for every two seats. All seats on both services recline (not a good thing in my opinion, I hate getting seats in my face).

While I haven’t actually measured the seating space (although I may do in the future), I am pretty sure that the Espress has about one or two inches more legroom. It also has leather headrests and the general state of cleanliness is higher. This is no doubt due in part to the higher passenger numbers on the Tube.

Result: Espress wins

Other passengers

Closely related to comfort are the type of passengers that travel on the services. Now you may think I’m being ridiculously picky and offensive by even including this section but no-one would choose to sit on a coach for two hours surrounded by noisy teenagers when they want to get some sleep if they could sit on a quieter coach.

Put basically, the Oxford Tube has every type of passenger, from tourists to students to workers. Generally people are well behaved although I have found that the Tube is occasionally host to people blasting out music or talking very loudly – in the night – for the entire journey.

The Tube’s passengers also span the full range in terms of how often the use the Tube. Some of them use it regularly and so don’t have to ask the driver about stops or fares and can whiz past using their fare cards. Others are less experienced and take longer. This contributes to longer boarding times.

In contrast, the Oxford Espress attracts what I would call ‘professional passengers’. I don’t mean that they they’re all workers – indeed, while the Espress is skewed more towards workers it’s still frequented by students and some tourists – I mean that they tend to know what they are doing. Either they’re regular passengers and know the stops and the fares, or they’re savvy tourists and they’ve taken the time to find these things out beforehand. This results in a quicker boarding process and makes for a profoundly peaceful journey.

Result: Espress wins

TOTAL: ESPRESS 5, TUBE 1

The Oxford Espress is definitely better than the Tube, in terms of speed, comfort, reliability and general experience. That doesn’t mean that the Tube is particularly bad, it’s just not as good. The Tube may still be better for you in terms of its stops but for most I would recommend the Espress.

The interesting question behind all of this is why, despite the Espress’ superiority, the Tube attracts more passengers. The simple answer is that the Tube has superior marketing and branding. It has a memorable name and colours and is generally more well known among the public. When people start using the Tube, it’s ‘good enough’ and so they don’t bother trying the Espress because they think it’s less frequent or more expensive (that’s what happened to me, anyway).

The reason the Espress hasn’t gone out of business is because it has built up a loyal following due to its quality. I have a few friends who won’t take the Tube any more and I suspect the same is true for many commuters. My advice to the Oxford Bus Company is to change the Espress’ name into something you can say aloud without feeling stupid, and to improve their branding and marketing. I don’t have any advice for the Tube aside from running more frequent coaches because it’s hard to see how they can change their demographic without changing their coach fleet again, and that’s not going to happen for some time now. I suppose they might want to consider missing off the Lewknor Turn stop.

130 Replies to “How to get from Oxford to London”

  1. Would have to agree. I’m an Espress customer, and find the service to be faster and more efficient, although the turnoff to London Marylebone Rd is becoming more congested as we move closer to Christmas. Best time to catch the Espress, for those of you who need to get into work at a decent time, is 545am. You will get in by 715am to 730am – making it faster than those that leave at 620am and get you in by 9am.

    A final review point would have been to discuss heating – i’ve found the only grizzle I have with the Espress is that its heaters aren’t powerful enough to get to the back of the bus – i’ve had to wrap up, shivering on several occasions!

  2. As an infrequent traveller to London I feel I should point out that Tube has another advantage.

    Those of us living outside the city can buy a return ticket to London via the Tube when boarding from our local bus-stop, rather than having to buy a return ticket to Oxford from one company and then a further return ticket to London from another. This advantage also works for the Airport Express.

    I will stay with the convenience of one ticket from Stagecoach and leave COMS to do the local stuff.

  3. I tend to agree with this analysis; I commuted to London from Oxford every day for seven years on the Espress (yes it is a horrible name). I often need to get off at Baker St as well which makes the Espress a necessity; but I used the Tube last year, so I have exerience of both. Completely agree with the ‘professional passengers’ comment. The Tube for whatever reason does attract more yobs (perhaps because they can sit upstairs out of sight of the driver) and I’ve often noticed people smoking upstairs.

    George above is wrong on one count though; the Oxford Bus Company allow you to buy a London ticket on the Espress on their local buses as well.

  4. I personally disagree. The wi-fi on the Tube does it for me. I also find the green colour of the espress’s interior maes it feel smaller. The Espress looks fab on the outside but dated on the inside.
    Also the view from the upper deck on the tube is a plus.
    In the end for me, i need to get off at Shepheard’s Bush, so there’s no comparison. Although i can give Lewknor a miss any day.
    As regards the people, i’m inclined to agree.

  5. I would agree with the above conclusion. I have used these two services on and off for over a decade. The Oxford Tube provided unquestionably the best service about a decade ago under Thames Transit (decently padded seats, fierce pricing, friendly drivers etc). Currently, I find the coaches uncomfortable, and reliability is an issue. In summary, it’s clear to the customer that Stagecoach is concerned with lowering costs as far as possible. The service feels ‘cheap’.

    One thing that hasn’t been noted here, however, is that the Oxford Tube uses low floor vehicles.

  6. Between 5:40 and 7:00 on weekdays all departures from Oxford serve breakfast with free fruit juice, bacon sandwich/pastry and A newspaper. The breakfast is so yummy. Stagecoach had A battle with the council to get the tubes in service and when the oxford tubes were being refurbished megabuses came back for A time with I’m an oxford tube(temporarily)on them. Also if there’s diversions due to roadworks in Sandhills, A boat race in London, Live 8, A concert they always use olympians, brookes buses and once even A 27 branded trident. The 7:20 X30 normally uses A tube and very rarely uses anything else

    Oxford tube wins by A lot

  7. i will be commuting between oxford and london next year. does anyone know if the journey time between hillingdon (in ox) and notting hill gate will be any shorter? also will the fact that i am BACKWARD commuting (i.e. living in london and commuting to oxford) make much difference?

  8. The oxford tube gives breakfast of fruit juice, newspaper, bacon roll, crossiant and pastry on early Mon-Fri morning journeys from Oxford. The majority of drivers let 3 kids travel free on Oxford tube(Sun-Fri)most of the time but sometimes on Sun-Fri only let 2 kids travel free. Daytime journeys to Oxford do not go into Thornhill Park and ride and just stop at Sandhills and when oxford tubes were refurbished in 2005 Megabuses came back with I’m an Oxford tube(temporarily)on the window. They replaced the oxford tube that operated 31/x31 early mornings when 3 oxford tubes went away at any 1 time. Now the X31 has been renumbered X30 an oxford tubes operates that. It no longer happens on 31 in early morning now the X31 has been cancelled. On Live 8 olympians were used and had oxford tube duplicate written on the panel. Tube 40 was back for 1 day but then was found to still have A problem so it went back to the garage for 2 months. It spent 1 day back on the oxford tube then went away to somewhere else. On the day of the London boat race 2 olympians were used. During the roadworks at Sandhills brookes bus tridents appeared on 2 occasions and when there was A concert in London 2 brookes bus tridents plus 1 27A/B/C branded trident ran empty to London and brought passengers from the concert. Stagecoach had A long battle with the council for the oxford tubes to run and the oxford tube runs via Heathrow on christmas day. Oxford tubes are allowed through Queen’s St while on the X30

  9. neilos, the main difference is that you will not recieve the complimentary breakfast on the reverse commute. i believe that the journey should be quicker as you will noe be stuck in the commuter belt along westway, however i have not tested this.

    also, ignore what everyone else says, the espress is rubbish. the oxford tube IS more spacious, more comfortable, more modern, and gives free wireless internet which is INVALUABLE for making journeys fly by. the espress does not have intercity train style tables downstairs, or infinite-leg-room-with-fantastic-view front row top floor seats. the espress reminds me of a run-down old school bus.

    also, your season pass will give you free travel on all stagecoach services throughout oxford.

  10. cheers ian – do you think that i am only going as far as headington (i.e. not into the middle of ox) plus only getting on at notting hill gate as opposed to victoria shave a significant time off the journey?

  11. Commute advice greatly appreciated? My husband and I are totally torn. Our ideal life choice would be to move the family from London to Oxford, but we’re paralysed into making a decision because we fear the commute it too long.
    He would be commuting from Summertown to Shepherds Bush. Realistically how long would this take and Is the commute worth the move ??

  12. I am now commuting to London on a daily basis, I am tempted to use the coach as it is much cheaper than rail.
    I would like to know what is the lastest time for boarding the oxford express at Thornhill while without getting trapped in the traffic jams in London?

  13. route X90 has had some coaches from the airline added due to the new coaches on Airline. These coaches show coach stopping. The Oxford tube doesn’t go into Thornhill Park and ride on the way to Oxford daytimes and stops at Sandhills which makes it A quicker journey from there-Oxford but it goes via Beautiful Lewknor and stops at St Aldate’s on the way to Oxford. I don’t know which is better now. Mrs P, You would have to catch the 17 from Summertown-George St then walk to Gloucester Green and catch the oxford tube to shepherd’s pie. The whole journey will be an 1 hour and 21 minutes. The new espress coaches and airline coaches are nothing like run down school buses.

  14. on 10th Dec last year the connection at St Aldate’s or Queen’s La between X4 and oxford tube was lost becauses the X4 doesnt run weekends anymore and when it does it run it runs to Castle St via Speedwell St and Old Greyfriars St but passengers can use the reintroduced X13.

  15. on Eve/Sun you would have to catch any bus between Summertown shops and magdalen st east then walk to Gloucester Green or walk to Lathbury Rd and catch the 17A/C to George St and walk.

  16. Routes X70, X80, X90 and oxford tube serve Thornhill park and ride now. The X90 calls at Victoria Coach Stn, London Victoria, Marble Arch, Baker St, Hillingdon,Thornhill park and ride, Green Rd, Headington shops, Gipsy La, St Clement’s, Queen’s La and Gloucester Green with returns calling at St Aldate’s except Eve/Sun when coaches can serve Queen’s St. The oxford tube calls at London Victoria, Marble Arch, Shepherd’s Pie, Beautiful Lewknor, Hillingdon, Thornhill park and ride, Green Rd, Headington shops, Gipsy La, St Clement’s, Queen’s La, St Aldate’s, New Rd and Gloucester Green with returns stopping at Speedwell St as well except Eve/Sun when coaches can use Queen St. The New pxford tubes have to drop off in George St then loop via George St, Magdalen St, Magdalen St east, Broad St and George St to Gloucester Green. The Oxford tube has continued it’s wi-fi but the breakfasts between 6:00 and 8:00 were moved to between 5:40 and 7:00 which is horrible because you have to wake up earlier than you use to. I just go to Harveys now which is better than the breakfasts cos I go for lunch and dinner and they do so much better things than oxford tube breakfasts. The X90 are also offering A throught ticket to Wimbledon because of tennis with London General which Stagecoach cant do. The oxford tubes give tables and more space unlike X90 but Im glad that they dont use other vehicles for X90 and oxford tube anymore and espress coaches have A model unlike the oxford tube. Espress coaches never operate local buses except 1ce and they often work the X70/X80 but the oxford tubes only work the X30 early weekday mornings in 1 direction and they no longer work the U1/U5. the X90 hasn’t seen other buses since the football match between Arsenal and London. There was 1 other time when there was A concert but the oxford tube has seen other buses lots more times. They are both good in different ways everyone and that’s that

  17. the X90 has only seen 1 other vehicle 2 times and never gets additional buses loaned. Also it has 3 of it’s vehicles loaned to Birmingham coach company and it had airline coaches will waiting for the new coaches and it’s coaches have only worked other bus routes 1ce. Oh well, that’s 1 of the bad things about X90

  18. during A boat race in 2000/2001 the X90 had 2 coaches from other companys were used on X90. They don’t have the boat race anymore.

  19. london events
    during these london events the diversions were as follows:
    14th-17th Jun(22:00-23:00)Hyde Park calling-X90s were going past Marble Arch and gloucester place without stopping but the oxford tube said it was able to stop. On 23rd and 24th between 22:00 and 23:00 there was A musical festival-X90s were going past Marble Arch and Gloucester Pl without stopping. They also just decided to go straight past Victoria without stopping at short notice. Oxford tube said they were able to stop. On the 30th the X90 was diverting via Shepherd’s Pie and Notting Hill gate in the morning. On 7th July the X90 was diverted between 7:00 and 21:00 but the oxford tube from 6:00 to 16:00 on sun. The X90 was diverting via Shepherd’s Pie, Kensington St and Knightbridge and the oxford tube via Kensingston St and Knightsbridge.
    Oxford tube is better except for the last 1

  20. on New Year’s Eve there were those drunk Brazillians who had the drinks taken off them at Thornhill park and ride but then they were swearing at A woman and said 1p to show their bottoms. At Lewknor they got sent off and when the driver made an announcement they shouted for the drinks. The other driver of another oxford tube had to help.

  21. 1ce during roadworks on High St there was an X90 coming in via iffley rd, donnington bridge rd, weirs la, abingdon rd and st aldate’s when it should have gone via Headley way, cherwell dr, marston ferry rd, banbury rd, st gile’s, magdalen st east, broad st and george st

  22. During the road works at sandhills the oxford tube was diverting via Stadhampton, Wheatley, Horspath, eastern bypass, Horspath driftway, The Slade and Windmill Rd and the X70/X80/X90 were not going into Thornhill and stopping at sandhills if neccessary but if neccessary they went via Stadhampton, Wheatley, Horspath, Eastern bypass, Horspath driftway, The Slade and Windmill Rd. Passengers from the X90 were able to use their ticket on the 8 which doesn’t serve Thornhill park and ride and was being diverted to turn round at green rd or they had to go to blockbuster video and catch the 400 which doesn’t stop at green rd except on Suns or the 8A which doesn’t serve thornhill park and ride. From the oxford tube passengers were able to catch the U1 which doesn’t serve thornhill park and ride or the 7 which doesn’t serve thornhill park and ride and was turning round at green rd. The best option was to catch the X70/x80/x90 but they don’t let U get off at green rd and thornhill park and ride plus they were being delayed because of the roadworks and the roadworks in high st

  23. during the 7/7 london bombings following 9/11 all the traffic was stopped after 3 bombs were on underground trains and 1 happened when all underground passengers were using the buses which were being diverted. In the afternoon the companies took all the people out of london and took luggage. They also took national express tickets for birmingham and let them go to oxford rail stn to catch A train to birmingham. on the 29th june what happened was the X90 was diverted via Knightsbridge, Notting Hill gate, Shepherd’s pie and the ring rd. If they were full they didn’t go past london victoria and there was also an accident on M25 diverting it via Heathrow. Oxford tube was diverting via Knightsbridge and Ring Rd and was affected in the same way by accident on M25

  24. During A no war march in London the X90 was diverting via Shepherd’s Pie, Notting Hill gate and Knightsbridge but the oxford tubes were turning short at notting hill gate with 1 journey an hour through to London Victoria. This resulted in A no. of oxford tubes arriving early at gloucester green causing problems to the normal services and an X38 had to park backwards in 1 of those bays. The X90 wins cause it was not turning short but the oxford tube was turning short with 1 journey an hour along the normal route.

  25. my brother gets travel sick on oxford tube cause we have to sit upstairs sometimes cause there is less space downstairs, there are more yobs and smokers and more people eating cause of the tables and it runs via Lewknor Turn

  26. Oxford tube has 3 London expresses which run via A40 rather than Hillingdon and rather than Beautiful Lewknor, Shepherd’s Pie and Notting Hill gate it runs via M25 or Hayes by-pass and M4. The 6:00 started calling at Hillingdon but it now runs via A40 not Hillingdon and they changed the display to London express in A bus to Marble Arch&Victoria and it is all in big letters in A straight line. Oxford tube wins. They no longer have the 9;35 in the other direction which does the same except it runs in the other direction. Oxford tube wins

  27. Both services are better than 1st Great Western’s train services which are really unreliable and they have been critiscised.

    Also those tourists are all over the place and making all buses leave Gloucester Green, and those with seats at Queen’s La, fully loaded and the same with the train.

  28. thanks, adrian
    good review!
    Oxford Espress has now wi-fi/internet.
    They now don’t run between 2:30 and 6:30 AM from London. They lose on the frequency issue, but win on almost everything else.

  29. Thinking of going to London for New Years Eve fireworks with husband and teenage daughter. Any advice? Where’s the best place to get the bus back to Oxford? Is Tube or Espress best for NYE.

  30. I’m hoping to travel to Marble Arch leaving from Thornhill this Friday. I need to be in Marble Arch by 9am, what is the latest bus time I should take from Thornhill???

  31. As a regular commuter to Brussels, at least once or twice a month, I wish that there was a direct bus from Oxford to Eurostar’s St. Pancras terminal. As there is there is no information for potential tourists wishing to go to St.Pancras from Oxford or vice a versa. Not even any through ticketing If you need information on haw to reach the Eurostar trains from Oxford see http://www.oxfordprospect.co.uk/GettingtoOxford.htm

  32. Anyone using oxford espress… If i aimed at getting the bus that leaves victoria at half 6 from Baker Street, would i be able to find seats? and would i be able to make it to Oxford at 9?? also how much does it take for the bus to get to Baker Street from victoria around that time??

    thanks!!!

  33. I am a foreigner here and I can’t stop wondering to see such redundantly frequent coach services. It appears to me that except of the evening and morning hours most of these huge coaches go almost empty one after another, especially between Oxford and London. It seems to be a great waste of resources & misusing environment in order to make life of a few people absolutely comfortable. Of course, using cars are in general more harmful than using buses, but 1 car with 2 passengers is definitely more effective than 1 double decker coach with 2 passengers!

  34. I agree that the coaches should be less frequent except in morning and evening rush hours if they’re going to have huge coaches with 2 passengers otherwise it would be better to use the car.

  35. we have to be at victoria bus station by 2a.m what time oxford tube., would there be at hillingdon station id like to know night times thanx

  36. M. Potter, On Mon-Fri there’s an Oxford Tube from Hillingdon station at 1:00am that gets you to Victoria Bus Stn for 1:40am, On Sat-Sun there’s an Oxford Tube from Hillingdon station at 1:03am that gets you to Victoria Bus Stn for 1:40am,

  37. I need to commute from oxford to Bethnal green for two days a week next year. Does anybody know what time I would need to leave Oxford in order to get to Bethnal green for 8:15 ?

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