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. Shortly going to be commuting Oxford-London. the office is about 10 min walk from Victoria. What time do I need to be on the bus to be certain of making it in for 9? And am I right in thinking the Espress might be a bit quicker?

  2. To make Victoria for certain by 9, you would need to leave Gloucester Green by 6.20, Sanhdills 6.40.

    I do Sandhills to Baker Street on the Espress daily and the 7.15 from Sandhills gets to Baker Street at 9, Victoria at 9.20 though it can be longer.

  3. Richard, you need to leave Oxford at 6:00 to get to Bethnal Green for 8:15.

    Ben, to make it in for 9:00 you nead to leave Oxford at 7:00. No, the espress isn’t slightly quicker.

  4. Has anyone got off at Hillingdon to get the tube into central London instead of staying on the bus – is it quicker/slower or even worth trying. I know that at certain times there will be very heavy traffic coming through west London that might be avoided by getting off at Hillingdon. Maybe the coach driver should say if they know there will be long delays beyond Hillingdon in case we want to get off.

  5. I’m toying with a move to a job in the city & am exploying the commuting practicalities… any help/feedback greatly appreciated! I currently live a stones throw away from Thornhill P&R in Oxford, so it makes more sense for me to catch the London Coaches. I will possibly be based nr Waterloo in the City. Which Coach service would offer me a better service? I was thinking of Oxford Tube to Marble Arch, walk or tube to Bond Street, then Jubilee Line down to Waterloo… any other ideas?? What kind of time would i need to catch a coach from Thornhill to get into Waterloo for 8.30am to 9.00am?

    Thanks,
    David.

  6. i planing to go to london in the 2 of dicember just in one day by train and i really need in formation about every thing how long im gonna take from oxford to london were the train stops in there how i move from defernt places do i use the underground? im not sure i dont know how is the traveling and how is london with my self

  7. David-there’s an Oxford tube from Thornhill at 6:22(Mon-Fri), 6:47(Sat) and 6:55(Sun)

    Deejay-the train takes an hour and stops at Paddington.

    Alex-Yes your right, it does stop at Lewknor Turn ’cause of A grant from Oxfordshire County Council.

  8. Hi, I found this piece very interesting to read! Wondering if you can help me Im planning to get a train next week leaving from Kings cross station at 8am. So i will need to get a coach to victoria from oxford and possible walk/taxi it to station. But what time would you say i would need to get coach to london? Would there be lots of traffic around 5.40am?? or is that time too early?

  9. ok, i need some help if you can give me some that would be great, i am in oxford, oxfordshire, i just move hear from canada. i am going to baker street station in london and i would like to know whats the best way of going and how long it would be abd what buses i need to take, thank you for your time and i hope you can help me out.

  10. To get to Baker St in London you would need to catch the X90. If your late at night ‘n’ it’s not the right time for the X90 catch the OT to Marble Arch ‘n’ walk from there to Baker St. It will take you between 33 minutes and 1 hour and 47 minutes to get to Baker St.

  11. I will be visiting Abingdon in june and I would like to visit London on my visit to UK. I am completely new to this system and also don’t know places over there much. Could anyone guide me as at which time it will be convinient to move in weekend and get back to Abingdon after complete London city tour. I would prefer a less rush and a peaceful journey. Also cost wise which will be better BUS or Train (if they go). Thanks in advance

  12. Does anyone know if the 6am Tube, which claims to be a faster service as it omits two stops, is any quicker than the standard service?

    Also, is the 6am coach very busy and will I get a seat?

  13. I think that both operators need to do the decent thing and both provide a combinded service with interchangable ticketing because both services may not be sustanable and go bust so there will be no service at all

  14. Malcolm, the 6am is quicker than the standard service and it’s very busy but you will get A seat as long as you go from A stop before Thornhill Park and Ride.

    Ex Arriva employee, A combined service with interchangeable tickets May be introduced soon due to Transform Oxford and it might be A good idea.

  15. Wow. This post and all the replies were really helpful. I need to get to Marble Arch on a Friday morning between 8:30~9:00. I figure from the above that 6:00 Tube is a safe choice. Maybe could 6:24 Tube (being a “express” service) also work, or should I absolutely go for the 6:00 Tube? Thanks.

  16. has anyone taken the S3 bus from Gloucester Green after arriving from London on the Tube or Espress? planning to visit Blenheim Palace and back in one day, is this practical??? would appreciate info and advice—thank you

  17. I will be in London for one night on the 18th (from Asia) and will need to go to Oxford on the 19th (flexible schedule). I have not booked hotel in London yet as I’m trying to find out which hotel/B&B is just steps away from the bus stop because I am travelling with a full-sized suitcase, can’t afford a long walk from hotel to bus stop. Would someone be kind enough to tell me what will be the best hotel/B&B choice for me? Either Espress or Tube is fine with me. Also, I will need to go to Heathrow from Oxford on the 22nd. Can I buy a period return ticket for London-Oxford-Heathrow instead of buying two single tickets for London-Oxford and Oxford-Heathrow? Any advice will be very much appreciated!

  18. SHK, if you need to get to Marble Arch between 8:30 and 9:00 the 6:24 would be O.K. because it’s an express.

    VTM, yes I’ve taken the S3 from Gloucester Green after arriving from London on the Tube or Espress and yes it’s practical so yes, you should visit Blenheim Palace and back in 1 day.

    Fate, Thistle Marble Arch would be A good day for you since it’s near the Marble Arch bus stop for the X90/Oxford Tube. No, you can’t buy A period return from London-Oxford-Heathrow you will have to buy 2 single tickets.

  19. Hi, I need to commute thornhill to victoria and arrive by 8.30? What time do I need to get the bus?
    Would it be quicker to get it from lewknor? If so what time? Thanks

  20. There is an X90 from Thornhill at 6:30 that gets you to Victoria at 8:15 on Mon-Fri and on Sats and Suns there is an X90 from Thornhill at 6:45 that gets you to Victoria at 8:05. There is an Oxford Tube from Thornhill at 6:34 that gets you to Victoria at 8:28 on Mon-Fri, on Sat there is an Oxford Tube from Thornhill at 7:07 that gets you to Victoria at 8:22 and on Sun there is an Oxford Tube from Thornhill at 6:55 that gets you to Victoria at 8:12. It probably would be quicker to get it from Lewknor only if you lived near there-if your nearer to Thornhill you should go from Thornhill and if your nearer to Lewknor you should go from Lewknor but you can only catch the Oxford Tube there.

  21. Hello,

    I have just been offered a job in Hillingdon. I currently live in Oxford, and am trying to decide whether to move to London, and commute on the tube, or whether to stay in Oxford, and take the bus from the Thornhill to Hillingdon.

    I will need to be at work by 8ish each day… could you give me an idea of a ‘usual’ journey time from Oxford to Hillingdon?

    Thanks very much!

  22. The usual journey time from Oxford to Hillingdon is about 1 hour depending on what time of day. It probably is best to stay in Oxford and commute to London rather than moving there.

  23. As one who boards the bus in Lewknor, I find that inconvenient little stop in the middle of nowhere invaluable. So, for me, the Tube wins 🙂

  24. Please help me! I’m going to be commuting from Headington (Oxford) to Baker Street (London). I need to get in to Baker Street by 9.10am. What time(s) can I get the Oxford Espress from Headington? And how tiring do other people find this daily commute?

    Thanks in advance for any help you can give! 🙂

  25. If you want to get into Baker St by 9.10am it’s best to catch the Oxford Espress from Headington at 7:28 if your going from Brookes Uni, 7:30 if going from Headington Shops or 7:32 if going from Green Rd Rdbt. The daily commute isn’t normally too tiring and the seats are very comfortable on the Oxford Espress

  26. i need to reach st pancras eurostar terminal at 08:30, wk day . what time shall i leave oxford-thornhill park & ride to get there in time. is there any direct bus ti st pancras anywhere in oxford.

  27. Zuleika1987 – I will be getting the Tube from Lewknor to Notting Hill for work from the 18th. I’ll need to be there for 9/9:15 as I have to be at work for 9:30 and it’s a 10 minute walk from the station at Notting Hill.

    What time should I leave? I will be doing a “dummy run” this week but can you give an advice?

    Thanks very much!

  28. yasmine, there are no direct busses from oxford to st pancras, you would be best catching the oxford tube at 6:32 from thornhill or the X90 at 6:15

    kirstie, you should catch the coach at lewknor at 7:47 or 7:59.

  29. Sorry to ask for yet more times on here but how long would you allow to get from Queen’s Lane to Baker Street on the X90 during rush hour? I need to be there by about 9.15 and have no idea how long to allow, would be grateful for any advice.

  30. I’m moving o Oxford (Cowley) in May but will continue to work in London (by Tottenham Court Road). Have wanted to live in Oxford for ages, and the plan was to find work there once I had settled in. As it happens, my circumstances have changed and I have been offered a really god job in London (also by TCR) that I’d be stupid to turn down. I work Mon-Fri (and some Saturdays), and my shifts are as follows, 8am-5pm – 9am-6pm, 10am-7pm and the occasional (that may become more frequent in the future) 10am-10.30pm. What time would I have to leave Oxford to be at work on time for the above shifts? Is the commute doable long term? I could get either the Tube (Marble Arch) or the Express, but I guess the Express is slightly quicker as I would get off in Baker st? What are the chances of getting a seat in the morning? Realistically, how long are journey times St Clements-Marble Arch / St Clements-Baker st during rush hour?

    Would be so very grateful for advice!

  31. I have a job in Waterloo near upper ground, and live in Oxford so can catch the bus from Thornhill, what time would I need to leave thornhill so I get to my job by 8.45am?

    Also at which stop should I get off and get the tube?

    Also would anyone recommend travelling this everyday or should I be looking for a flat in London (I have lived in Oxford all my life)?

    Any help would be appreciated.

  32. On the X90 to get to work for 8am at 6:21 from St Clement’s, which takes 1 hour and 34 minutes to Baker St, to get to work for 9am, you can catch the 7:06 from St Clement’s which takes 1hour and 39 mins to Baker St and to get to work for 10am you can catch the 8:06 which takes 1 hour and 39 mins to Baker St. On the Oxford Tube, to get into work for 8am, you can catch the 6:07 from St Clement’s which takes 1 hour and 49 mins to get to Marble Arch, to get into work for 9am you can catch the 6:55 from St Clement’s which takes 2 hours to get to Marble Arch and to get into work for 10am you can catch the 7:57 from St Clement’s which takes 2 hours and 1 min to get to Marble Arch. You probably can get A seat at St Clement’s at that time and the commute is doable long term.

  33. Looking to start work at 9am at London Bridge from mid -july getting on the espress at Gypsy lane or St. Clems, would a 7am bus give enough time to get there? Never travelled by coach, during the job interview process I always caught trains but there over priced in my opinion,,

    Any help would be great

    thanks

  34. Neo1, you should leave Thornhill at 6:45 and get off at Baker St if on the X90 and Shepherd’s Bush on the Oxford Tube. The X90 will be better as Baker St is on A direct Underground line to Waterloo. You can live in Oxford if you want or get A flat in London.

  35. Interested in typical journey times Lewknor to London – since I get on the Central line this would either be Shepherds Bush or Notting Hill -NOT- all the way to Voctoria. Would typically leave between 08.30 and 09.30. Which is the easier underground interchange, Shepherds Bush or Notting Hill ??

  36. Hi, I have to get to the US Embassy near Marble Arch for about 08:15 on a Friday morning. Which service/time would you suggest I take from Thornhill ?
    Thanks in advance.

  37. Hi there,

    I work in Uxbridge and am planning to commute there from Oxford from September. If I was to take the espress from the Headington area to Hillingdon (and then travel 1 stop on the tube to Uxbridge), what time do you think I should take it to be in for 9:00?

  38. Bluey, A typical journey from Lewknor to Shepherd’s Bush or Notting Hill Gate, between 8:30 and 9:30 will be about 1 hour and 9 mins to Shepherd’s Bush or 1 hour and 16 mins to Notting Hill Gate. It would depend where your going whether you get off at Shepherd’s Bush or Notting Hill Gate.

    Parkzy, you would need to get the 6:22 Oxford Tube or the 6:30 X90 from Thornhill to get you to the US Embassy for about 8:15 on A Fri morning.

    Luci, you would need to take the Espress from the Headington area between 7:48 and 7:52, depending where you get on at, to be at Uxbridge for 9:00.

  39. Hi there,

    i have been offered a new job, which will require me to commute from birmingham to london mon-fri starting at 9.30am. I previously worked within walking distance of euston station, so a daily commute via Virgin trains, was ideal, yet extortionate. My new position however, is located at Buckingham Gate, so i am looking to commute to Victoria Station on a daily basis now. With no train going direct from birmingham to victoria, and it not being financially viable to take the car all the way to work and back (plus national express does not seem to be as regular or offer such a competitive fare), driving to oxford and using the oxford espress / oxford tube, in theory sounds ideal, both on a financial and convenience level.

    Thus, if i wanted to get to work (which is a short walk from victoria coach station) for 9.30 am what coach time would you best advise to catch from oxford ? …also, seeing as though i shall be driving doen the M40 first, would i be better placed to catch a coach from thornhill park and ride, rather than gloucester green (as that will offer somewhere to park my car too, am i right in concluding that parking here is free on a daily basis too?)

    my thanks in advance for any help you may be able to offer me, it is very much appreciated =)

    kind regards.

  40. s_quebz, you would need to catch the X90 from Thornhill at 7:15 or the Oxford Tube from Thornhill at 7:10 to get to Buckingham Gate for 9:30. Yes, your best going from Thornhill rather than Gloucester Green because there’s free parking at Thornhill and nowhere to park near Gloucester Green as the center of Oxford is banned for cars.

    Vilma, the best way of commuting from Oxford to London is coach.

  41. Like so many others I’m struggling with whether to move into London or stay in Oxford and commute. Living in Summertown, my options would be to either get myself into Gloucester Green or Queen’s Lane, or drive to Thornhill. At what time would I need to be at either of those stops in order to arrive at Baker Street 08:30 on weekdays? And how realiable are the times, does it vary a lot or is it pretty much the same every day (provided no accidents on the M40, obviously…)?

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