Fare cuts boost Express demand

National ExpressNational Express said price cuts helped lift coach passenger numbers by 7% as it attempts to weather the loss of concessionary fares for senior citizens.

The transport group, which also runs the c2c rail service in Essex, said "competitive" pricing and faster, more direct services enabled the coach division to post underlying revenues growth of 1% so far this year.

National Express has been hit by the withdrawal of the Government's £16 million senior citizen concession scheme, which meant one million fewer subsidised journeys last year.

The group said coach concession revenues are down 10% this year, which analysts at Espirito Santo called "somewhat concerning".
The operator has responded by slashing prices - including half a million £5 fares - in a challenge to rival Stagecoach's Megabus service.

National Express said coach revenues during Easter were an "encouraging" 6% ahead.

It is hopeful a new contract to run coaches between London Victoria and Luton Airport, more services to Gatwick Airport and the sale of tickets through budget airline Ryanair will give the division a further boost.

Its c2c franchise saw "good" revenues growth during the period. The operator, which was stripped of the East Coast mainline in 2009, said it is in "constructive" discussions with the Government over extending the c2c contract, ahead of re-bidding for the Essex Thameside route.

The group's bus division, which serves the West Midlands and Dundee, grew underlying revenues 3%. Poor weather squeezed passenger numbers and profits were hurt by a cut in government grants for bus operators.

But National Express said encouraging signs of growth in April, plus rising concession revenues, paint an optimistic outlook for the division.