Spotlight on Gareth Evans, National Express Transport Solutions

Tell us a bit about your role and how it supports the business?

I joined NXTS eight months ago as part of the Business Development Team. I brought with me 8 years’ experience in the transport industry and in particular education and young people’s transport. I am not just focused on new business but am working on how I and the business can support and grow key accounts and look at other opportunities with our existing clients. 

What has been your career highlight to date?

Being selected as the official transport provider for the International Children’s Games which is being held in Coventry this August is a highlight. We are supporting the travel of around 1,500 children from all across the globe to compete together. Some of these children could be the elite athletes of the future. 

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

The best advice I have ever been given is that you have two ears and one mouth so make sure you listen to your client and really understand their issues, drivers and needs before you propose a solution.

If you were not working in this sector what other industry would you have pursued a career in?

I always wanted to be a Geography teacher. I completed my degree in Geography at Nottingham University and love the natural world, both its beauty and destructive powers. While at Uni I was offered an IT role within the education sector and that then moved into educational transport.

What are the emerging trends within your sector and have these changed since Covid-19?

A lot has changed within bus and coach transport over the last few years, some down to COVID and some accelerated by COVID but had always been on the horizon. The shift to people working from home was a necessity during the pandemic and with some industry exceptions that will stay in some form commuter services have suffered or been withdrawn (Including ours), but that has opened up new opportunities.

The labour market is extremely competitive at the moment with many industries fighting for the same workers. This has led to a rise in home to work shuttles, which is a  dedicated service to get workers into the place of work. These are being used to add value to work for certain companies and expand their reach of potential employees. We are seeing more and more requests for these. The rapid growth in the online retailers has led to 24/7 shift patterns and workplace transport is needed to plug the gap in public transport. 

For National Express Transport Solutions and BETA members the looming threat of a (global) recession could mean the staycation and short European breaks continue to grow. We are seeing that translate into higher demand for summer schools, educational trips and the staycations for larger groups.

Our coach network (the iconic white coaches you see on most motorways) has nearly recovered back to the 2019 passenger numbers and leisure travellers and students are an important part of that.

What is coming up for your company in the next 12/18 months?

Sustainable travel is becoming expected across the whole travel industry and our company can play a real part in that. While coach travel is already one of the greenest forms of ground transport (one coach can take around 50 cars from the road) we are aiming to be the world’s greenest mass transit provider. The National Express Group has committed to a Net Zero target of Scope 1 and 2 Emissions by 2040 and to move the coach fleet fully to zero emission vehicles by 2035. 

We are already seeing strong demand across all the sectors we work in for electric, gas or hybrid vehicles. The technology is not fully there yet for an electric coach for long distances but we are leading the industry in supporting that change to happen. On our bus network in the West Midlands we will have close to 600 electric buses and whole cities like Coventry will be fully electric in the very near future. We recently put four electric double deckers into Harry Potter World which sustainably shuttles hundreds of passengers every day.

As an association what one thing do you think we have done that has made a real difference to our members during the crisis?

Bringing members together is the most important thing you have done to support the industry and made it affordable to do that. Face to face meetings on the forums and the meet and greets have been very valuable and even though we have not been members for very long we have already forged great relationships with other members.

Covid-19 has had a huge impact on our industry, what is the one thing that you have learnt personally or professionally during this time?

One of the most important things I learned personally and professionally during COVID was to be agile and to adapt and change. Whole industries and sections of the economy closed down and in some cases that was overnight. On the other side of that whole new industries and opportunities opened up, again overnight. 

Our industry and myself personally had to look at new opportunities and learn new skills outside of our comfort zone to work in and support sectors we had not worked with before. 

What are your crystal ball forecasts for the period ahead and how quickly do you think your business can recover from the pandemic?

Not an easy one to answer! The travel industry has picked up and parts of our business have recovered much quicker than expected and are near pre pandemic levels. As with the whole industry there is a driver shortage but we are working hard to resolve that. 

With the increased cost of living and the high fuel costs I can see staycations, UK holidays  and European trips continuing and growing. Coach and bus transport can play a large part in that as it is a cost effective, comfortable, sustainable and an easy way to travel.

Workplace shuttles and home to work services are going to increase. They are a cost effective way of bringing employees in and allows recruitment from further afield where potential employees would not normally travel from. 

What would you say our biggest challenges and opportunities are as an industry currently?

Personally there is still a lot of uncertainty in the travel industry and the challenge there is to have the drive and accept the potential risk to invest. People still need to be reassured that it is safe and easy to travel and they can hop on a bus or coach and travel. 

Opportunities are there though, companies will be looking at how they recruit and retain in a competitive market and an important factor in that is travel.

How do you think Covid-19 will change our industry (if at all)?

Personally I see travel increasing, people from across the globe lost that freedom to jump on a plane, in a car or on a coach. Being able to visit people and places you may not have seen for up to three years will make people want to travel. Students will still want to come to the UK and travel within the UK, we have a rich and varied culture and landscape which hasn’t changed due to COVID.

Find out more about BETA Member National Express Transport Solutions here

Published 01 October 2022