The people behind the wheel: Alex Jensen’s story, National Express
For the latest instalment of Intelligent Transport’s exclusive ‘The people behind the wheel’ series, Alex Jensen, CEO of National Express UK, Ireland & Germany, provides insight into her leadership role and vision for the future of the public transport industry, delving into her passion for customer-centric solutions and collaborative efforts in the transport sector.
Can you tell us a bit about your role at National Express?
I joined National Express as CEO of UK, Ireland & Germany earlier in 2023. My top priority has been to get out-and-about on our buses and coaches so that I can really listen to our customers and understand their experience. I always start with the customer, and I want to make sure that we’ve got their voice in all of our decision making. After all, public transport is a people-centric sector, so it’s only by listening to their feedback and taking appropriate action that we can make us their go-to choice when travelling.
I always start with the customer, and I want to make sure that we’ve got their voice in all of our decision making”
Which leads me onto my second priority, meeting and understanding the very people who make up our sector. From our drivers to political stakeholders, I’ve been blown away by how passionate and knowledgeable people in this industry are. I’m keen to get a cross section of different views to understand what’s working, what isn’t and where we can make impactful changes together.
It goes without saying that I’ve joined the public transport sector at a critical time. We’re facing a lot of challenges – whether that’s recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, tackling the energy and cost-of-living crises or dealing with workforce shortages – but, with the right business models, continued collaboration across the sector and political support, I believe that we have a bright future.
What inspired you to seek a career in the transport industry?
I joined National Express for three reasons. Firstly, its purpose, which is to lead the modal shift from cars to public transport and address challenges of affordability, decarbonisation, congestion and convenience. Public transport can help to solve these issues, as well as support economic growth and improve social deprivation. But, for public transport to truly do this, we need to make it so brilliant that it becomes people’s first choice and not their second. It won’t be easy – especially as it involves changing people’s travelling habits – but, going back to my earlier point, if we become a customer-centric industry, I have great faith that we can achieve this.
Secondly, I see enormous growth potential in this industry. National Express is part of Mobico Group, which currently operates in 11 countries and 50 cities. If we can perfect our model and scale it, which I know we can, we’ll be one step closer to achieving our goal of modal shift.
And, finally, I saw joining National Express as a huge learning opportunity. I’ve spent my career at BP, so this is a new industry with new challenges and new ways of working. Of course, I’ll be using my experience to bring something to the table, but I’m also really looking forward to listening and learning from my colleagues and peers to help maximise opportunities for growth.
Has a career in transport changed your perception of the industry as a whole?
It’s a hugely complex sector and working closely with others is key to success”
One of the things that has struck me most is how interconnected and multi-layered the industry is. There’s a real need to work collaboratively with external stakeholders if we want to deliver a service that customers want and need. So, that could be things like working with transport agencies to understand highway issues, speaking to businesses to see if there are any key events that might affect our network, or working with local transport authorities to make sure that our service compliments the bigger transport picture. It’s a hugely complex sector and working closely with others is key to success.
Another key learning is realising how much social responsibility we have. People rely on our services, and they are a genuine lifeline for many. We get people to work, school, hospital appointments and more. We connect communities by bringing people together or helping them to access groups or services which support them. If we make a change to one of our services – no matter how small it may seem – we can never underestimate how big of an impact it could have on the people who use it. It’s a responsibility that I don’t take lightly, and one which is always at the forefront of any decisions that I make.
What would be the top three highlights of your career in the industry to date?
In September 2023, we stopped running diesel double decker buses from our Coventry garage, meaning that all double deckers in the city are now zero-emission electric vehicles”
I recently visited our operations in Dublin to launch a new rail-coach-airport ticketing initiative in partnership with Irish Rail. It’s a fantastic scheme in which customers purchase just one ticket which will enable them to conveniently travel to Dublin Airport by simply adding a connecting Dublin Express coach journey from Heuston Station. It’s a great example of how listening to our customers and working in collaboration with others is key in making it really easy for people to ditch the car and switch to public transport. Trials have been a huge success so far, and we’re already looking at ways to extend it to other railway stations across Ireland.
Another highlight is seeing Coventry get one step closer to becoming the UK’s first all-electric bus city. In September 2023, we stopped running diesel double decker buses from our Coventry garage, meaning that all double deckers in the city are now zero-emission electric vehicles. It was a momentous milestone for both us and Coventry, creating a greener and more efficient public transport system for our customers. Again, this is partnership working at its best, as we had worked closely with Transport for West Midlands (TfWM), Coventry City Council and Zenobē to achieve this goal.
Its been wonderful to see how our scheduled coach operations are helping to keep the country moving when rail hasn’t been at its best. Our Manchester services alone have seen a 69% increase in passengers since January 2023, a phenomenal achievement which just demonstrates that there is a huge demand for reliable and great value public transport. As a result, we’ve responded by investing in new vehicles and increased services connecting the North West with the rest of the country.
What key pieces of advice would you give to someone who is interested in a career in transport?
My biggest advice would be to walk the talk. Put yourself in the shoes of the customer to truly understand their experience of using public transport services”
If you have a customer-centric mindset and want to work for a fast-paced and dynamic industry where you can genuinely make a difference, then transport will be for you.
My biggest advice would be to walk the talk. Put yourself in the shoes of the customer to truly understand their experience of using public transport services. Look at what went well, what didn’t go well and where improvements can be made. Then use that knowledge to understand how you can play a part in making those improvements. Public transport is an industry built for people by people, so I think it’s important to be people-focused if you want to make an impact.
If you’ve just started your career in transport and are looking to build it, I’d say grasp any opportunities that may come your way. As I’ve mentioned before, we’re a complex industry, so there’s always lots of projects, initiatives and trials taking place. If something piques your interest – even if it’s not directly linked to your role – I’d say put yourself forward. It’s a great way to learn more about the sector and the nuances that keep it running.
And, finally, I’d say get out there and meet the very people who use and deliver our services – it will be a real eye-opener. Its made me realise what a rewarding sector this is.
In an ideal world, what do you hope the future of public transport will look like?
I want people to view public transport as their first choice and not their second. I want them to view us as a sustainable, viable and affordable alternative to cars”
Ultimately, I want people to view public transport as their first choice and not their second. I want them to view us as a sustainable, viable and affordable alternative to cars, recognising the many benefits that we bring to the environment, health and economy. Also, I want people to view us as the future of transport for work and leisure purposes. Our cities and towns simply don’t have the infrastructure to keep adding more cars to roads, so public transport is in an exciting position to solve this issue by easing congestion whilst still enabling people to travel easily in-and-out of major cities and towns.
The truth is, that future doesn’t need to be far away, and if we make sure that our services remain reliable, consistent and have the customer at the heart of them, I believe that we’ll achieve it. I’m excited by the challenge and look forward to getting stuck in.
Alex Jensen is the CEO of National Express UK, Ireland & Germany. In the UK, National Express has four key areas of activity: scheduled coach, local bus services in the West Midlands and Coventry, corporate and private hire and coach services in Ireland. In Germany, National Express operates all rail services on seven routes in North Rhine-Westphalia. Alex is an international divisional CEO with considerable experience in transforming and growing customer-facing businesses. Prior to joining National Express, Alex led BP’s Convenience and Mobility division in Europe and Southern Africa.
Bus & Coach