Print this page

Long distance coaches

 

25/11/09

Once upon a time the coach was the transport method of choice of many students and pensioners who had time on their hands but not much money. But the introduction of cheaper advance train fares has changed all that.  Even the slowest trains are faster than the coach, and the fares are often cheaper if you can be flexible.  But if time is no object and money is really tight it can be worth thinking about the coach, especially as coaches leave from right near Victoria railway station.  No coach services run from Lewes but you can go from Brighton to London for as little as £1, although it takes forever and you have to get to Brighton first.  Better to get a £3.75 advance train ticket and start from Victoria.

 One other time you might want to think about the coach is if you need to travel the same day, have no advance ticket, and the walk on fare is unaffordable.

 Some years ago Stagecoach launched Megabus as a cheap bus service.  They run a couple of buses a day from London to many main cities. They use the now common fare structure where the earlier you book the cheaper the fare.  On 21st November  2009 they were offering singles  to travel on 7th January to Inverness from £17 (taking 13+hours)  Newcastle from £7.50 (5hrs 40) Manchester from £1.50 (one only, rest £6 and up) (4hrs 40) and Plymouth at £9.50 (5hrs 30)  Fares do start at £1.50 (including the booking fee), but you can’t always find these.  You can book on line or you can get the same prices at their call centre- 08705 50 50 50.  You cannot turn up and pay. You have to specify your departure time.  Sample prices if you want to book the same day are Manchester on the day £20, Newcastle £18 Birmingham £12 (all one way)  Most Megabus services leave from Victoria Coach station but a few leave from Victoria Green line station, which is slightly nearer the railway station.

 They have recently launched Megbus plus, which you can access from the same web site.  There are two departures a day.  You get the train from St Pancras to East Midlands Parkway.  There you change to buses which will take you to a number of destinations in Yorkshire.  Travel time is between 3hrs 30 and 4hrs 30 and fares start at £1.50.

 All this has left the main coach operator, National Express, looking a bit expensive.  They have operated a more traditional structure, with more routes than Megabus and a series of discount cards for young people, disabled people and families.  They also do reductions for over 60s and children.  But even these fares are more than those of Megabus.  For example the cheapest normal single fare to Inverness is £36, (more than the cheapest train fare) although they do allow you some choice in which coach to catch (providing there are seats).  So they have introduced what they call “funfares”-which is not a word I would use to describe long distance coach travel.  These fares aim to compete with Megabus and are for one specified coach.  Funfares tend to be about the same as those for Megabus, and travel times are similar.  This leaves National Expess’s fares looking rather odd.  For example there are funfares from London to Preston, because Megabus runs there, but not to Lancaster, just up the road.  National Express coaches go from Victoria coach station. You can just turn up and pay, providing that there are seats available. But funfares  are only available on line.

 One place you might find is quicker to get to by coach is Oxford.  Trains to Oxford from London are slow and you have to cross London on the tube to Paddington. The buses run from Victora. The Oxford Bus Company charges £16 for a day return.  Under  16s and over 60s are half price. Buses start from Victoria Coach station and also stops in Buckingham Palace Road, right next to the railway station side entrance,  near the Lewes train arrival platforms. The Oxford Tube  which is owned by Stagecoach charges the same and stops in Grosvenor  Gardens, next to the main exit to the station.  Both run very frequent services and you pay on the bus. Travel time is normally about 1hr 40 minutes, although this can be longer in rush hours.  However if you can book in advance and specify your departure time Megabus (see above) will take you for £1.50 and upwards per journey.

 For those of you who fancy doing the whole Greyhound road trip thing but don’t want to go to America, in the summer National Express do a route along the south coast stopping everywhere, including Newhaven and Brighton, ending up at Helston in Cornwall.  It takes the whole of a day and by the time you arrive you will feel like you have travelled across a continent.  There must be a novel, or at least a short story, in it.

Alternatively there are coaches that travel across Europe . Eurolines is associated with National Express and has the same pricing structure.  London to Paris fares start at £10 each way and the journey takes about 9 hours.  However for longer journeys the prices are not much cheaper than the train and the journey is extremely gruelling.  Definitely for those who want to write the great travel book.   For the very determined the Euromost web site has details of other companies.

 Wheelchair access to coaches is usually lousy, although Megabus has started to introduce some disability friendly services. See their web site for latest details.