Advantages Friendly, great range of journeys and HECK - so CHEAP!!
Disadvantages Maybe a little uncomfy for less dedicated bargain hunters. Must be booked online.
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Having spent my three years of university at the quintessential Place In The Middle Of Nowhere (the locals call it Aberystwyth) and all my holidays back at home separated from my friends by the whole Irish sea, I'm happy to have finally settled (for the time being, at least) in the South east of England. At least I'm on the same landmass as everyone else now. At least there's an airport half an hour away, and decent rail links to everywhere I could conceivably want to go.So of course, organising a little trip to London to visit my very best friend, see a gig and just generally enjoy a wander round the city, I blithely thought would be a piece of cake. That is, until I got to looking up train prices. You want HOW much?! But it's only up the road! I'm not trying to buy the train, just a seat on it for one short hour!
Jeezy creezy, people – it's gotten expensive to travel these days. Eco-loving non-driver that I am, I rely entirely on public transport to get me from A to B. I don't complain when the trains are late, or dirty, or when I have to sit with my knees up to my chin to avoid making awkward contact with the businessman opposite, who's trying to bury his face in The Times and pretend I'm not there either. I smile at the ticket collectors. I don't leave litter lying around and I don't try to have a crafty fag out the window when they're not looking. Heck, I don't even put my feet on the seats if I'm confronted by one of those "Seats are not for Feet!!!" signs. What do I get for all these years of loyal patronage? A bloody extortionate bill for a return ticket to London, that's what.Time to turn from the station and go to the bus depot, because chances are that if you live in or near a city there's a Megabus service running near you, and believe me, you want to know about it if you're planning a day trip somewhere.
I don't know much about the company itself. They seem fairly new, and something of a bus equivalent of low cost airlines – you pre-book on the website and turn up on the day at the designated place and time to have your ID number, which you must remember to print off or take note of, struck off a list. There's no waiting for tickets through the post, or trying to convey where you need to go to a belligerent bus driver. Of course, pre-booking somewhat takes the spontanaeity out of things for the freewheeling among us, but it's worth it.Know why? Because Megabus provide a service that is so cheap it's FILTHY.
I booked tickets for the aforementioned trip to London about a week in advance, maybe a day or two less, at the website. My trip there on a Friday morning cost a pound. That's right – ONE of your English pounds. Ein. Uno. Singular. A pound. The cost of a lottery ticket. The cost of one of those reject promotional offer Maccy D burgers (beg your pardon, those are 99p – but you see where I'm going with this). My return trip on a Sunday evening was just three pounds, which was what I also later paid for a half-pint glass of diet coke during the gig at a venue on Oxford Street. Their 50p booking fee (that's per transaction, not per journey booked) is hardly enough of a sneaky hidden cost for us all to sit back and go "ahhhh… so THAT's how they can afford it…" and suddenly I found myself having paid a total of four pounds fifty for a return weekend trip to London. Stunned? Ever so slightly.I imagine it's different for everywhere, but from Brighton at least there are four or five trips to London and back each day, starting from around 6am and heading out on the final trip of the day fairly late, around eleven or twelve. I chose the quite-early-enough-thanks 8.30am bus from Brighton Coach station to London Greenline, the coach station immediately adjacent to Victoria (right in the heart of London with decent rail and underground links to get anywhere else you might need to go from there). I turned up early, and I admit to nursing a little sense of paranoia induced by the sheer inexpensiveness of it all. Maybe we were meant to bring a gallon of petrol as well to help with the costs, or maybe the four fifty was some kind of processing fee for the actual ticket, which would be issued on the bus and would cost much more.
Myself and the other passengers waited til a little past eight thirty, and then a large bark blue bus pulled up with "London" as its destination announcement and "Megabus" postered on the side. Know what else was good? It was a DOUBLE DECKER bus!!! Trying not to whoop with joy, I lined up with the others to get on. I got a bit nervous showing the driver the page of my notebook where I had scribbled down my booking number – everyone else seemed to have print-outs of theirs, and I was worried he'd laugh and throw me off the bus for having no 'official' notification. Not so – he merely nodded and ticked me off the list, so I embraced my good fortune and scrambled up the spiral stairs to get a good seat on the top deck. Whee!The journey to London by train takes just under an hour – "leaves on the line" notwithstanding. By Megabus it takes quite a bit longer – just under two and a half hours. For someone like me who is generally a happy traveller and wouldn't have any idea what to do with London at nine in the morning, that's not a problem, though I can appreciate it would be tedious for some people. I'm also generally pretty comfortable on buses and can pretty much fall asleep anywhere, though I know the people behind me seemed a bit moany about the seats as they tried to get comfy under their coats to grab forty winks. Used as I am to a lifestyle of extortionate price-paying and student hardship, I will sacrifice comfort in the name of a bargain any day – but I know others may not see it like that, so maybe Megabus isn't for everyone.
It's certainly for me though. The view was great, I had a nice sleep, the seats weren't objectionably dirty or anything, and we made it London in one piece. Even better was the return journey. As is the custom, I missed the train I was supposed to catch from my friend's house and this had a knock-on effect that travelled with me on the underground and had me sprinting back into Greenline on Sunday evening, certain that I'd missed my bus back. But no – there it was. I got on huffing and panting and scrabbling for my booking reference, and the driver asked "Had a good weekend?""Yeah," I replied, " apart from the running."
It seems to be a company-wide policy too. The same friend I visited that weekend had travelled with them once before (they took from London to Bristol for yes, ONE POUND) and, being even less organised than me, he missed his bus home by half an hour (ain't nobody waiting that long for a passenger, I'm guessing). When he tried to get on the next bus, he obviously wasn't registered with the correct reference number, but they let him on it with a minimum of fuss and only charged him three pounds for the trip. You try arguing a point like "But I missed it" with the train ticket office or an underground official and see how far it gets you (not to London for a quid, that's for sure…).I'm not sure of how many routes they offer, but I know they service pretty much all the airport cities – not just London, but Cardiff, Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and so on – so chances are that even if you can't get directly to the place you want to go, you can cut out a good deal of the price from your overall journey by taking the Megabus from city to city (I’ve managed to bite a chunk out of my expenses for a forthcoming trip from Brighton to Aberystwyth, for instance. Take THAT, National Express!).
Further details can be found on their website, www.megabus.com, which is easy to navigate and displays all your time and price options in the same style as Easyjet or any of the low-cost airlines. You can pay online by credit or debit card, and they send you a confirmation email almost immediately. What could be easier?Another friend of mine, who is something a business whiz, gets quite earnestly frustrated when Megabus is mentioned to her. She doesn't like to talk about it, she explains, because she can't figure out how they make their money and it infuriates her. I shrug now and ask her how Easyjet can afford to offer flights for £1.99 – it's because we all love a bargain and the secret is too good to keep. Pretty soon, I reckon everyone in the world will be braving extra road time for the privilege of riding in a big blue double decker bus for the price of two Double Decker chocolate bars.
Just make sure you book that front upstairs seat before everyone else gets to it!
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