Operated by Stagecoach

There's been many attempts at low cost air travel, and some train operators encourage you to low cost train travel. But low cost bus travel between cities has been something, until now, of a void in the travel market. There are coach operators, but even the main one, National Express, isn't that cheap. Granted there's some facilities on board, but for the shorter, inter-city journeys, don't you just want something that goes from A to B?

Well, a few months ago, the bods at Stagecoach agreed, and promptly started to launch their inter-city bus journeys. The prices are as little as £1 each way, and the only way to book the journeys are online. Also, there's a 50p booking fee per booking. This is probably down to the fact that they use the tried and trusted Worldpay company to handle the credit and debit card payments, but this does also mean that payment can be accepted with a variety of cards, namely Visa, Visa Delta, Mastercard, Eurocard, Switch and Solo. That should be enough for most people to own one of them for payment.

Toilets aren't provided on the buses, although some of the longer journeys have comfort breaks. And you can take one piece of luggage with you, should you wish.

Stage 1 - Booking

The web site, dressed like the buses themselves, is mainly yellow and blue. However, the scheme used is easy on the eye and is fairly navigatable. At the moment, you can't store any details, but it is hoped in the future you can log in and store information such as your favourite journeys, booking summaries et al. From Manchester, goes either to Leeds or to Liverpool. There are also lots of services in the South that go to London (including Bournemouth for example), and in Scotland, principal routes to and from Edinburgh and Glasgow. So, as I was booking Manchester to Liverpool, I picked the destinations, and the day I wanted to go and come back, and up popped available selections in a flash, very quickly. I booked on a Wednesday morning for a Sunday journey, and fares were still available at £1 each way. I made my selections, clicked the button to go to the payment section, Worldpay did its bit and accepted my card, and I printed off the reference sheet for information. Within minutes, I'd got a confirmation email stating all the details and the all important reference, so I could also print that out if required.

I have to say that booking the seats took less than one minute to do, and it was fast, efficient and also secure, and absolutely no problems at all. At least from a web point of view, the site works properly with all standard browsers I threw at it (Netscape, Mozilla Firebird, Mozilla, Opera, even IE6!) and simplicity itself, with the drop down boxes for the destinations working correctly. So if I picked I was starting from Manchester, it would tell me that Leeds and Liverpool were available to go to. The site also has the timetables for all the routes, if you require them.

Stage 2 - Outward Journey

I managed to get up okay on the Sunday morning and headed to Manchester Piccadilly, Stand D, where the bus was due to leave at 1015. At 1010, the familiar blue livery with the graphics of the Megabus arrived, and on I boarded. I showed the driver the print out of the booking number, and he had a pre-printed list of the bookings, and so just ticked them off. Of course, when all were ticked off, if he wanted to, he could have left earlier. As it was, there was quite a queue to get on so it was a slightly delayed 1020 departure. After making our way past the Printworks and then Salford University (the only two stops on the way) it was non-stop action, and soon (to my surprise!) it was on to the M62 motorway, all the way to end, and then straight down Edge Lane towards Liverpool centre. As the driver got near to the centre the bus made a couple of left an right turns, and headed down a side road near Lime Street station. This was just so the bus could turn to the right way round when it arrived outside the Adelphi Hotel on Brownlow Hill, and we'd got there safely. A glance at the watch showed 1120, actually ten minutes ahead of schedule. Now, being a Sunday, I would expect less traffic and so for the bus to have a better chance of being on time, but bearing in mind there was a small queue on the M62 as the bus approached the turn off for Ikea in Warrington, this was still impressive stuff.

As for the bus itself, the seats were comfortable enough for an hour's journey or so, all fresh new seats too. The bus itself though clearly looked like a quite old one of rolling stock and reminded me of some of those familiar blue Magic Buses often peddled on the student routes of Manchester. However, this was a minor gripe as the leg room was fine, and although going at a fair pace down the motorway, it felt safe at all times, which was re-assuring. So far, so good.

Stage 3 - Return Journey

I got back on Brownlow Hill outside the Adelphi at around 1720 (the bus was due to leave 1745). However, to facilitate prompt departure, the bus driver was parked up and allowing people on, so I showed the return reservation number, and the job was done. I located a nice seat near the back of the bus downstairs. The bus looked to be the same one as the morning service, however that was fine so I wasn't too bothered. At just after 1745, off the bus headed out of Liverpool, got on to Edge Lane and then the M62, and sped down the motorway towards Manchester, and after passing Salford University and the Printworks, it was back into Manchester Piccadilly at 1840, some twenty minutes ahead of schedule. You can see why the timetables are set like they are though, as not least during the week I could imagine the routes in and out of Liverpool and Manchester to be pretty busy with traffic. However, definitely a Sunday day out would be a good plan if a few of you are planning to go, and I'm sure as well that the journey to Leeds would probably be just as efficient.

Overall Impression

So what did I think? Well, I have to say that the main fact of any service is getting from A to B speedily and safely, and certainly on both counts the service succeeded easily. Of course, it would be a worthwhile test to do a day journey during the week just to see how much traffic could effect the times and if it actually would mean late or early running, but these do to a degree seem to have been factored in the timetabling. And for the journey I did, including the booking fee, it meant a £2-50 return trip, and you don't have to return on the same day when you book either to get the same low price. Compare that to the cheap day return from Manchester on the train, which is £6-50. For the slight lack of flexibility (four buses a day maximum each way from Manchester to Liverpool might be a little bit of a bind) I feel people would be prepared to use the service, and I know I definitely would use it again. Everything from the booking to the journeys ran well enough, and for that low a price it's a bargain in the making. If you live near one of the routes, give it a go - you might be pleasantly surprised!

Warren's rating: 83%