Review Megabus low cost bus service Manchester London
What's the cheapest way to travel between Manchester and London? You could get a lift in a friend's car or hitchhike, but if no one is going your way, the next cheapest option is Megabus, operated by Stagecoach. The price and standard of service are very good. Please note, Megabus services now arrive at and depart from Manchester's Shudehill Interchange.
The Megabus network extends across the UK linking major towns and cities. Megabus services use Shude Hill Interchange in Manchester city centre.
For directions to Shudehill Interchange, enter postcode M4 2AF or go to Multimap
How can Megabus offer a 200 mile, four and half hour journey for less than the price of going one stop on the Tube? By using the same principle as the low cost airlines: Operating costs are kept to a minimum by the use of online booking. It's also possible to book by phone or use an agent.
Megabus is a ticketless service. When your booking is complete receive a confirmation number which serves as proof you have booked and paid. You give this number to the driver who ticks it off on a list and you can then get on board and take your seat. You can even have your confirmation number sent to a mobile phone.
This is truly low cost travel, because although the likes of Ryanair and easyJet may also offer rock bottom fares, passengers also have to pay departure taxes. With Megabus, all you pay is the fare plus that 50p booking fee.
Doing a quick check on the website in early May 2009, one- way fares to and from London for May and early June appear to range between five, eight and 11 pounds. However on 12 May, two friends of mine went on a day trip from Manchester to London and back for a total of £4. They told me they booked a few weeks in advance. They left their car at the Shudehill Transport Interchange car park, cost £13.40.
You might think that a low-budget, no-frills operator uses battered second-hand crates with rocky suspension and threadbare seats. This is not so. The Megabus fleet is new or nearly new, with on-board toilets, seat belts and an area for wheelchair users.
They are more environmentally friendly than planes, a fact highlighted in publicity.
There were certain design flaws in the bus I travelled on in 2007, including the sloping floor at the front that caused the seats to tip forward a little. Also the door alarm kept going off, much to the driver's annoyance. I prefer the double decker Neoplan buses that used to be in service on the Manchester London route.
I've travelled on Megabus quite a few times now. Here are some points worth highlighting.
1) You must book and pay prior to travel, either by via the www.megabus.com website, by phone or through an agent. You cannot walk up and pay the driver. Drivers don't have the facilities to take payment, whether cash or credit card.
2) Make sure you know where the bus is departing from, as Megabus don't use National Express coach stations. In Manchester, the Megabus stop is at the Shude Hill transport interchange (It moved from Central Coach Station on 27 April 2009). In London they arrive at the Green Line coach terminal at the rear of the Colonnades shopping centre, Buckingham Palace Road, between Victoria Coach Station and Victoria Railway Station.
3) You can't take hot food or drink onto the coach. This is because of the risk of spillage and the effects of food odours.
4) Only one piece of luggage up to 20kg can be carried. It must be stored in the baggage area below. One smaller bag can be taken on board.
5) There are seat belts and you must wear them by law. The drivers should announce this at the start of the journey, though they don't always do this and rarely check.
So what's the standard of service like?
As with other forms of communal transport, that all depends on the number of people travelling. If there are not many passengers on the bus, you can spread out a bit more, and if you are on your own, you will have have the use of the seat next to you. When it's like this, I can rest my laptop computer on my small rucksack on the seat next to me, and get a huge amount of work done.
If the bus is crowded, then it's a different story, but the seats are of a reasonable size - bigger than most airline seats - so the trip should be comfortable. I can just about work with the laptop on my knees.
The quality of the journey can also be affected by the passengers around you. The people who travel by Megabus are a cosmopolitan bunch from many different countries. In my experience, they are fine to travel with, though they don't always speak very good English.
The attitude of the driver is an important factor, and in this respect, things can vary. Many are perfectly courteous, and are as professional in their approach as you'd find on any airline.
But some are not so courteous. I suppose it must get frustrating having to say for the umpteenth time: "You have to book on the internet. I don't accept cash. You can't travel now. I don't accept credit cards. You can phone up and make a booking". And I'm not sure if 'pal', 'sunshine' or 'mate' are acceptable ways of addressing fare-paying passengers.
It would be a very good idea if drivers had leaflets on board to give to people with all the relevant details, instead of having to write down the Megabus number on a scrap of paper.
There seems to be some lack of clarity about the intermediate stop. All Megabus services I've been on change drivers mid-journey. On one occasion, the driver getting off at Watford Gap on the M1 told the passengers in very direct language that this stop was only to change drivers and no one would be allowed off.
On another journey, we stopped at Watford Gap and the driver cheerfully invited us to take a break for 20 minutes.
The intermediate stop is a good idea as it allows people to stretch their legs, get a hot drink, or have a cigarette. It reduces pressure on the onboard toilet and breaks up the journey.
When stuck in traffic or coming up against bad driving, I've heard some drivers use some very choice English or Scottish colloquial expressions that I don't think you'd hear from a 747 captain, at least not with the public address system on. Whatever happened to the whistling coach driver of old, perfectly turned out, flower in lapel, always smiling and courteous?
I have to stress that the majority of Megabus drivers are professional and do a good job. In the most important task of all - driving the vehicle - they all seem to be more than competent.
So what's the verdict on the Megabus service between Manchester and London?
Megabus provides an extremely good service that offers unbeatable value for money. If you choose to travel at off-peak times you should have lots more space and a more pleasant trip. At 4 and a half hours, the journey is about twice as long as the train, but that's actually better for me as I can make good use of the time. To get the best fares it is essential to book at least a couple of weeks in advance.
See also my review of National Express Manchester to London
To find out more and make a booking go to the megabus website www.megabus.com or phone 0900 160 0900. Please don't contact me, I have no connection with Megabus!
Reviews of the reviews: Read this review by topsyturvy on dooyoo.co.uk. I disagree, you definitely couldn't buy a ticket on the train as cheap as Megabus, and I won't be taking my car if I want to get to Central London and back. 10 gallons of petrol £42 plus £8 congestion charge plus parking at £10 for two hours? It's a no-brainer: Megabus is the cheapest way into London from Manchester. Nevertheless topsyturvy has highlighted some important issues that need addressing, partiuclarly in relation to the intermediate stop. Take note Megabus management!
Written by Aidan O'Rourke