The Megabus network extends across the UK linking major towns and cities and extends into mainland Europe
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 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 show 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 have your confirmation number sent to a mobile phone.
Doing a quick check on the website in early 2016, one-way fares to and from London for next day travel ranged between around £9 and £17 (In mid-2014 it was £12 and £18). If you look three months ahead, however, you will find many seats at just £1. There are people who post messages on Forums saying that Megabus don't really offer £1 fares. They really need to check their facts (See below).
The Megabus fleet is fairly new, with on-board toilets, seat belts, power points and wifi. Unfortunately on one journey in 2015, the toilets were in less than pristine condition. And on a journey in early 2016, the power points were not working.
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 Shudehill transport interchange (It moved from Central Coach Station on 27 April 2009). In London they arrive at Victoria Coach Station. (Previously they arrived at the Green Line terminal).
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 have plenty of space. If the power sockets are working, I can plug in my MacBook Air computer and get lots of work done (including updating this article!).
If the bus is crowded, then you don't have so much space, but the seats are of a reasonable size - bigger than most airline seats - so the trip should be comfortable.
The quality of the journey can also be affected by who you are sharing the bus with. The people who go on Megabus are a cosmopolitan bunch, with few business travellers. It's a different experience from Virgin Trains.
Nowadays the staff all seem to be very courteous and professional. In the past I heard some drivers addressing passengers as 'pal', 'sunshine' or 'mate'.
On one journey there seemed 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 services 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.
Megabus drivers appear to be well-trained and they do a good job. In that most important task of all - driving the vehicle - they all seem to be more than competent and they put safety first.
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 four and a half hours, or one some journeys, five and a half hours, it takes quite a bit longer than the train, but that's actually better for me as I love all forms of travel and 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 and to travel for £1 each way, plus the 50p booking fee, always look on the website three months ahead.
See also my review of Megabus Manchester to Glasgow
There are some reviews from the general public on the dooyou.co.uk site, but I prefer to ignore them, especially ones like this: "Megabus should be made to remove the £1 advertisement as it is in most cases not true and it misleads travellers into thinking that they are a low cost service."