/ Travel & Leisure

I’ve been bedazzled by better buses

Bus on road

Buses often play second fiddle to train travel in the UK, but they can still be a great way to see the world. It would be nice if our buses were a bit fancier, of course.

I have a confession to make. I enjoy travelling on buses.

Over the years, bus travel has garnered a certain reputation for being a bit rubbish. Stereotypes of bus passengers include little old ladies with their shopping trolleys and eccentric people muttering to themselves.

I don’t think that’s very fair. I’ve travelled a lot in buses and coaches in the UK and Europe and I’ve found bus travel to be much more interesting than its supposedly glamorous counterpart, train travel.

When you’re on a bus, you get to see lots more of the place you’re travelling through. Trains take you past all the interesting bits, while buses take you right into the heart of towns and cities. It may be a slower way to get from A to B, but I much prefer it.

One word I would never use to describe bus travel in the UK, however, is luxurious. From local buses to inter-city coaches, seats are often cramped and there is no real customer service beyond taking your money and giving you a ticket.

Spoilt by luxury – Britain’s buses don’t compare

Up until my recent trip to Argentina, I could live with the less-than-fancy conditions on UK buses. But now, I have been spoilt. Train travel in much of Argentina is limited, so this transport gap is filled with long-distance buses run by a variety of competing companies.

Now, these buses are pretty special. Passengers can choose from three classes, but even the lowest priced option offers more comfort and luxury than anything I’ve experienced in Britain.

On one 20 hour journey between Bariloche and Buenos Aires, I travelled on a medium-priced bus. My reclining seat was miles from the ones in front and behind, giving me plenty of space to stretch out. I was so comfortable that I was able to get a full night’s sleep, ready for a day of adventures in Buenos Aires.

During the journey I was served an afternoon snack, a hot dinner with wine, and a large breakfast, not to mention frequent offerings of tea and coffee. I even heard rumours of whisky and champagne being offered to passengers after the evening film had finished, but I was already asleep.

After experiencing such luxury for very reasonable prices, I think I’m really going to struggle to enjoy British buses as much as I used to. Please can we have buses like this to travel to Scotland and mainland Europe? I think I would use them every week.

richard says:
10 February 2013

I will not travel any distance at all unless the Bus has a toilet – many have not.

At least the buses round here run on time (when there are any), but the trains are rubbish, there’s nearly always a problem somewhere between Hereford and Paddingon.
Trouble is it takes over 3 hours to east London (formerly Essex) and then you can’t park outside your relatives door without a special pass. If you go to the shops for her you need yet another special pass.
The London buses mostly don’t give elderly people time to sit down, and there have been more than a few examples of them falling and getting hurt.
So much for modern transport !.

The luxury I would like on buses is not having to listen to people nearby jabbering on their phones and playing music.

Peter says:
10 February 2013

Hear, hear…………… Or perhaps better not!

Once from Royal Courts of Justice at the Strand all the
way to Paddingtion station in a fully crowded double-decker, was
obliged to listen to two ladies of a certain age jabbering away to
hearts’ content (not mine) memories of a trip to California.

My bike has a new lease of life, about time too…. am pleased
to say considering inconveniences (?) I have to put up on public
transport willy nilly OR is it harmless banter?

I have been to Argentina twice in the past 3 years and I am going there again next week. Argentina is becoming more like a third world country with may slums as the months go by. Their public transport and road safety record is not very good compared with Europe which includes the UK. I have decided to go to Puerto Madryn and Ushuaia by ship rather than take the risk with my life on their roads. Am dreading my trip from the airport to Buenos Aires city centre. Last bus I took had a broken windscreen.and no seatbelts.

Sorry, should be twice in the past 5 years.

Coaches in South America were much better than here. They also showed lots of films (usually English language pirates with Spanish subtitles) to keep us occupied on all classes of travel.
Like you I took the bus from Bariloche to Buenos Aires, though this was when sterling was still worth something so I went first class.

Never in this country have I had a fully reclining leather seat with dinner-suited steward hovering in the aisle on hand with steak and champagne like I did there, but it is something I’d be more than willing to repeat!

On the other end of the scale I caught coaches so crowded in Bolivia that people sat in the footwells, or was else stuck in a coach where the local aroma was, erm, heady.

Well the statistics speak for themselves:- http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2012/jul/24/latin-america-traffic-cars-roads

By comparison the death rate in the UK is 4 per 100,000 and falling whilst in South America it’s rising. Interestingly one major factor is considered to be the lack of statutory rest periods for public service (bus) drivers.

The sort of service and comfort levels described could only be provided in this country at a premium but who’s going to pay the extra to ride a slow (65 mph) bus when they could spend the money on a much faster train or even fly? It might work in the South America so beloved of Which? correspondents where there is no real competition from air or rail but not here. Why would anyone choose to spend eight and half hours getting from London to Edinburgh by bus if they could afford to use the train which does the journey in half the time?

The last long distance bus journey I took in the UK was an hour and a half late because of an overturned lorry and we were jerked backwards and forwards in stop-start traffic on the M25 for most of the journey. Sorry but whilst there is faster competition in this country bus travel is going to be for those that can’t afford to travel any other way.

Oh and the toilet on that bus had overflowed too. Quite disgusting.

That’s bad but I found the USA far worse. No seat reservations available on Greyhound, you had to turn up and queue. My coach was 2 hours late with no information, and had I not got there early would not have got a seat and so catch my flight. On the way the driver announced that as we were so late he was going to make additional stops (no, I didn’t get the logic of that either), diverting into another state!

The railways weren’t much better – suitcases had weight restrictions like a plane, and as I didn’t have my passport with me I couldn’t book a ticket. No wonder the car is king over there.

Saying that I have had some good coaches over here – I caught (a very long) coach from London to Edinburgh for £1.50 which for me trumped the train. The Oxford Tube is the best coach I have caught over here, beating the train on price and convenience.

Barry Gee says:
14 February 2013

As a life-long bus user, I came across this conversation by accident but with a sense of pleasant surprise, as my one beef with Which? over the years – decades – I’ve been subscribing is that it gives so much space to cars, an occasional page or two to railways but, until now, seemingly nothing to buses. Yet there are far more trips each day in the UK made by bus than rail, and in London and other large cities, the fact that so many people are willing – or obliged – to travel together in one vehicle instead of wasting road space in a car is helping to stave off total gridlock. And of course buses play an important social role in offering a means of getting about to those who can’t afford a car and/or don’t drive for reasons of age, disability, or whatever.

Positive advantages of this method of travel include greater safety, a better view of the scenery (even from a single-decker), the ability to read or even do some work on the journey, not having to worry about parking or having a glass of something with your meal while you’re out. And these days, in many places including London you can use your mobile phone (smart or just text) to find out when the next bus will reach your stop, so saving you having to hang around there aimlessly.

I’m of course talking here not about long-distance but about the ordinary service buses. On the whole people don’t make very long trips on these, so I don’t think we can expect too much in the way of luxury. More personal space, for instance, would mean more vehicles required to carry all the people wanting to travel and hence, inevitably, to higher fares. Even so, British bus upholstery is more comfortable than that in certain other countries of my experience.

Perhaps your comment will result in a Conversation about local bus services, since this one focuses on long distance coach operations. Though I drive more than I use buses and trains, I do think there is more need for discussion of public transport than expensive cars.