Saturday 15 November 2014

More Miserable Than Mega

It is unfortunate that if you have a name that includes the word "Mega" you are rather leaving yourselves open for that word to be turned against you at every possible opportunity should things not go so well. However I will not sink to that level but suffice it to say that last weekend wasn't Megabus's finest hour in the travelling career of yours truly. I'll be interspersing this post with pics I took in Newcastle which has a great mix of vehicles.

If you have read the excellent "London Travels" post - if you haven't click here - you will know that I had made my way up to London from Kent and arrived at Victoria Coach Station in plenty of time for my coach up to Newcastle. One of my favourite Volvo B11R Plaxton Elite Interdecks turned up, I bagged my favourite seat at the front upstairs,  got the WiFi connected, phone charger plugged in and settled down for the long journey north. Very long as it turned out. To get from Victoria to the M1 is quite sinple really. Up Park Lane, round Marble Arch, straight up Edgware Rd to Brent Cross and away you go. Not on this trip though. The traffic was a little sticky, but then you expect that leaving at teatime in London, but our driver for reasons only known to himself turned left at Marble Arch down Bayswater Rd towards Shepherds Bush. That is not heading towards the M1. Neither is going through Bayswater, Notting Hill and the Hangar Lane Gyratory System and ending up on the A40.

Actually that makes it sound simple. It was nose to tail all the way from Shepherds Bush to the North Circular where it meets the A40 at Hangar Lane. Instead of taking around 30 mins to get from Victoria to the M1 it took two hours. All avoidable.

Go NorthEast 6046 Volvo B9tl NK12 GCX in Percy St Bus Station. The TyneTees Express runs between Newcastle and Middlesbrough
It was about an hour into this mystery tour of North West London that two very loud voices started to break the silence. Raucous, broad Yorkshire voices that the entire coach could hear. Shouting, laughing to excess and swearing - seriously swearing - non stop. I thought it was a couple of passengers that hopefully would fall asleep before long and let us travel in peace. It took a few minutes before it dawned on me that one of these voices was the driver's. As the realisation of that went around the coach there were serious mutterings of discontent. Anyone can take a wrong turn but the language and general deportment of this driver was highly unprofessional and I imagiine Megabus had quite a few complaints about that part of the journey. I tweeted Megabus and they rapidly refunded the £1 I'd paid for the trip! I didn't tweet to get a refund - obviously - but it only takes one driver like that and a reputation can seriously suffer.

Arriva 4661 Scania Omnilink NK07 FZD. I did notice it had extremely comfortable seats - Anglian please take note!

We changed drivers at Wooley Edge services running just over 90 mins late. The new driver who took over couldn't have been more apologetic for the late running and we all thought that was that and we'd start making progress. I rang ahead to Newcastle and booked my taxi to the hotel. No sooner had I put the phone down than I realised that yes, I was indeed going to break the world record for most number of tail lights seen on a single journey. The M1 was shut for roadworks between junctions 41-42 and it took us an hour and a quarter to get off it. In the end we arrived at Newcastle 3 hours late. That, combined with the foul weather the next morning is the reason I never made it to Alpha Recovery as planned. Next time maybe.

Another Go NorthEast Gemini, this time 6069 Volvo B9tl NK62 CZA in angel livery operating the 21 between Newcastle and Durham

 After a really good couple of days in Newcastle we caught the train up to Edinburgh for dinner. My first journey on a Voyager for many years and despite it being packed I was still able to appreciate how smooth, quiet and fast they are. Our train had started its journey at Plymouth 7 hours earlier and was carrying on to Glasgow. It was bang on time. After a brilliant dinner at Cosmo (check it out) it was time to get on the Megabus sleeper coach to London. I'd been looking forward to this as the website proclaims a seat and a bunk, and it seemed the perfect way to travel back down to Blighty.

Yet another Gemini this time Go NorthEasst 3942 Volvo B7tl NK05 GZP on a local service to Low Proudhoe

I was greeted with a bottle of water and a muffin but when I looked for my seat I was informed that usually there were seats but as they were fully booked all the seats had been converted to bunks. I was shown to mine. Upstairs at the back virtually on the floor. No room to sit up, no storage space, the pillow was a joke - a very small and thin joke - and the bunk was made from a converted seat with a nice big gap right where my shoulder was going to rest. At 2245 we were told to lie down, strap ourselves in and basically go to sleep until we were woken in London the next morning. There were no windows to look out of and getting out of Edinburgh was pretty jerky. As we left Edinburgh the WiFi crashed, never to return.

Megabus 50302 Van Hool SF13 FMD at St Andrew's Bus Station Edinburgh

It was one of the longest nights of my life. Sleep was virtualy impossible. I imagine there are more comfortable prison vans in circulation and had we been sheep there would have been animal rights activists protesting outside the bus station. I got my ticket cheap because I boked the minute the journey was available. There were others who had paid £60 - 70 for the trip and Lord knows what they thought. It was nothing short of horrendous and a real disappointment. However we got to London on time and rather miraculously the same vehicle had been cleaned, converted back to all seater and within 35 mins was operating the 0730 Gold service to Cardiff. I would happily travel on the Gold service but never, ever again will I travel on the sleeper unless I am guaranteed a top bunk AND a seat.

Despite all the above I am still a huge fan of Megabus. They have opened up the country to a lot of people who otherwise wouldn't be able to travel, myself being one of them, and this is the first negative experience I have suffered with them. I should say at this point that the coach back to Norwich was just wonderful - comfy seats, lots of leg room and a decent driver. I rather like those Freestones Irizar Scanias. What Megabus need to do, however, is do exactly what it says on the tin, and not hide clauses about seats being taken out in the small print. It feels like a bit of a con when that happens, especially when the website continues to show happy night travellers in their comfy leather seat before retiring for the night to their spacious bunk.

Look out for a special on the Newcastle Metro coming soon.

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