In a journal entry I wrote a couple of years ago about bus travel in Turkey, I commented that in most countries there is mode of transport that usually trumps most others. In Turkey, this was bus transport – the system there is excellent and covers the whole country. I also used the example of Korea where there are very few train lines and a high-speed bus network connects the country’s major cities. I also cited China where the train is king and bus transport is rather hit and miss, and can be dirty and uncomfortable.
The UK is a little different. The rail network is probably the most extensive in the world (for a country of its size at least) and there is a huge road system that is covered by many bus lines. However, the problem with both of these transport infrastructures is that neither of them really lives up to their billing and rarely offer the type of service that you would expect in a developed nation: Prices are high, delays are long and problems are frequent. When my girlfriend and I decided to travel from Sheffield to London, we decided to hedge our bets and opt for the train to get there and the bus to get back. Which one, we wondered, would be the best option?
Both of them were relatively easy to book. We were able to reserve tickets on both online. However, the first major difference we encountered was the price. Train tickets were expensive. We wanted to go in the morning, but at rush hour, we were quoted prices that reached up to 100GBP. So, we had to opt for a service at 9h30 that arrived in London just after noon. There is also a service known as ‘Megatrain’, which offers heavily discounted tickets (they can cost as little as 15GBP each), but these are usually at less crowded times. The bus, on the other hand, cost just 5GBP each with Megabus (the same company as Megatrain.
It is a well-used cliché in England that train services are often delayed (usually for bizarre reasons such as leaves on the rails) or cancelled without warning. However, we encountered no such problems. Our train left and arrived on time with the minimum of fuss. We were able to take our reserved seats without a problem and arrived in London feeling ready for our city-break.
Megabus was not so smooth. We departed from Victoria bus station, which was a harrowing experience. The station was huge, but immensely crowded. This made it difficult to locate our gate and to navigate our way there. The terminal is also not air-conditioned, which left me rather sweaty and grumpy by the time we got to the gate from which our bus was set to depart. Upon arrival, we found that the bus would be delayed by ten minutes, which annoyed me even further. At that point, we began to think that we would have been better taking the train. However, once we actually got on the bus, things changed. The journey was smooth, fast and efficient – we pulled into Sheffield two minutes ahead of schedule.
The two forms of British transport both seemed to have their benefits. The train is faster, it is a little more comfortable and certainly more efficient. The bus, though, is cheaper. For those looking to economize, the disparity between the price and service is certainly not too great.