Wednesday 26 March 2014

Mysterious [+] Missing [-] Megabus [+] : part 3

Being, effectively, "Isn't Technology Wonderful [4]"
   Correction : all Megabuses scheduled to call at Exeter Airport   

fbb has been investigating a clutch of new MegabusPlus services centered on Honiton and, possibly, designed as a temporary contribution to train travellers beset by the on-going woes of high seas, flooding and the consequent repairs. "Investigating" is the wrong word; "trying to investigate" is better.

See "Mysterious [+] Missing [-] Megabus [+] : part 1" (read again)
See "Mysterious [+] Missing [-] Megabus [+] : part 2" (read again)

Faced with an unfathomable web site and a useless Customer Service department, your chubby author has made his way to Honiton Station to watch the happenings. Only there haven't been any. Possible departures at 1015 and 1020 have failed to materialise and at 1045, fbb has returned to the lovely little station cafe to indulge in a late second breakfast / early lunch.
Fresh bread roll, bacon and sausage : £3.50 : delicious!


The proprietrix did confirm, however, that Megabuses did exist, sometimes three at a time and always carrying no passengers. Look out, she ventured, for the little people carrier.
People Carrier, thinks fbb; that doesn't sound like an air conditioned double deck coach as promised in the Megabus press release. Maybe, thinks fbb, the caff lady has got it wrong. Anyway, the next possible Mega movements (according to a local enthusiast) were as follows:-

1130 arrival from Plymouth
1130 arrival from Penzance
1140 departure for Bude
1140 departure for Plymouth

Plenty to observe? But there were 45 minutes to enjoy breakfast/brunch/lunch and read the morning paper, so fbb returned to his seat at the bus stop, noting the lavish publicity for Megabus.
Yep, that's it. No times, no printed material in the racks in the waiting room; nothing else, except one small publicity sticker.
Bus travel all around the UK; but not, alas, from Honiton - so far. But wait! What is this that has crept in while fbb was buying his butterless butty?
Was this really a Megabus double deck coach shrunken in too hot a wash? There was a label in the windscreen ...
... lavish in its route information. The helpful lady driver informed fbb that she had come from Bodmin with one passenger. "It should have been three, but I had two no-shows", she said without emotion. As fbb finished his substantial snack, the parked Hamilton Gray coach roared into life ...
"Where are you going now?" asked el chubbo, to both. "I'm going home," replied People Carrier personage, "So am I," added big coach driver, "I'm not needed." And they both prepared to set off, empty and unloved. Their departure was impeded, however by the arrival of the 1128 service 52B to Sidmouth and Exeter, followed, hot on its rear end by another coach.
The third driver told me that he had come from "Torquay and lots of other places" and had carried zero passengers. He also explained that he was going back to Exeter.

The 52B departed at its alloted time leaving Hamilton Grey, Mid Devon Coaches and the anonymous minibus to skulk away still empty and still unloved at around 1140. Three vehicles, three drivers and just one incoming passenger. Not a particularly encouraging business plan, is it?

There is a spooky end to his sad and sorry tale. The day after this disappointing expedition, fbb and Mrs were scheduled to go via train and coach to Newton Abbot, there to meet up with a (very) senior bus company boss for tea and buns. At 1630 they boarded their return coach to Exeter and, lo and behold, it was the Mid Devon Coaches vehicle and its driver who had appeared (and disappeared), passenger-less, at Honiton.

arrival at Exeter : Saturday 22nd March
It's a small (coaching) world. This time, running for First Great Western, he carried 25 passengers.

What do we conclude from fbb's brief period of observation?

1. The Megabus web site is appalling

2. The Megabus customer service service is appalling

3. Megabus publicity for the Honiton Hub is appalling

4. Perhaps Stagecoach don't want passengers.

blog comment "held over" from Monday

5. Inconsistently, Megabus sometimes doesn't run at all

P.S. Is item 5 in fbb's conclusions list legal? A service from Honiton to Cullompton and Tiverton would need to be registered as a local bus and failure to operate it, empty or otherwise, would fall foul of the law. Is that why no journeys can be found for this leg? Is that why no bookable journeys exist to or from Honiton; every passenger is expected to arrive/depart by train.

Whilst several blog readers have jumped to the defence of Megabus, fbb feels that the whole Honiton project is a disaaaster darling. Whether that is intentional or simple incompetence is open to further debate!

It is in item 4 that we may have our explanation. First Bus has organised up to 200 coaches to cover flood disruption. National Express has doubled its capacity to the far west, so the company claims.

National Express is today (Tuesday, 11 February) pledging to meet any extra demand for its services in the South West as the rail disruption looks likely to remain for weeks to come. New express services will reach London in as little as four hours - quicker than the rail replacement alternatives.

The national coach operator is pledging to keep adding capacity and its standard fares in place for as long as necessary, ensuring everyone who wants to travel can still do so.

Since the disruption began last Wednesday (5 February)
Plymouth to London: advance bookings have increased by 100%
Plymouth to Bristol: advance bookings have increased by 200%
The five new services provide 20,000 extra seats on
  Plymouth to London services between now and 23 March 2014

Presumably, Stagecoach has been under some political (or even Political, large "P") pressure to help with flood relief. "I know," says Mr Robert (formerly Bob) Montgomery, Stagecoach boss ...
... "we'll run some Megabuses ftom Honiton." "But," he thinks, under his breath (can you think under your breath?), "we won't try very hard, then we can withdraw them once things get back to normal."

Cynical, moi?

 Next bus blog : Thursday 27th March 


  1. Cynical? Vous? Oui!! (CSE Grade 4 French from 1973!)

    Still a tad harsh, fbb. Uncle Brian has said on numerous occasions that he is keen for subsidiaries to trial new ideas, and even if they fall flat, he'll still bankroll them (provided the concept is sound).

    The whole concept of MegaBusTrain in this case is extending your journey by coach where the train doesn't go. Nothing wrong with the concept, and I really don't think that a printed timetable would have saved the network at all. If it had been possible to include MegaBusTrain on the National Rail website, then perhaps prospective passengers would have been able to find more details. As it is, a passenger looking for London-Bude (for example) will be directed to rail London-Exeter and then X9 (or whatever it is this week). London-Cornwall? Same - Exeter by train; Plymouth by coach and continue by train.

    A worthy experiment, but probably doomed to failure.
    (out of interest, does the London-Lincoln offering still exist? {Connections at East Midland Parkway between bus and train}. It appears it may not, so another idea has bitten the dust). Still, nothing ventured . . . . . . !

  2. The original megabusplus from East Midlands Parkway does still exist but has never served Lincoln. It goes to the likes of Hull, Bradford and York.

  3. A reasonable opinion Greenline. But my beef is not that there is no printed timetable but that there is NO timetable at all anywhere. I would have liked a ride to Bude but I still "officially" have no idea when I can go, when I can come back or IF I can go from Honiton at all. The total lack of "proper" Megabus branded vehicles, the lack of even a stick-on label on all but one of the observed vehicles, suggests that the fbb cynicism is well founded! The whole thing is an amateurish, half-hearted effort and does no credit to the Stagecoach or Megabus brands.

  4. If they do not sell separate fares on the bus, there is no need to register it at all, distance regardless.

  5. I am uneasy with your reply Anonymous. I was taught that ANY service below the designated distance between stops, even a free service, required a local service registration. But that was at about the same time the wheel was invented; I defer to your more recent knowledge.

  6. Free services don't have to be registered (and haven't in the decade I have worked as a scheduler in the industry) as the definition of a local bus service is that passengers travel at separate fares and a free service doesn't have fares. The other major requirement is that passengers can board an alight at stops less than 15 miles apart, by not allowing local travel and not selling tickets from Honiton for travel on the coach then passengers are not able to travel between stops less than 15 miles apart so it does not have to be registered, that one is a little less clear but I presume Stagecoach know what they are doing and have got correct guidance on what counts as what.

  7. This has the makings of a good idea but will need time to bed in. The fact that the services now call at Exeter International Airport suggests that they may last beyond the re-opening of the railway at Dawlish. However, how to people find out about the services? I've not seen anything advertised around Exeter but it would seem that Exeter is not the target market. I think that the whole thing may suffer because SWT is not seen as the natural route to the west country. People would expect to use FGW. There is nothing on the SWT website about Megabusplus. The Megabus website has a set of 5 scrolling banner headlines, one of which relates to MegabusPlus in the south west. Clicking on it brings up the Megabusplus page with details of services to East Midlands Parkway. After some more playing about, I found that by using the journey planner to start from the outer end of each route for a journey to London a rudimentary timetable was produced showing intermediate timings. I know that bus timetable geeks like fbb and me perhaps want more info than the average passenger but I do feel that megabus succeeds despite its website, not because of it. I cannot see what is wrong with with offering details of where Megabus runs (and when) in a concise tabular form to give prospective customers an overview of what is available. They may even see journey possibilities they had not thought of.

    It's a shame it's all so difficult to use as the concept of dedicated coaches linking with trains is a good one and it may be all we will have in the south west one day as it is unlikely money will be found to either completely rebuild the coastal railway when it is eventually totally destroyed by the sea or build an inland alternative. However, Tiverton Parkway would be a better interchange point than Honiton.

  8. The option of a service direct from Plymouth, and other points across Devon and Cornwall, to Exeter Airport does have potential. Although the FlyBe services from Exeter have been rationalized in recent years.