Friday, 5 February 2016

South West Falcon Compared ...

... with Megabus, CrossCountry and National Express.
The Falcon service runs approximately hourly from 0500 (with somewhat earlier departures on Mondays to Fridays to compensate for traffic conditions) until 1500 then 1615, 1730, 1830, 2030, 2200, 2330, 0130 and 0330 seven days a week. It is a truly impressive schedule and a very "courageous" step into a new market for Uncle Brian Souter's innovative team.

What is more impressive is to compare it with what is available at the moment. 

Train is much, much faster; with Deutsche Bahn (CrossCountry) ...
... also offering an hourly service ...
... taking a tad over two hours. For travel time there is no comparison; but when fares are part of the equation ...  We shall look at fares below.

Then we look at National Express.
NatEx is a bit "all things to all men/women" offering a variety of stops between Plymouth and Bristol. fbb has extracted the timetable from a typically complex leaflet.
There are five journeys each day between Plymouth and Bristol ...
... with additional trips via Exeter and further east.

The final competitor for Stagecoach South West is ... Stagecoach South West ...

... in the form of Megabus.
Again, we are offered five journeys.

This time, South West Falcon beats the other hands down; although running time is often a little longer (but not much!) helped by NOT running into central locations except at Plymouth and Bristol.
What about fares?

Although Megabus used to focus on a very cheap "from" fare of £1.50, journeys on 15th February are offered at £11 single and on 15th March at £8. Book well ahead and you will get the cheapest offers.

National Express also offers "selective pricing", a fashion whereby you can never know what your fare will be until you are ready to make a booking. Plymouth Bristol SINGLE fares are on offer between £10 and £18 depending on date and time. An open return is £42.

Single fares on the train are much much higher. An off peak single is £39.70 with "Advance" singles (and VERY restricted) for February 15th showing as £27.90. Off peak returns are £56.50.

South West Falcon is offering this fare table.
Plymouth Bristol shows as £22 single but £25 return. 

Trying to evaluate all this is very difficult; but it would appear that the best bet by far is a return on South West Falcon if there are no worries about a longer journey time. It also offers total flexibility, although the web site does not explain how long a validity is available on returns.

If you want cheap singles, but with less options, Megabus can save you money, but so can National Express if you opt for journey specific fares. But you are always restricted to your chosen schedule.

If you choose rail for speed, you have to pay for it.

What about comfort? Falcon and CrossCountry ALL have on board toilets; National Express say that "the majority" have loos. Only Cross Country has refreshments on board. From the pictures already published, it looks as of Falcon has better seats than the rather poky ambiance of a CrossCountry voyager.
CrossCounntry's stations in Plymouth and Bristol are less convenient for the city centres than the coach terminals.

In the end personal preference is the decision-making determinant.

And more Falcon stops? The timetable leaflet (from which the extract is presumably taken) add extra stops to the list already published.  

coaches only stop at places shown in the timetable and these extra stops
Astor Field in Plymouth
any stop between Brent Knoll, Fox & Goose and Bristol Airport
Bridgwater Road, Ashton Gate and Bristol Waterfront in Bristol

We are also told ...

Falcon is an express coach link for long distance journeys, local journeys cannot be made.

And there is this mysterious note ...

A through ticket must be bought on boarding for the full length of your journey. If you wish to split your journey into sections you must disembark and catch a later coach.

fbb cannot work out what that means. Why would anyone want to disembark and then catch the same coach. To have a fag? To buy a snack? The latter would be impossible at any one of the intermediate stops anyway. fbb wonders whether there is something lurking in the cunning brain of Stagecoach-management-man that is keeping options open for doing something "weird" with fares.

Any ideas out there?

But we are sill NOT told what "local journeys" are.

Falcon is an express coach link for long distance journeys, local journeys cannot be made.

Can you ride from Bristol Airport to Bristol centre? Can you ride from Exeter or Taunton to Cullompton? Can you ride (if you dare!) from Drumbridges roundabout to Brent Knoll?

A prediction. Assuming Stagecoach can negotiate a reasonable OAP rate, fbb expects the service to be eventually registered as a bus route so you can make local journeys and Uncle Brian can get back his Fuel Duty Rebate or whatever it might be called today.

But, whichever way you look at it, The Falcon is a superb bargain for the first two weeks and a jolly good deal thereafter. fbb is still excited.

On Sunday the next batch of emergency timetable changes are introduced in Sheffield. First Bus has a list ...
... including thee above and a few others. Sadly (and no surprise) First's web site makes nary a mention of the actual timetables.

Stagecoach keeps it more general, plus a few specific notes where other changes are being introduced.

Timetable changes on services
1, 7, 25, 52, 83a, 86, 88, 120 and SL2
are being made to improve punctuality and reliability.

And, whippity dooh dah, the new timetables are available to download.

You have to watch your step and new and old are intermingled; it is esy to grab the wrong page.

These changes are timetable tweaks "to improve reliability", having, in some cases, already tweaked to improve reliability in January. Will this be a monthly event? When might we expect stability?

Our Sheffield spy (John) is also out looking for printed timetables.

John suggests that we don't hold our breath!

Well ... if you don't tell the passengers when the buses run, they probably won't travel. Thus it will be much easier to run to time. Problem solved?

 Next electric blog : Saturday 6th February 


  1. Something "weird" with fares is already happening!

    Plymouth - Bristol is £22 single, but only £13.80 by splitting at Taunton.

    So, no travelling through on split tickets!

    1. And that's exactly the point!!

      In the interests of encouraging "intermediate" journeys, local (and cheaper) fares may be offered. However, through passengers may not take advantage of lots of local fares adding up to less than a through fare (unlike the railways, who do permit such shenanigans, and I take full advantage when they're available!!).

      Remember, all that matters is that each seat has at least one bum on it throughout the journey. If one bum travels from Plymouth to Taunton, and another bum from Taunton to Bristol, the result is still happiness for Uncle Brian.

      I'll be intrigued to see how fbb gets on, but one word of caution .... the first two weeks will be full of hiccups as drivers get to grips with something very new for them .... no amount of training can prepare for Joe Public!! Is that why the launch is relatively "soft" so far?

  2. Silly me - I didn't spot that one. Thanks Stuart

  3. I refer the honourable gentleman (FBB) to my comment at 0844 on the blog of Tuesday 2 February 2016!!

  4. As regards to local journeys it is an odd one as we know the 15 mile rule however this is problematic due to the addition of stops around Brent Knoll etc.
    The way around the concession issue is to get the LTAs to regard it as a 'Premium Service' which means it can be registered with TC but not accept passes - see what Nottingham CC are about to do with the Red Arrow.

  5. The information on the pick up point at Taunton has been discussed and even the latest description seemed a bit vague so I email Stagecoach and within 10 minutes got a pdf showing the exact location of all the stops on the route. Excellent service. Hope the weather is kinder next week for my day out in Plymouth.

  6. I emailed Stagecoach to find out how long a South West Falcon return is valid for, it's 28 days.