What You Can Get Away With » national express

I know that some of my readers in Colchester and Essex are commuters, suffering the joys of dealing with National Express East Anglia (NXEA) on a regular basis. I’m not a regular commuter any more – though whenever I do travel to London now, I notice just how much worse it is than when I used to do it regularly for work – but those of you who are may find the @NXEAfail Twitter account somewhat useful as a cathartic way to vent your rage the next time you’re stuck for ages with no explanation as to why, or forced to take a bewildering array of tubes, buses and trains because of engineering works.

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Obviously it’s a travel day today. I’ve been using National Express on the East Coast a lot recently, and while I have issues with some of their services, it’s at least better than this vision provided by Simon Hoggart in today’s Guardian:

A witty reader (he’s not sent his name, fearing legal reprisals) sends in a wonderful fantasy in which Michael O’Leary of Ryanair buys our east coast railway and runs it like his airline. The ticket prices will look like amazing bargains, say London to Edinburgh for £1.

“But these principles will apply: fee of £5 for internet booking, £5 for timetable inquiries, £5 for credit card payments, £20 for clicking the OK – pay button, admission charge to station, charge for compulsory on-board ticket inspection, £5 alighting fee, £10 penalty for not pre-ordering £5 alighting fee, and that’s before we’ve started on the baggage charges and the £10 for those mini-carrier bags from the buffet if you want to get back to your seat (£7.50 compulsory reservation charge) without spilling coffee all over you. The company dismissed the £1 blowing-your-own-nose fee as pure speculation.”

Of course, the universe makes fools of us jokers, with any joke about Ryanair soon being fulfilled by Michael O’Leary’s relentless drive for profit and publicity. I used to joke about them making an extra charge for seats, for example. So, while jokes about Ryanrail may seem funny now, imagine just what horrors O’Leary could inflict on rail passengers by combining his ability to slap a price on everything with the petty bureaucracy and officialdom that has been part of the culture of British rail since, well, British Rail.

‘You may well have a ticket for that train, sir, but you’ve yet to pay your gate transit and platform access fees, and while it might be the last train home tonight, it’d be more than my job’s worth to let you get on it.’

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Amongst the Guardian letters today, Godfrey Eland wonders:

Having carefully read about Greyhound buses coming to the UK (Report, 20 August), I am at a loss to understand how these buses will be any different from National Express, Megabus or any other of the existing services on our motorways. Can someone enlighten me as to what all the fuss is about?

The fuss, of course, is quite simple to explain. Whil your average travel journalist would never think of travelling anywhere by coach in Europe – after all, why slum it with the plebs for days on end when you can just hop on an EasyJet to your destination? – they’re quite likely to have taken at least one journey in the US on a Greyhound coach, possibly going between Los Angeles and Las Vegas whilst wearing a trucker-style baseball cap in an ironic fashion. They’ll have hundreds ofways of telling the story about the slightly strange man who sat near them at the bus station, but they’d probably look at you blankly if you asked them where you get a bus from in this country.

Meanwhile, of course, their American counterparts – who’d never take a Greyhound, especially when you can fly so cheaply with Southwest – are no doubt lamenting just why they can’t have those cool National Express coaches over there.

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