22 August 2009

Legging it up the M3

It was the bus industry's worst-kept secret of the summer: First has decided to force its presence in the coach market with the introduction of a new brand of coach service, Greyhound.

"Legroom like you've never seen before" is what Alex Warner, Greyhound UK's MD said about the space inside the new Greyhound coaches. It certainly sounds good.

Launched on Wednesday in central London with Tower Bridge in the background, First's Chief Executive Sir Moir Lockhead smashed the ceremonial bottle of plonk against the side of one of his Scania/Irizar PB coaches now adorned in the new Greyhound livery and wished the venture every success.

"Oh hell, not another low-cost, inter-city operator!" I hear you cry. No, not quite. For First has gone all-out to attract a different clientele from that National Express (NX) and Stagecoach's Megabus currently convey between London and Greyhound's first locations - Southampton and Portsmouth.

Using their ex-NX coaches, aged roughly four years old, additional space has been offered inside, with the removal of 8 seats, offering generous leg-room. Complimentary newspapers and WiFi is offered, too. NX had a go at offering something similar from Milton Keynes to Canary Wharf last year, though their Commuter Express was quietly dropped before Christmas due to poor loadings and cost-cutting measures.

NX continue to provide more journeys to both new Greyhound destinations, however their journey times are longer as Services 030 and 032 both take in Heathrow Airport.

Sir Moir just happened to be doing the dog run at the time....

First's ownership of the Greyhound brand is very useful to them! Around the world, it's a global brand. The Greyhound name pre-dates all of the 'big five' here in the UK - in fact add the number of years First, Arriva, Stagecoach, NEG and Go-Ahead have been trading as their current names/brands/identities and they won't add up to 95 - the length of time Greyhound has been around!

This week's CBW editorial came up with 1 song about National Express that had been released in the charts and 4 about Greyhound. It's by no means a scientific test about a brand's popularity, but I suspect you'd be hard-pressed to find many people who regularly travel by coach here in the UK who've never, ever heard of Greyhound.

Megabus take note: correct hyphen usage!

Last month we said that it has been suggested that the bus industry could do with a People's Champion - a bus equivalent of Jeremy Clarkson was put forward. Such an individual is needed to help reinvigorate the bus/coach industry's fortunes in these recessed times. Greyhound, in its own way, helps to do this.

Services commence on Monday 14 September and at the time of writing virtually all departures were offering fares from £1. The coaches - which bore very little evidence of operating NX services even when they did, have been 'attended to' by Plaxton's Anston base; they came with leather trim and toilets fitted and had operated our of First's Bristol depot, principally on NX Services 040 (London) and 201 (Heathrow & Gatwick).

A Greyhound driver from the US was flown over to assist with the launch.

Departures from London to Portsmouth are at 0900 and then hourly at xx00 until 1300 then 1445 and 1600 hourly through to 1900 and 2100. From Portsmouth to London departures are at 0600 and hourly at xx00 to 1000 then 1200 and hourly to 1600 with 1800 being the last. Journey time in both directions is 1:59.

Departures from London to Southampton are at 0845 0945 1045 1245 1415 1530 1730 1930 2130. From Southampton to London departures are at 0510 0610 0710 0910 1110 1210 1410 1610 1810. Journey time is 2:14 in both directions.

It is expected that new destinations will be added next year, with London-Oxford appearing very likely indeed. We were told at the launch that virtually any city within about 2-2.5 hours from London is being considered. Additionally, we understand that tickets will also be available from the Greyhound drivers, for immediate travel (space permitting) and that all the coaches will be given women's names from popular American songs (Peggy Sue etc).

Greyhound's UK website navigates like that offered by NXEC - easy to mix 'n' match each leg.

It does appear that a concerted effort by First is being made to genuinely attract a new passenger base, rather than tussle with NX and Megabus for patronage. So long as they don't 'do a Megabus' and deputise their coaches with double-decker buses when the going gets tough, I'm sure they'll do well. If faced with all three operators offering fares at £1, I'd not hesitate in choosing Greyhound on account of its additional legroom, WiFi and complimentary papers. Come 14 September we'll see if others do the same. (GL)

Greyhound's website
(which appears to be produced by the excellent Flow Interactive)
How Greyhound evolved over the past 95 years
A short video of the launch