Greyhound buses launch on British roads

For 95 years they have been a staple of American popular culture. Immortalised in film and song, the silver and blue livery of Greyhound buses have long been a common sight on US highways. And now they are to launch in Britain.

FirstGroup, the UK bus and train operator which bought Greyhound’s parent company two years ago, yesterday announced that the buses would start running between London and the south coast from next month.

The famous bus brand, which made its most notable appearance on the big screen in the 1969 film Midnight Cowboy, will run from the capital to Portsmouth or Southampton, with fares starting from £1 plus a 50p booking fee.

The service will launch on 14 September and will take under two hours, non-stop. Each coach will offer free Wi-Fi, power sockets for each passenger, air conditioning, complimentary newspapers and leather seats.

And, sticking with true Stars and Stripes tradition, each of the UK fleet will be given names popularised by American songs. So drivers on the M3 and M27 can look forward to overtaking Sweet Caroline or Peggy Sue.

FirstGroup’s chief executive Sir Moir Lockhead unveiled the buses in London yesterday. He said that the company planned to introduce other destinations in 2010. He said: “For 95 years Greyhound has been an icon of American life carrying millions of people across the USA and Canada.

“Since FirstGroup took over Greyhound in 2007, we have hoped to bring this famous brand across the Atlantic and I am absolutely delighted to reveal the first authentic Greyhound coaches in the UK. Although built on a venerable and famous brand, these vehicles will offer the latest in customer service and comfort.”

With car ownership increasing and air travel becoming cheaper this may prove difficult. The Greyhound buses will also face competition from National Express and Megabus, both already operating services similar to those Greyhound will offer.

But Sir Moir said: “Our services will be more attractive than rival bus and train options, but we also believe that Greyhound UK’s growth will come from persuading more people to leave their cars at home and opt instead for our coaches. I am pleased to be able to say that “the Greyhound has landed” and I am confident that it will set new benchmarks for travel in Britain.”

Greyhound buses were mentioned in the 1972 Simon and Garfunkel song America in which the songsmiths sing about going to look for America on a Greyhound, while Billy Joel namechecks the Greyhound in the song New York State of Mind.

It was also the type of bus Ben and Elaine escaped in at the end of the 1967 film The Graduate. Most notably, however, the bus was immortalised in a scene

from Midnight Cowboy when Jon Voight cradles Dustin Hoffman, playing his dead companion, on a Greyhound bus and watches fields of palms go by.