Simon Calder: In search of Britain's most exclusive bus

The man who pays his way

There it is, right near the end of the Milton Keynes Travel Guide: the rarest bus in Britain. Not once a week, nor once a month; bus W13 runs on Tuesdays. But not every Tuesday – indeed, hardly any of them. The 12.45pm departure from Central Milton Keynes to Southill (with further calls on request to Broom, Henlow and Stondon) operates on the "Fifth Tuesday of applicable months".

This year the bus is scheduled on 29 March, 31 May, 30 August and 29 November. "No service on other days," warns the timetable. Only a footnote reading "every 29 Feb", "Once in a Blue Moon" or "When Hell Freezes Over (bank holidays excepted)" could confer a bus with more rarity value.

To enjoy the most exclusive transportational treat in the nation, all I needed do was to reach Central Milton Keynes by 12.45pm. Before that, though, I wanted a day of bus superlatives.

My trip began at Britain's swishest bus stop: the lobby of London's Hilton Metropole, an executive lounge for the bus world. But it did not start well.

Every morning at around 9am, a well-dressed bunch of visitors (last Tuesday, from Russia, Japan, the Middle East and India) sit and wait in the deep, comfortable seats close to the concierge's desk in the Hilton Metropole. Each has a ticket for the once-a-day service to Bicester Shopping Village in Oxfordshire. When I walked in, a helpful concierge enquired as to my business. "I'm here for the Bicester Shopping Experience."

"Bicester Shopping Experience," he called out to the assembled travellers, and indicated they should follow me – until I explained that, despite appearances, I was not actually the bus driver, but a fellow passenger.

Five minutes later, the real thing turned up – and I had to admit that I looked more like a bus driver than the charcoal-suited, red-tied and designer-sunglassed Abda Hassan. Six days a week, he drives the Bicester Shopping Village Express. It is Britain's premium-economy bus service. A £14 one-way ticket buys you 80 comfortable minutes on the ride to the Oxfordshire shopping centre aboard a Volvo coach. After 20 minutes you shrug off London and race into the green hills of Buckinghamshire; at 50 minutes, the motorway carves through the last of the Chiltern chalk and descends into a green, pleasant landscape. Bicester Shopping Village is not quite a match for the average Cotswold hamlet, but the number of people prepared to surrender a fine spring day to spend time and money in designer stores shows it meets a need. With more time, I might have shrugged off my bus-driver look.

Despite a skirmish with the timetable for the connecting X5 bus (the schedule on the stop turned out to be for an entirely different location), I reached Central Milton Keynes in good time for the W13. The city's main bus station is a cheerless place, bearing the civic motto: "Pedestrians do not have Priority".

Twenty minutes after the W13 was supposed to leave, I gave up. Oh well, there'll be another along in nine weeks.

Like a bus driver bereft of a vehicle, I set off for the railway station (Milton Keynes Central is, naturally, a mile from Central Milton Keynes). The next southbound train was running late: it was the 13.13. I bought a ticket. It cost £13. Unlucky for some.

Passengers' rights are paid for by ... other passengers

The best kind of bus for many travellers is an Airbus – for some, because it means they will not be flying on Ryanair, which uses only Boeings.

But whatever your view of Europe's biggest low-cost airline, pity Michael O'Leary. The airline's much-loved chief executive has been forced to charge all passengers booking Ryanair flights from Monday onwards a €2 surcharge to cover the costs of meeting the airline's obligations under EU261, the rules that give airlines a duty of care for their passengers in cases of delay or cancellation.

The news will be greeted by long-standing fans of Ryanair, including me, with derision. All EU airlines took a hit from the volcanic ash fiasco and assorted air-traffic control strikes. You and I will ultimately foot the airlines' higher costs, however it might be dressed up. Applying a surcharge is pointless; travellers choose to fly, or not, according to the total fare.

Unlike the Irish banks, Ryanair is a highly successful organisation, the leading provider of air transport in Europe. And it achieved that status by keeping fares low.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
i100
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In my grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service