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.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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
  • Get to the point
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

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss