Simon Calder: 'The dawg' is here. But will it win our hearts?

"One pound, please." The proprietor of the café in Bulleid Way, above Victoria in central London, generously gave me the driver's discount rate for two coffees – one for me, and one for Lionel Marsh, coaching controller for Greyhound UK. He is organising the logistics for what the company hopes is the next great idea in British travel.

On this page three weeks ago, I was sceptical that the all-American concept of "riding the dawg" along Interstate highways could translate to the A3 and the M3 – the first two Greyhound UK routes run from Portsmouth and Southampton to London. So I asked if I could hitch a ride on one of the trial runs this week, which is why I am in the front seat of Peggy Sue, flagship of the Greyhound UK fleet.

This Southampton-bound bus left 20 minutes ago. It has taken us that long to reach Earl's Court Tube Station, a mere four stops on the Underground from Victoria. But soon afterwards the highway, in the shape of the A4, beckons. Forty minutes after leaving London we breeze past Heathrow Terminal 5 – not the most direct route to Southampton, but "there's roadworks in Richmond", as Lionel discovered on the way up. That is one advantage of buses – unlike trains, there are plenty of alternative routes available. And as we speed down the 10-lane stretch of the M25, counting down the distance at a steady mile a minute, I momentarily feel transported across the ocean to a country whose big cities are carved with rivers of traffic.

A sign warns "M3 J9-J11 Long Delays", but Lionel has judiciously chosen to join the Hampshire-bound motorway at Junction 12.

"Travel just got good" is the slogan of Greyhound UK. No question: it is quite the most comfortable bus I have been on. The seats are leather, and the legroom generous; during the upgrade from vehicles previously used for National Express routes, two rows of seats were taken out. For travel journalists and those with real jobs alike, mains electricity and free Wi-Fi is available. Bladder management is not an issue, since each bus has a loo at the back – next to the last three seats, which also boast legroom of business-class proportions.

How much does this premium trip cost? To echo the café owner in Victoria, "one pound, please" – and that even includes a copy of The Independent. As with any new enterprise, Greyhound UK is offering low fares to drum up business, and competitors are predictably striking back (see panel). Travel just got cheap.

One hour gone, and we have just emerged from a contra-flow at junction 14, somewhere outside Farnborough. The rival South West Trains service from London Waterloo is, at this stage of the journey, just past Winchester, only a quarter-hour from Southampton Central.

We still have 45 miles to roll, and Lionel has plenty to tell me about Greyhound's plans to take a bite out of the market between the capital and Hampshire's two big cities.

The company has a fleet of 11 newly refurbished vehicles and 26 newly recruited drivers. Starting on Monday morning, eight trips are planned each way on each route, scheduled to take a minute short of two hours to Portsmouth, and 15 minutes more to Southampton.

ppp "Welcome to Southampton, international maritime city", announces the sign at the roundabout on the outskirts. Two hours and two minutes after leaving London, Peggy Sue, Lionel and I arrive at Town Quay, beside the crumbling Watergate. All change for the Isle of Wight, or, indeed, the pub (alcohol being strictly banned on coaches).

I return by a heavily delayed train – the cause, a vehicle hitting a bridge near Clapham Junction. Road and rail just don't get on.

Hampshire fares battle begins

Travellers between Hampshire and London can look forward to a fares battle of Jutlandian proportions. In the naval tradition of spiking a rival's guns, the existing operator National Express has undercut Greyhound with a 99p "funfare". Anyone in a hurry to travel between Southampton and London will patronise the other big Scottish transport enterprise, Stagecoach, with its fast trains linking Waterloo with Southampton "Central" (a station that is anything but). The standard one-way fare is £31.70. Yet Stagecoach has a Megatrain offshoot that is offering £1 seats on a few trains on the route.

If that still does not provide enough choice, Southern Railway has another option from London Victoria: one train an hour departs during the day to Southampton, for an Advance fare of £5 – identical to the price to Purley, through which the train will whizz at 80mph within 20 minutes of leaving Victoria.

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
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

    Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

    £33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

    Recruitment Genius: Payroll and Benefits Co-ordinator

    £22300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum group is looking for a Payro...

    ICE ICT: Lead Business Consultant

    £39,000: ICE ICT: Specific and detailed knowledge and experience of travel sys...

    Day In a Page

    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
    UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

    39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

    There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
    Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

    Computerised cooking is coming

    From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
    Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

    Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

    The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
    Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

    Education: Football Beyond Borders

    Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
    10 best barbecue books

    Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

    We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
    Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most