To what extent do people sacrifice comfort for value?

Published by Qmunicate

When considering travel, to what extent do people sacrifice comfort for value? Important essay titles aside, this question has been ping-ponging around my brain recently – and here’s the conclusion I arrived at: Megabus.

Megabus holds the monopoly over short-distance city-to-city travel, with fares usually remaining at £1 whether in advance or not, from London to Oxford, Edinburgh to Glasgow, Manchester to Liverpool, Leeds to Sheffield. These cheap, short services are popular among most demographics; commuters, students and night workers, but their long-distance journeys are much less popular.

It always surprises me that despite that their ‘£1 fares to and from anywhere in the UK make them far-and-away the cheapest budget travel provider’, people are petrified of climbing aboard. Recently, after I’d giddily announced to some friends that Megabus had just added two new destinations to their network – Pitlochry in the Highlands and Oxenholme in the Lake District – and suggested a trip during the Christmas break, an eerie silence filled the room. Someone swiftly changed the subject to: “so, that Obama guy got in…?” and the idea was suffocated at birth.

A few months ago, I was booking return Megabus tickets to Liverpool from Glasgow for a meagre £4.50, albeit at the sacrifice of twelve hours of my time. In fact, the cheap journey also offered a nice helping of glamour – I picture myself with a battered old suitcase, scribbling on a dusty notepad, meeting interesting Beat characters on the way (or so goes ‘On the Road’). And like a modern-day Kerouac, I would be travelling the length of the country to find the dream. I get carried away.

But with the glamour came a reality check; personified in friends who’d had recent Megabus experiences: “When I went to London it was thirteen hours there, and twelve hours back, without a working toilet,” said a former flatmate who’d taken a £5 return Glasgow to London journey a year before. “I was hungover, and had a guy sat next to me who would not move, who had a nervous twitch and kept elbowing me. Good luck.” Another friend told me that he’d lost all feeling in both legs during a bumpy £1.50 ride from Edinburgh to London, because the seats were ill-fitted for his six foot frame. Another said she’d heard of drivers who ask passengers for directions, though the worst that happened on her Megabus journeys to Manchester was that the toilets didn't work.

Despite the recurring themes of inoperable toilets and physical discomfort, I still had a smile on my face when my bus pulled into Stand 7 at Buchanan Bus Station at eight in the morning. My battered old suitcase was a sports bag, and my dusty notepad was a piece of revision, but – minus the comfy departure lounges and handy laptop-charging points – I got from A to B with no problems whatsoever.

Speaking for many, comfort or convenience is rarely sacrificed for value, and that’s why Megabus often isn’t included on the travel menu. As things go, I’ve no qualms with pins and needles, long journeys, weird passengers, or wailing toddlers. Just give me a good book and a packed lunch, and let me suffer the cheapest possible journey.