There’s an old bus industry tale about how Stagecoach supremo Sir Brian Souter decided have a go at the express coach market and went to see Stelios from EasyJet with the idea that the recognisable orange brand would form the basis for this. It never came to fruition. Sir Brian went his own way, and Megabus became almost as ubiquitous as the iconic white of National Express on the highways and byways of Britain (and of course elsewhere). “EasyBus” has continued to exist, but only as a handful of airport links in a competitive market.
I’m not a frequent flyer, but I decided to try one of the orange connectors – the recently-ish launched service from Telford to Manchester Airport. Launching in October 2016 with 12 low-emission minibuses, 16 services a day operate 7-days per week on the route, which operates via Shrewsbury, Oswestry and Chester.
Booking ahead by a couple of weeks, I paid just over £6 for a single – the 1330 departure from Telford.
Telford bus station is part-bus station, part building site, but my ticket clearly states that the EasyBus departs from “Stand S”, which is clearly marked with a large sign, slightly away from the row of usual bus stands. I’m warned to be in position 10 minutes ahead of departure, and I am – with no one else in sight looking like they’re off for some sun sea and sand on one of Stelios’s larger airborne vehicles.
A few minutes before the departure time, the orange minibus appears, and an orange-tabarded driver hops out of the cab to open the door and welcome me on board.
“Plenty of time for your flight?” he enquires, then looks slightly bemused when I tell him I’m not flying.
There’s probably more bemusement watching me haul my 6’7” frame into the small bus, which is akin to a baby giraffe attempting yoga. The driver relieves me of my ticket.
There’s a small gaggle of concessionary pass-wielding OAPs observing the goings-on. No doubt they are contemplating a potential hand-bagging of the driver for a free day out, but there’s no chance of that. This is a premium service.
Or it is until I catch sight of the state of some of the seats. They are badly stained and in need of a good clean. It isn’t the best sight to greet a business leader flying off to seal a deal.
I’ve bagged the seat by the door, which appears the only one of twelve that will adequately accommodate my ridiculously stupid long legs. No one else is on board. Free Radio Shropshire wafts gently into my ear’oles.
We’re off, spot on time, into the serene Shropshire Countryside, and first of all, bound for Shrewsbury. Our driver is excellent, and the ride quality isn’t bad for a minibus, although a luxury coach this is not.
Arrival at Shrewsbury is greeted by more slightly intrigued looks, as we wait time for a few minutes. Again we have no takers.
Then we join the faster traffic on the A5 as we head towards Oswestry. The EasyBus doesn’t serve the town here, just the Travelodge and assortment of fast-food outlets at a road junction. It’s quite an innovative idea I guess – stay overnight then hop on the airport bus. We peruse the car park gingerly for anyone looking remotely like a flyer with a suitcase, but there comes none.
Then it’s back on the A5, Wrexham-bound. Free Radio is replaced by Radio 2 and we arrive into Wrexham General Railway Station 9 minutes early. Orange-tabard man informs me of the short interlude here, and I release my seatbelt and grab a bite of sandwich.
Now we’re off to Chester, where again we don’t bother with the City Centre, but instead serve the Main Reception of a Holiday Inn, where a slightly-exasperated woman can’t believe her road-blocking parking by the front door is hindering our progress. Honestly. You pull up here with not a soul in sight and this orange thing appears in your rear-view. Our man diplomatically suggests that pulling slightly to the left will allow us progress. David Bowie’s “Absolute Beginners” pumps through the speakers.
No one has joined us at the Holiday Inn, and we mix it with Arriva’s Sapphire service between Wrexham and Chester for a bit before hitting the M53, then M56 before an uneventful but on-time arrival into Manchester’s airport bus station. Orange man thanks me for using the service, then asks if I am aware that the service will be changing soon, with the Telford – Shrewsbury section being withdrawn. It’s a helpful interlude, and I thank him for the information. He departs the scene to use the loo and I capture several photos. Public transport links are good here, with digital and paper timetables available for local bus services, including direct to central Manchester, and literally a few steps down to the Metrolink trams and national rail services.
All in all, it’s a useful service. I guess operators of services like this really need to know their market well. The frequency has to be decent to make it attractive, but my journey carried only me, all of the way. You can’t afford too many of those!
It’s an innovative service. Neither National Express, Megabus or anyone else covers this corridor – NX route you into Birmingham first if you type in Telford or Shrewsbury, then change onto a direct Manchester Airport service. The quickest journey via this method is over 4 hours.
It deserves to succeed – but clean seats and first impressions are all important!
The Bright Orange:
- Excellent driver
- Innovative service
- Cheaper than driving and parking at the airport
The Orange Peel:
- Dirty seats
- Doesn’t serve Oswestry or Chester centres (although this saves time)
- Losing Telford section soon