Megabus offering bunk bed buses
If you're a roadie, or you're in a minor rock band and you've been on tour, the chances are that you've been on a sleeper bus before. But if you aren't, the chances are, that you haven't.
That's because while coaches with beds and all manner of other conveniences have been available for hire for many years, mostly to the entertainment industry, no scheduled UK bus service has ever come with a bed - until now.
Stagecoach has just launched a new Megabus sleeper service between London and Glasgow, seven days a week in both directions.
Each 60 foot bendy-bus is equipped with 24 bunks in stacks of three. There are 24 seats too, so you don't have to get into bed the moment you get on board. Stagecoach has been running trial runs of the service over the past few months, diverting passengers from the regular bus to see what they think.
The company says it had to iron out some air-conditioning problems initially, but that passengers said overwhelmingly that they would be prepared to pay for a bed on a bus and so three specially-equipped vehicles have been put into service.Free eyemask
Megabus is offered as a budget service, so abandon any romantic visions you may have of a road-going Orient-Express.
There are no white-jacketed waiters on this journey, but there is free tea, coffee and biscuits, and passengers will find a pouch on each bunk containing a toothbrush, toothpaste and an eyemask. Each bunk has a sheet, duvet, pillow and privacy curtain as well as a nightlight and a socket for recharging phones and computers.
What there isn't very much of in each bunk, is headroom, and while they are long enough for all but the very tallest passengers, they can be a little awkward to get into.
Once in the bunk though, the ride is as smooth as on any other motorway journey. We were diverted early on in our journey on the M1 and the bed can roll you around somewhat on smaller roads, but once back to the usual undulation of a British motorway it was comfortable enough.Banging heads
Everyone I spoke to on the final test journey earlier this week agreed it was certainly more comfortable than a seat. Let's face it, we've all been there: heads banging into the window or against the indignant person next to us as we desperately try to doze on a standard, upright seat.
The real test, of course, is whether people find the beds any more comfortable. One of my fellow passengers boasted of getting six straight hours of sleep with no problem. Another said, "I found myself waking up in a panic, very aware that the ceiling was directly above my head, and I found it very uncomfortable". But asked if she would do it again, she said: "yes, probably", as she still found it better than a seat.
There are other options, of course, the closest equivalent being the Scotrail sleeper service, which takes about the same time (seven and a half hours compared with seven hours and 50 minutes with Megabus) and also offers berths. If you are happy with a seat, National Express offers an overnight bus service too, and the pricing remains competitive; the earlier you book, the less you pay.
Department for Transport statistics suggest that overwhelmingly we still prefer to drive long distances. Between 2006 and 2010, 81% of all trips over 50 miles were made by car, 13% by rail and 4% by bus.
But if you look at those long-distance journeys of between 250 and 350 miles, 8% were made by bus. As roads get more crowded and fuel more expensive, coach companies are tempting us away from the car with very low prices offered to those who book far enough in advance.
Megabus.com spokesman Steve Stewart says: "We have seen particularly strong growth in demand for budget travel over the past two years and have added around a dozen new locations to our network as well as increasing frequencies on our existing routes."
Night services (on emptier roads) are also increasing in popularity, and National Express says 55% of its network now operates overnight. Stagecoach says if the sleeper service is successful on the Glasgow-London route, it will consider putting beds on other long distance routes too. It would be surprising if its competitors didn't follow suit.