June 26th, 2009

If you’re a regular passenger on the railways, you’ll probably have seen adverts for PlusBus, which is a scheme that allows you to purchase discounted bus tickets if you need to continue your rail journey by bus. It’s a great idea but has suffered somewhat from implementation issues. PlusBus is run by a consortium of bus companies (most of whom also own train companies) but as a consequence the railway staff aren’t always very clued up about it.

The biggest problem with it is actually buying the ticket in the first place. Most self-service ticket machines can’t currently sell a PlusBus ticket, which isn’t much help if you travel from an unmanned station. When I lived out at Waterbeach I would buy an ordinary return ticket to Cambridge and then upgrade to PlusBus at Cambridge station, but if there was a huge queue at the booking office it wasn’t worth it. My worst PlusBus experience was one time I tried to go to Leicester. I wanted to buy a ticket in advance, with both Cambridge and Leicester Plusbus upgrades, so that when the tickets arrived in the post I could get the bus to Cambridge station, train to Leicester and the bus to the university. At that stage no online ticketing company would sell you a PlusBus. I had to ring about five different people at different train companies before I finally found someone who could sell me a ticket.

Today, PlusBus has come back into my attention. I had a hire car to drop off this morning at Hertz, which is by the railway station, and then needed to get to work on the bus. Because I have to take two buses to do this, I’d need a Stagecoach Dayrider ticket, which now costs £3.30. However, since I’m going to London this evening, I went into the station and asked the booking clerk for a return to London with a Cambridge PlusBus. He said I could only have a PlusBus for arriving in Cambridge, and not for departing from it. I told him this wasn’t true, and I’d done it before. He went off and referred to a colleague, before returning to sell me the ticket. After I’d paid, I realised that he’d forgotten to give me a railcard discount on my PlusBus, so I’d paid £2.70 for it instead of £1.80. Oh well, but still better than £3.30! Interestingly, the PlusBus ticket covers a much bigger area than the Dayrider (more or less equivalent to the £5.00 Dayrider Plus ticket) so if you have a railcard, it’s actually cheaper to buy a single ticket to Shelford (the next station south of Cambridge) and a PlusBus (total cost £3.30) than it is to get a Dayrider Plus.

One other thing – each PlusBus ticket is only valid for 24 hours, so if you buy a period return and want to use the buses on both days you travel you need to buy two PlusBus tickets, one for each day.

However, all this prompted me to look at PlusBus’s website again, and to discover that the tickets can finally be bought online. Unfortunately, only two providers can do it. One is Qjump who charge a booking fee depending on how you pay and how you collect your tickets, details here. The other is First Transpennine Express, who operate trains in northern England, but whose website is powered by Qjump. Happily, Transpennine’s website will sell you a ticket for any part of the country and doesn’t charge a booking fee. I shall be using them a lot more in the future! Nothing like making it easy, is there?

Car hire

June 12th, 2009

Cambridge is a rotten place to own a car. It has traffic congestion, pedestrianised zones, byzantine one-way-systems, limited parking, expensive car parks and is generally laid out to be got around on foot or bike. As a result, I haven’t bought a car but have instead relied on hiring one when I need one.

Car hire need not be expensive, but it requires a certain amount of knowledge and technique to get the best deal. I’m going to describe a few the techniques I use to get a good deal. Read the rest of this entry »