Public Transport in Britain.
If you would like to tour Britain, or travel within a much smaller area such as a county, and you either can't or don't want to drive then your only other option is public transport. So what are your options? You can choose from trains (long and short distances), coaches (long distances), buses (short distances) or taxis. You could also choose domestic flights within Great Britain. They all have their own advantages and disadvantages and can obviously be used in combination.
There is a Transport Journey Planner which covers plane, train, coach and bus journeys both separately and in combination and will compare with the equivalent car journey (Door to door planner) or if you want just train timetables and fares you want National Rail Enquiries
NOTE: All the prices quoted below are current for 2005 and are quoted in £ (Pounds Sterling).
|Touring from a central location.|
If you want to stay in a central location and visit surrounging places then you could not do better than to aquire a Bus Routes Map. Most county councils provide these as either printed paper, PDF format for viewing on the Internet or both. These maps generally also include rail routes and stations where they exist. The printed maps are usually provided free and the routes are generally differentiated by availability e.g. those routes where buses are available almost every day and routes where buses are less frequent.
These Bus Routes Maps enable you to see at a glance what routes exist and the towns and villages through which they pass. This will enable you to choose a centre in which to stay which gives you best access to the places which you may want to visit.
This is an example of a PDF format Bus Route Map covering the county of Hampshire for which you will need an appropriate reader. Remember that you can zoom in to these maps for greater detail.
In most cases these maps show routes which cross county boundaries and in the example above you can see routes from Winchester in Hampshire to Salisbury in Wiltshire. You may need maps for more than one county to cover the area that you wish to explore.
Once that you have decided which routes you may want to use then you should obtain timetables for those routes. You can probably find these on the Internet or you can buy them in printed form.
Read this American lady's account of using local buses in Dorset. This link is repeated below in the 'Using Local Buses' section.
|Travelling by Rail.|
Trains are fast but relatively expensive and there is a reasonably extensive network covering the whole country.
There is a map of all the railway routes covering England, Wales and Scotland. This is provided in Adobe Acrobat PDF format so you will need to have a version of Acroread to use in conjunction with your web browser. The map can be zoomed at any point to enlarge the detail to the point at which it is legible and would be a very useful tool whilst planning journeys around the country. It does have the disadvantage, if you have a modem connection to the Internet, of being about 2MB large. This will take about 7 minutes to download with a 56k modem and correspondingly longer with a slower modem. Some sections of the map, when clicked, take you to yet other maps although not anywhere near as large (140 - 240k).
This is where you will find the railway routes maps
Rail Fares, tickets & timetables (Information as at January 2010)
The rail fares system in this country is utterly absurd. For example if you walk up to the ticket office at St. Pancras Station, London and ask for an ordinary return to Sheffield you will be asked to pay £165.00 but if you do a little research it could cost you as little as £28.00 return. So - what's the difference? The first fare above allows you to travel at any time of the day including during the rush hour (Peak Times) the second fare means you can't leave before about 10:30 in the morning.
If you wanted to leave London at 9:25 then an off-peak return would cost you £84.00 but if you were to buy a single from London to Sheffield and a single from Sheffield to London (You can buy them at the same time) the total cost would be only £56.00. If you wanted to leave London St. Pancras at 8:55 (Peak Time) then a day return would cost you £165.00 but if you bought two singes, as above, then the total cost would be £86.00 but leave 30 minutes later and it will cost just £56.00 for two singles. Don't expect any logic from this fares system; there isn't any.
One of the best ways of finding cheap fares is to use the National Rail web site, enter your starting point and destination, get a list of suitable train times then go down the page to the 'Check Ticket Availability & Prices' button. Look at both the return and single fares, and earlier and later trains, then choose the time and price that suits you best.
It is best to buy your tickets, if you can, either from a booking office or from the actual train company for your particular route as other ticket purchasing sites charge a booking fee. You can find the train company's web site by clicking on the 'Details' link at the end of the row for the train time of your choosing. The web site link will be near the top of the page.
Types of ticket - Overseas visitors should read the section about touring tickets entitled 'Visitors to Britain' near the bottom of the 'Types of Ticket' page. There are also touring tickets generally available, including for residents of this country, where a fixed sum is paid to cover unlimited travel for 7 or 14 days - see under 'Rovers & Rangers' in the above link. If you plan to make significant use of the railways then it is also worth looking at the section on 'Railcards and other discounts'. We have railcards and on each journey we make to London we save about £15 so we have to make at least 3 trips during a year to break even on the cost of the Railcard but after that we start to make savings. The number of individual journeys is irrelevant but what is relevant is the discount you get compared with the cost of the Railcard.
For bargain price fares from London to other cities have a look at Megabus/Megatrain
|Travelling by Coach.|
(Information as at January 2010)
An example journey, London to Sheffield, leaves from Victoria Coach Station, London. The advantage of travelling by coach, compared with travelling by train, is that it is considerably cheaper. The standard day return for this journey is £13.00 - £20.00 and a period return would be £11.00 - £24.00. The main disadvantage is that the journey time, one way, is 4 hours 30 minutes compared with 2 hours 30 minutes on the train and you probably do need to book in advance as the number of seats in a coach is a lot less than is available on a train. The single fare to Sheffield is £6.00 - £17.00.
You could have a day trip from London to somewhere such as Bath in the summer when there is more than 12 hours of daylight but you would have to start early and return late. The total travelling time would be in the order of 6 hours 30 minutes which could leave you with about 6 hours in Bath. If you intend staying in your planned destination for a number of days then the travelling time is less of a problem and you could save a lot of money.
You can also use the Journey Planner mentioned at the top of this page for planning coach journeys or combined bus/coach/rail trips.
For bargain price fares from London to other cities have a look at Megabus/Megatrain
|Using Local Buses.|
Local bus service information is more fragmented on the Internet than for national services.
On each of the county pages, on this site, there are links to local Tourist Information Centres and local public transport sites where these are provided by the local authority.
Web site information for local transport, provided by local authorities, varies from very good to non-existant. Contact details for Tourist Information Centres are usually provided and these centres will send bus timetables by post for a small charge (sometimes free).
This site does a good job in providing local bus services information for the U.K.
You can also use the Journey Planner mentioned at the top of this page for planning bus journeys or combined bus/coach/rail trips. See the 'Touring from a central location' section above for information on Bus Routes Maps.
Read this American lady's account of using local buses in Dorset.
Taxi services are available in the majority of places in Britain. It is a good idea to carry a short list of telephone numbers of local taxi services with you if you use the buses so that in the event of the last bus failing to turn up, for whatever reason, you can at least telephone for a taxi to take you back to your accommodation.
Taxis serving all railway stations in Great Britain
Transport Guide - transport guide for the U.K (Train, Coach, Bus and Tram)
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