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Kai Ryssdal: There was a happening in British transportation today. Greyhound Bus made its first run over in the U.K. Eighty miles from the coast city of Southampton up to London. Ninety-five years after it was born, Greyhound is actually owned by a British company now. So we asked Marketplace’s Stephen Beard whether the bus-riding experience is going to translate.
STEPHEN BEARD: How much romance can there be in a bus service? Quite a bit it seems when the name of that bus line resonates through some of the world’s most venerable songs.
Greyhound is an American icon, and a priceless asset, according to the British company that owns it, the First Group. Many Americans today may see little romance in boarding a bus, but First Group’s Paul Moore claims the brand taps into one of America’s most powerful themes.
PAUL MOORE: I think what Greyhound has traditionally represented in the States is that sense of the freedom of the open road, the sense of optimism, the sense of people setting off on a great journey. It probably resonates because it kinda reflects the American dream.
The company certainly festooned the launch with plenty of Americana. A small band played New Orleans Jazz. But when he addressed the first busload of bleary-eyed passengers, managing director Alex Warner did not dwell on the joys of the open road.
The bus, after all, was barreling up the freeway taking commuters on a two-hour, non-stop trip from Southampton into London. Warner focused on the 21st century features of the service.
ALEX WARNER: We’ve got complimentary Wi-Fi on board. We’ve also got plug sockets if you want to charge up your mobile phone or laptop, the seats, leg room like I’ve never seen before. If you want to sort of ease backwards you can go into reclining mode.
British Greyhound passengers will be rather more pampered than their American counterparts. They should be able to sleep on those reclining chairs. They seem more confident about their fellow travelers.
BEARD: You know in America, the Greyhound bus now has a bit of a reputation for carrying some fairly unsavory characters?
PASSENGER: I don’t think that will happen here. No, I’m pretty certain it won’t. Certainly on the coaches I catch, we’re all respectable.
The company says its aiming the British Greyhound squarely at Web-savvy students, businesspeople and senior citizens who want to save money. The fares are dirt cheap. Around $7 for the 80-mile trip.
Rob Orchard of Bus and Coach Buyer magazine reckons the company has hit on a winning formula.
ROB ORCHARD: Quick center-to-center journeys aimed at sort of businesspeople and young people that can travel, do a bit of work while they’re traveling up to London. They’ve got their own dedicated space rather sitting on a crowded train. I think they’ll do very well with it.
The British Greyhound is clearly nothing like the traditional American beast. Orchard says it’s far more like the company’s Bolt Bus service linking New York to Boston and to Philadelphia. So why not call the new British line Bolt Bus?
ORCHARD: They couldn’t have carried that name across. It just wouldn’t have worked in the UK at all. Greyhound will.
This isn’t the Greyhound of popular mythology. No one will sing about going to look for England in this bus. Culturally, the Brits are being taken for a ride. But at $7 a trip, and in comfort, no one is complaining.
In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.
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