Very cheap and cheerful!
In June, First Great Western launched FirstMinute
fares, giving a wide choice of tickets on a large number of journeys.
Pete Herat clicked on firstminutefares.co.uk and found an amazing bargain...
The idea of paying differing rates for the same rail journey is nothing new. Depending on what time you travel, whether in first or standard accomodation, on an advance purchase, fixed or flexible ticket - all these things have a bearing on the cost. What's new is the idea of having 2 single tickets - and the total being considerably cheaper than a return.
First Great Western has introduced Firstminute fares to fill seats on otherwise empty trains. That means although you won't find the very cheapest fares at busy times, there are some bargains to be had off-peak. The key is to book early (usually this can be done 10-12 weeks in advance) and to be flexible over journey times.
Firstminutefares.co.uk is well laid out. At a glance, you can see the selection of fares available. The banner graphic is interesting; even if you don't much care for animation, it would catch your eye. My only criticism is the font size, but if it bothered me that much, I could increase the browser's setting. However, this didn't stop me from finding the fare I wanted - Bristol to Swansea - for £4.50 single. The cheapest on offer was Bath to Southampton at £4 - it's hard to believe.
That's not the end of it; you still have to see if a ticket is available. Helpfully, there are 2 links that connect you to the booking page. Very quickly, I entered outward and return times, making a mistake, taking longer, (cheap tickets sell in seconds!) but much to my surprise, the fare was available for both journeys. I could now travel about 275 km for £9. I bought the tickets straight away and collected them at a fast ticket machine in Bath Spa station 2 days later.
I opted to travel out of Bristol parkway. It didn't make sense coming to Bath, then catching a train to Bristol. Instead, I caught a bus from near where I live in South Gloucestershire. The bus, 319 Bath- Cribbs causeway, provides a direct door-to-door link. Parkway station is well designed - its forecourt is used exclusively by buses.
There was a 22 minute delay affecting all trains due to some problem in the area. This wasn't helped by a Midlands Mainline train pulling in at the same time the Great Western one was due. The former was on hire to Virgin trains, which added to the confusion.
The train made good progress and caught up 5 minutes of lost time. With a Leisurefare ticket comes an automatic seat reservation. I arrived in Swansea just as clouds were clearing into a beautifully bright and warm day. I lived here as a student nearly 25 years ago. Although the city had changed a lot, it was surprisingly easy to find my way around.
Resisting temptation to spend all my time in the city, now attractively pedestrianised and fresh-looking, I caught a bus to the Mumbles coast, about 12km west of Swansea. A First Cymru Swansea Bay ticket, valid on all bus services in the entire Gower peninsula, costs £3.60. A bright orange bus, (yes, they have them too), took me via the university and singleton hospital to my destination, a freshly made chilli hot dog and filter coffee.
A slight delay on the journey back didn't impact
on any of my connections. It was a great day out. This is a winning formula.
Once major engineering work is finished and if First Great Western can
sustain these prices, it's going to be the most sensible way of travelling
long distances. I enjoyed it very much.
The Gower Explorer bus network operates regular services daily