I just snapped!

Wednesday 17th October 2018

‘Snap is premium inter-city travel, on demand, using the UK’s best independent coach companies. All for pocket money prices. Snap was founded in 2016 by Thomas Ableman, former Commercial Director of Chiltern Railways and Product Director of National Express and has carried over 100,000 people since launch, with outstanding customer feedback (9/10 on line reviews are 5-star).’

That’s what the Company blurb says, so I thought it was high time I gave this 5-Star coach experience a try.

I’d been keeping a curious eye on Snap’s website for much of last year but entering London and Brighton as my ‘on demand’ preferred travel origin/destination it would always come back saying nothing was going my way.

I knew Nottingham to London was Snap’s test bed route so decided to give that a go but I could only ever find inconvenient (for me) afternoon/evening departures northbound from London.

The website implies I can be matched with other passengers going my way, but my experiences indicated it was more whether my travel would fit in with confirmed journeys already planned to run.

Snap was in the trade press a few weeks ago promoting a deal with Oxford Bus to sell tickets on that Company’s London service as well as news of a service expansion to Bristol where coincidentally the Young Bus Managers Conference was being held on 17/18 October so it proved an ideal opportunity to give Snap a go. (I know I’m not young and no longer a bus manager, but they let me attend conferences as a grand sounding ‘Patron’).

This time Snap’s website had been updated to include a drop down menu in the From and To fields confirming all the available options which also now include Birmingham, Cardiff, Leicester and Worcester and even including journeys between them and not via London.

You can choose any convenient time to travel but I’ve found the algorithm always comes back offering trips st times where booked coaches are already confirmed as running. No doubt if I was a group booking there’d be flexibility.

Prices are attractively cheap for most journeys with higher fares applying on obviously busier journeys as bookings increase. My Bristol fare departing London at 0900 was quoted at £5 when I booked last Wednesday … until I saw an offer of ‘first trip free’ so signed up for the promo code and saved myself a fiver.

There are a number of pick up/set down options available – my Bristol coach offered St Pancras International or Baker Street from London with four drop off points near Bristol city centre.

The adventure began this morning at St Pancras as I hadn’t even realised there are six coach bays underneath the platforms accessed via the corridor between the Left Luggage and Toilets.

It’s not the most salubrious waiting area but with a text letting you know your driver is on the way and a link to a vehicle tracking website, you could hang around in the station’s extensive shopping and refreshment area until just before departure time – although you’re asked to be there ten minutes before departure.

Ominously our coach was still at Southwark Bridge at 0902 with predicted arrival erroneously still showing 0900 at St Pancras.

In the event this morning’s boarding experience was anything but 5-Star as our driver didn’t arrive until 0935. Had it not been possible to track the coach struggling through London’s morning peak hour traffic such a long wait would have been very disconcerting.

By 0913 Robin had reached City Thameslink but no change on the 0900 prediction.
At 0935 Robin arrived at the security guarded entrance to the departure bays.

All eight of us boarded promptly being ticked off on the drivers smartphone screen listing and we were away at 0939.

Our 2017 vintage Scania 33 seater coach provided by Anderson Travel was certainly 5-Star. It had a real wow factor as you boarded coming complete with leather seats; tables for four; a midship double galley with ovens, microwave, drinks facility and the usual usb sockets and Wi-fi.

It drove smoothly and as we crawled along the Euston and Marylebone Roads towards Baker Street (where we picked up four more passengers) I could tell this was going to be an impressive ride quality.

Our driver apologised for the late arrival and after Baker Street made an explanatory announcement that ‘it had been one of those mornings: problems with the traffic, problems with the coach and problems with the phone’. Still, I think we were all pleased to be on our way at last and we were reassured a revised anticipated arrival time in Bristol of midday was on the cards (rather than the originally scheduled 1131).

So, as instructed, I sat back, relaxed and thoroughly enjoyed the ride down to Bristol where we pulled up in the city centre at Rupert Street at 1219 – 48 minutes late.

In the event not only did I have a completely free and luxurious ride (the seat was ten times more comfortable than a Class 800 train) but I arrived much quicker than had I gone to Paddington this morning as problems with overhead wires meant no trains could run until repairs were completed around lunchtime.

Snap is an interesting idea. Thomas Ableman rightly describes the company as a Sales and Marketing platform. It aims to excel at getting customers and allows operating companies to concentrate on what he says they do best – operating coaches. As befits the way of the ride sharing world, passengers are asked to rate their journey between 1 and 5 immediately on completion by text and this helps Snap ensure they contract only the best operators.

Thomas points out that compared to the downturn in bus travel and the more recent downward trends in train passengers, inter-city express coach travel is on the up – quoting both National Express and Megabus enjoying growth. To successfully join in this growth, Snap’s challenge must surely be raising awareness that they exist. Unlike the established players, Snap doesn’t have high visibility branded coaches plying the motorways and into town and city centres.

My Anderson Travel coach had a small Snap vinyl near the front on both sides but it only acted as reassurance to those of us boarding than being anything meaningful to anyone else.

But, as Snap’s overhead are a tiny fraction of National Express and Megabus it doesn’t really matter if the company grows at a fairly slow pace from one travel market to another as demand increases from word of mouth and use of low cost social media and it continues to match demand and supply with dynamic pricing.

For non-time critical passengers on tight budgets who happen to be travelling where Snap have a platform, it’s an irresistible proposition. Luxury travel, smooth ride and excellent bespoke reassuring communications.

It’ll be interesting to see where Snap goes next. I’ll happily give it another go if a destination and departure time look convenient – mainly for the novelty of such luxury road travel at a ridiculously cheap price – so I hope Snap’s venture capital investors are equally happy too. I’m told firmly that they are.

Roger French 17th October 2018

2 thoughts on “I just snapped!

  1. I am in no way a marketing expert, but does it really make sense to sell a “premium” service at such bargain basement fares? A quick check on the National Express website shows the cheapest London-Bristol fare is £9 – for a non-premium service. I am also out of touch with current costings, but I rather doubt that it will be sustainable in the long term to carry many passengers at £5 a head from London-Bristol. So does it really make sense to build up the expectations of potential passengers in this way? I wonder if any of the passengers who traveled on your journey would not have chosen Snap if the fare had been £10?

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