For those of us whose lust for buses was equalled with a lust for a day out this surely was the ultimate product, the ‘National Wanderbus’ ticket, launched by the state owned National Bus Company in 1978. Many of the individual NBC companies offered similar products such as London Country’s ‘Golden Rovers’ or Southdown’s ‘Busranger’ tickets but these were generally only available for use on those operator’s services. The ‘National Wanderbus’ allowed you to cross the boundaries from one operator’s territory into another. With some careful planning using the NBC’s excellent ‘Principle Bus Links’ map a good day out on the buses was guaranteed for a mere £2.97. Living in Crawley where I was largely restricted to London Country, the ‘Wanderbus’ could now give me easy access to Southdown, Maidstone & District, East Kent and Alder Valley. For the first time I could travel for miles in any direction on one ticket.
‘Wanderbus’ tickets were issued as a pre-printed card available from enquiry offices who would stamp the date of validity on them meaning that you could buy them in advance, useful if you wanted an early start the following day, there being no time restriction on the use of the tickets. You could also buy them on the bus, although not all operators offered this option. Many older ticket machines in use at the time could only issue tickets to the maximum value of 99p, so the driver simply issued three ’99p’ tickets, hence the price tag of £2.97.
There were certain restrictions. For some reason they were only available south of a line from the Humber to the Mersey, leaving the likes of Yorkshire Traction, East Yorkshire, Ribble, United, Northern General and Cumberland out of bounds. The tickets were not available for use on National Express coaches, neither could they be used on London Transport buses or municipal services (council or corporation buses), although arrangements did exist between some NBC companies and local councils such as Eastern National and Southend Transport, or Western National and Plymouth City Transport where there was joint running. Some also came to similar arrangements with local independents where they could provide links with the main NBC services. Southern Vectis on the Isle Of Wight opted out of the scheme, preferring to stick with their ‘Island Rover’ which they ran jointly with British Rail. Generally though, if the bus was poppy red or leaf green with the NBC double ‘N’ logo it was yours for the taking. If you were on holiday in another part of the country, the ‘Wanderbus’ offered a superb way to explore the area.
Sadly, ‘Wanderbus’ tickets were not immune from the individual politics of the operating companies. Some operators stopped issuing the pre-printed cards, but not all of them issued them from machines as I discovered one morning when London Country couldn’t sell me a ‘card’ ticket but Southdown (operator of my first bus of the day) couldn’t sell me a ticket on the bus. On another occasion City Of Oxford wouldn’t let me use my LCBS machine issued ticket on their fast 190 Express, unless I had a ‘card’ ticket I had to use the slower 390/790 services between London and Oxford.
However, it appeared that most sales of ‘Wanderbus’ tickets were to those of us who were bus ‘savvy’, the differing policies of the various companies meant it was not user-friendly to casual users or tourists. It’s possibly for such reasons that the ‘Wanderbus’ was gradually replaced by the ‘Explorer’ ticket in the early ‘eighties, sold in the form of a scratchcard which could be bought in advance and validated by ‘scratching out’ the required travel date and usually came with a leaflet suggesting places of interest or scenic round trips from the local operator(s). ‘Explorer’ tickets outlived the NBC, surviving today in their new guise as ‘Discovery’ tickets. But they too are vulnerable to the policies of the private companies, some not accepting them at all leaving large gaps in the network, rendering them unattractive to the non-bus ‘savvy’ who just want a simple round trip. The days of seeing a National bus and hopping on it just to see where it goes and knowing there will be an available connecting service at the other end are sadly behind us.
I shall be recounting some of my days out with a ‘National Wanderbus’ in future posts on this blog page. But I’d love to read about some of yours in our comments section below. How far did you travel? Did you get to use any non-NBC services with your ticket? Did you have to pay any supplements such as mine for the Tamar Bridge? Did you get to ride on any of NBC’s fast disappearing blue buses?