Train delays or cancellations are something many of us are all too familiar with.
But when you’re paying sometimes hundreds of pounds in order to travel around the country, problems with the service can be seriously frustrating.
An alternative is coach travel but this can be time consuming and for most of us it’s not convenient to be stuck on a coach for hours at a time in order to get somewhere.
Thomas Ableman founded Sn-ap to match up travellers with underused private coaches
A new app has been created to try and solve the travel crisis in the UK and it’s designed to match up those wanting to travel, with empty coaches.
But instead of using dilapidated old coaches which will take you the best part of a day to get anywhere, it only uses high end luxury private coaches, owned by football and rugby clubs and private travel firms, which are picked based on customer service reviews.
On top of this you can book up until the day of travel, and sometimes on the day, journeys only operate in peak hours, tickets range from £2 to £15 per journey.
It’s called Sn-ap and was founded in 2016 by Thomas Ableman, 36, who is based in Walthamstow in East London. He first had the idea for the new app in July 2015 while he was working as the commercial director for Chiltern Railways.
He came up with the idea and presented it to the firm’s boardroom and received a very positive response and was then able to find several potential backers in order to fund its creation.
To initially fund it he raised £1million in September 2016 from family, friends and Angel investors and it first started operating in Nottingham in October 2016.
It’s now raised a total of £6million in funding since it started (just under the £7.5million raised for Uber in the same period) through a number of different investors both in the coach industry and through an angel investor network.
Coach travel is generally seen as a slow way to get around and Sn-ap says this market has ‘been long dominated by slow moving incumbents’.
Thomas Ableman’s app only picks private coaches with a high customer service rating
It uses an algorithm to predict when the most popular journeys will take place and the destinations and arranges its journeys to fit with this. It only operates during high demand periods and uses customer star ratings to select only the best coach services to use.
Founder Thomas Ableman said: ‘Intercity travellers have had to put up with poor service, high fares and the constraints of fixed routes and timetables for too long. We are bringing the power of technology to give them the quality and service they deserve.’
Mark Anderson, operator of Andersons Travel, said: ‘The coaches we provide to Sn-ap are normally used by elite sports teams and executive groups.
‘They are literally the best way to travel imaginable but often go unused, especially during the working week. With Sn-ap, we can give premier-league travel experiences to everyone. Sn-ap’s star ratings system keeps us on our toes and makes sure only the very best coach operators get to take part.’
Sn-ap has been founded to offer a real alternative for train travellers in the UK
Here we look at exactly how it works and the savings available when compared to train and coach travel.
How does it work for passengers?
Customers can visit the website or app, put their departure and arrival destinations in along with the date and time of travel and they will then be given a list of confirmed journeys.
They can book the journey and confirmation details will be emailed to them. Then on the day of travel they will be sent a reminder four hours before the journey of where to meet the coach (which are all city centre locations), and what time it is leaving.
How are coach companies booked?
Mr Ableman said coach providers are chosen extremely carefully to make sure they’re giving customers the best service possible.
While he told us there wasn’t a great deal of competition when it came to rail operators, it’s vital to the company that the coach providers it uses are of a high quality.
Sn-ap sets the price of tickets, based on how much it will cost the coach to do the journey. It then sends this to a number of selected coach companies and they can then bid for the journey but not based on price.
Once coach providers have placed their bids to do a journey, they are all reviewed by Sn-ap and only those with consistently high customer service records are chosen.
What kind of coaches are used?
The app uses deluxe private coaches, such as those used by football and rugby teams which often aren’t used in the week.
It also uses those owned by private travel firms which again are under used and often are free during peak hours.
Mr Ableman said: ‘There are vast numbers of independent travel operators have private coaches which are under used.
‘Most people’s image and memory of coach travel is founded on a bad experience but there is a huge range in this sector.’
|Journey||Train ticket price||Train departure and arrival||Sn-ap price||Sn-ap departure and arrival||Price difference|
|London to Cardiff||£117.10||18.14 – 20.18||£7.70||18.01 – 21.07||£109.40|
|London to Nottingham||£74||18.05 – 19.53||£6.80||17.30 – 20.17||£67.20|
|London to Bristol||£105.70||18.14 – 19.40||£6.50||7.00 – 19.49||£99.20|
|London to Leicester||£71||18.02 – 19.06||£6.30||17.30 – 20.00||£64.70|
|Cardiff to London||£45.80||17.56 – 20.05||£9.20||14.02 – 17.04||£36.60|
|Nottingham to London||£63||18.12 – 20.07||£8||18.00 – 21.07||£55|
|Bristol to London||£34.30||18.03 – 19.33||£5.60||17.15 – 19.36||£28.70|
|Leicester to London||£55||18.04 – 19.11||£8||18.32 – 21.07||£47|
How does the price compare to train travel?
Tickets cost up to £15 per journey and in comparison to train travel are a lot cheaper.
We looked at several different examples and in each case the journey with Sn-ap was significantly less.
For example, a train journey from London to Cardiff this Friday, booked three days in advance, would cost £117.10 if travelling at 18.14 and would take two hours. A trip booked through Sn-ap leaving at 18.01pm would cost £7.70, and take an hour longer.
In the table above we compared the price of journeys leaving at 6pm, or the closest we could find to it.
This demonstrates the difference in price between travelling with Sn-ap and taking a peak time train, so therefore in every case Sn-ap is cheaper.
However, these are tickets without a railcard and the price fell if an off-peak journey was taken, although were still well above that offered by Sn-ap.
There is also more choice when it comes to train travel, for the Cardiff to London journey, for example, when we checked there was only one planned journey at 2pm with Sn-ap whereas there were several trains per hour.
Is it not cheaper to get the Mega Bus?
The Mega Bus is well known for providing cheap inner city travel across the UK for rock bottom prices so we also looked at it to see how prices compare.
It certainly has more journeys on the routes we checked, usually with at least one per hour available.
The prices were slightly higher in some of the cases we looked at, for the London to Cardiff route, for example, leaving at 18.00 and arriving at 21.50 it was £16.85 for this Friday. The journey is three hours and 50 minutes, compared to three hours and six minutes from Sn-ap.
Where does it operate?
At the moment it’s available for journeys between London, Bristol, Cardiff, Derby, Leicester and Nottingham. It says around 75,000 people have used it so far and predicts more than 100,000 people will use it by the summer.
What’s the feedback like?
The best way to get an idea of the feedback for the app is to look at its Facebook page, which is open.
This means anyone can leave a review on it about their experience and largely those which have been left are positive.
This is Money’s verdict
The new app from Sn-ap provides travellers with a cheap way to get from a number of key UK cities and solves the problem for private coach companies if they are under used.
The journey prices are cheap, but the service remains high because of the type of coaches being used and the fact they are picked based on customer service scores.
The fact the journeys are run during peak time is also a selling point, and makes them far more attractive than paying an arm and a leg for pricey train tickets.
At the moment, however, there are limited journeys available to only a small number of locations so it will only really work for you if there’s only running which matches with your journey requirements.
Once the app becomes more established and expands to more of the UK, this problem should diminish and it could become a real challenge to the train industry.
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