Today Andrew reviews our bus trip from Brussels to Lille on iDBUS (now OUIBUS); a comfortable, affordable option to the train, and great for last-minute travel.
A few months ago, iDBUS (recently renamed to OUIBUS) approached us to run a contest offering three lucky readers free tickets to Lille or Paris. As you know, we don’t write about things we haven’t personally tried and approved. However, because we thought it was a great opportunity for you, we decided to waive our usual process. Naturally, we did our due diligence to ensure the service would meet our (and your) expectations and we vowed to test out iDBUS as soon as possible.
So, a couple of weekends ago, Alison and I made our way to Gare du Midi to board our first iDBUS. We decided to visit Lille, a city we had neglected in our 8+ years in Belgium, despite it having been recommended by various friends. Thus, with one trip we would check off two of our ‘to-dos’!
iDBUS, recently renamed OUIBUS, is run by the SNCF (France’s state-owned railway company). SNCF recognized a gap in the market for a flexible, high-quality, yet coast effective service. They are not necessarily the cheapest option. iDBUS’ goal is to “reinvent the passenger experience beyond merely providing client satisfaction.” But what does that mean in practical terms?
As a start, the buses themselves are modern and well equipped, including more room per passenger than comparable services, plus a toilet.
Buying tickets for iDBUS is quite straightforward. You can book your travel online, by phone, or directly at the ticket office in Brussels South Station (near the Eurostar entrance).
Prices are fixed, based on the date and time you travel. This is important: regardless of when you book the ticket – today, tomorrow, or the day of the trip itself – the ticket price remains the same. Great for a last minute get away! Additionally, if you are traveling with a group of four or more, every fourth person gets a free ticket. I like how simple their system is, giving travelers the flexibility to make last minute decisions.
When booking, you select your seat on the bus. This is useful when traveling with others or if you prefer a particular seat. I’m a front of the bus kind of guy (no kidding, right?). Unfortunately, the front seats were taken, so we had seats right behind the toilet and rear stairwell. This provided us with more room, as no one would recline into our space, but had the downside of hearing the toilet door open and close, which would be a nuisance if you wanted to sleep.
Boarding for each bus begins 30 minutes before departure. You check-in with the driver (ours were extremely friendly and polite), who verifies your ticket and identity card. You then put your luggage in the hold under the bus. One bag is included in your ticket price and you can reserve an additional bag when you book. Tip: Pre-label your luggage with your name to save some hassle, especially when it is cold or rainy outside.
With your luggage safely stowed, all that’s left to do is find your seat. Because seats are assigned, there is no scrambling (like with some airlines). Our bus was 75% full, but there was plenty of room. On the way home, I discovered the aisle seats slide sideways for a bit more room, so you don’t feel like you are sitting on the person next to you (unless that’s what you want.)
Unlike some train schedules, our bus to Lille left right on time. The advertised time for our trip was 1h45m, but the mid-afternoon traffic was light, so we arrived 20 minutes early. Likewise, for our evening return on Sunday. I can imagine there are occasions when the buses take longer, but it seems iDBUS has included a decent buffer in the schedule, to allow for some traffic congestion.
As I normally drive, it was nice to be a passenger and watch the world pass by. The seats were comfortable and the windows large. Being so high up, it was interesting to see the fields and villages beyond the edges of the road. It was also great to be able to focus on my conversation with Alison without having to worry about the road.
If you want to work or stay in touch, iDBUS has free WiFi. Although connecting to the WiFi is easy, the connection from the bus to the internet during our trip was only useful for sending/receiving small emails. We did try doing some web-based research during our trip, but the page load times were very slow. Let me say though, even a slow connection beats Thalys’ service as I’ve never managed to get connected on the train.
Despite the slow internet connection, if you are trying to work (or watch a movie), there is a power socket for each row of seats. As a nit-picky point, from someone who travels for work, I would only ask for slightly larger fold-down trays so I could write or use my laptop.
Despite my picky points, I enjoyed iDBUS’ service. It was efficient, extremely cost effective, and a comfortable way to travel. Obviously, the bus will take longer than a train. However, iDBUS’ arrival and departure points are often closer to the center of town than trains, simplifying your onward journey.
If good service at a reasonable price is more important to you than arriving in the shortest amount of time, iDBUS may be for you. For us, iDBUS was a perfect way to escape to Lille for a weekend.
Have you used iDBUS before? We’d love to hear your thoughts!
Our trip to Lille was sponsored by iDBUS but, as always, all of the opinions in our review are entirely our own.