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Ah, UniLink. A tiresome but necessary element in the lives of any Southampton University student. You paradoxically love and hate them, often simultaneously – we all know the relief of seeing the giant blue bus swinging into the Interchange, but the frustration of not being able to get a seat – and you can bet on your worst lecturer’s ability to send you to sleep that the bus that arrives won’t be going where you want it to. But which is the best UniLink route, you ask? I’m here to give you the lowdown on which bus you should hop aboard next…
U1The U1 is UniLink’s core route, spanning right across the city of Southampton. In one direction, the 1 is followed by a C (heading towards the City, terminating at either Central Train Station or the National Oceanography Centre), but if you’re heading on the opposite journey, it’s a little more complex. The most common of these is a U1A, which terminates at Southampton Airport, but you can also find a W, which ends at Wessex Lane Halls, and a U1E, which journeys out of the ghetto into the jungles of Eastleigh (shiver). Rarest of all is a mystical U1N, which runs only on Friday and Saturdays to serve the crowds leaving Oceana – running from the Leisure World in the City Centre right the way to Eastleigh.
Needless to say, I didn’t get round to experience the rare U1N, but it’s very thoughtful of UniLink to serve the most hardcore clubbers amongst us. As for the other U1s, they are pretty standard bus rides, usually double-decker models, cramped at peak times (weekdays, particularly at rush hour). They cover a large chunk of Southampton, making the handy detour to Portswood for second and third years like myself. However, if it’s a quick trip from campus to the city you’re after, there’s far quicker services that can get you there.
Student Usage: 5/5 (v. busy)
Regularity: 5/5 (runs every 10 mins at peak times)
Speed: 2/5 (stops often, resulting in long journeys end to end)
Coverage: 4/5 (reaches the depths of the city centre and detours to Portswood)
U2The U2 is an old favourite of mine, and likely to anyone who started their time at Uni of Southampton living at Glen Eyre Halls. Like the U1, the U2 is a city service (U2C), but shoots straight down the Avenue into the city from campus rather than snaking around Portswood. It does briefly stop at Avenue Campus for Humanities students, and you usually reach your destination (a stop ideal for reaching both Mayflower Halls, Mayflower Theatre and Southampton Central Station) in around ten minutes. It’s for sure the one you want to jump on if you’re running late!
In the other direction, the U2B heads into the largely unknown suburban haven of Bassett, the paradise of soccer moms and their commuting husbands, living in houses with price tags our student bank accounts would wince at. You can reach the Glen, Hartley Grove and Bencraft halls of residence here in Southampton’s deep north. There is an even speedier U2X, that skips the small detour to Avenue Campus to zoom up the Avenue to Highfield at lightning speed. However, the U2 has a very limited range of stops, omitting most of the city centre and Portswood, and they are mostly single-deckers, crammed to the rafters with freshers from Mayflower and Glen, who make second and third years jealous by flaunting free bus passes.
Student Usage: 4/5 (v. busy, but limited space on board)
Regularity: 4/5 (runs every 20 minutes at peak times)
Speed: 5/5 (stops often, resulting in long journeys end to end)
Coverage: 2/5 (misses Portswood and most of the city centre from its route)
U6For some reason that I am unable to explain, the UniLink routes jump from U1 and 2 to the U6 inexplicably. The U6 is the longest and most infrequent of the services, going from Southampton General Hospital to the National Oceanography Centre (U6C), and back again (U6H). It’s definitely the service that covers the most of Southampton – General Hospital is in Shirley, east Southampton, and after Highfield the service heads far enough west to brush past Wessex Lane, before the U6C visits Portswood and passes Liberty Point and Solent. However, to travel from one end to the other, it’ll take you just under an hour, and that’s without the hellish traffic that plagues the route’s more major roads, like Portswood and Burgess Roads.
In fact, it takes so long, that if you’re planning a journey from Central Station to General Hospital, it’s quicker to get a U2 to campus and then get the U6 one ahead of the bus you could have got on at the station. That would require effort though, so I’d understand if you just wanted a nice sit down to use the extremely dodgy complimentary WiFi offered on board. The length of the route also means that the U6, which aims to arrive every 20 minutes, is all over the place in terms of timing; it’s more potluck. Nonetheless, the U6 is a necessary evil for those that want to travel via bus to General Hospital (medics and accident-prone students) or Solent (I suppose you might have a valid reason).
Student Usage: 3/5 (can be busy at times, but its a double-decker)
Regularity: 3/5 (runs every 20 minutes at peak times, but timings are all over the place)
Speed: 1/5 (travels to everywhere under the sun)
Coverage: 5/5 (again, travels to everywhere under the sun)
U9The U9? What’s the U9, you ask? This mysterious and shy beast is rarely spotted on Southampton’s roads; avid bus-watchers huddle in the Interchange in hope of catching a glimpse of this rare creature. I must confess, though I strived to take a trip on the U9 as part of my research for this article, I failed and I’m yet to ride the most illusive of the bus routes. It’s for the pure reason that the U9 only runs twice and once back per day, though you might be lucky enough to catch a glance if you are up early (7am and 7.30 departures from Highfield), or once at 4pm.
The U9 moves between General Hospital and Townhill Park (where?!), which is on the other side of the River Itchen. After stopping at Highfield, it passes the top of Portswood before heading where no other UniLink bus dare travel, across the bridge into Southampton’s suburban paradises of Bitterne and Townhill. Why does it exist? No one quite seems to know. If you do, please comment before and enlighten me. Until then, the U9 will remain Southampton’s deepest mystery.
Student Usage: 1/5 (it runs at 7am)
Regularity: 1/5 (runs 3 times a day)
Speed: N/A (I have no idea)
Coverage: 4/5 (goes where no man has ever gone before)
For me, the winner has to be the U2. It’s the fastest of the services, and holds sentimental value for any past resident of Glen, Mayflower or any other of the halls on its path. I’ll have to save the delights of Bluestar for another day. As you can see, I have completely overthought the simple action of catching a bus, but at least I’ve shared it with my fellow students.