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Local website bitternepark.info have got hold of the route map for Bluestar 16, which starts on 30th September. Here it is:
There is surprisingly little overlap with First 7, with Bevois Valley and the top end of Riverside Park being missed out in favour of Stag Gates and Cobden Avenue. This will open up more direct destinations to Townhill Parkers and in most cases, will force them to choose between First and Bluestar before they decide which stop to wait at. Bluestar will need to market this right in order to get enough people using it from the outset, as they are serving some roads that didn't previously have a direct bus to town, so people won't yet be used to waiting for a bus to town from there.
Bluestar have officially announced route 16, which will run between town and Townhill Park from 30th September. It will run every 20 minutes Mon-Sat daytimes and half-hourly on Sundays. The full route is still uncertain but they have revealed that the 16 will serve Cobden Avenue and Wakefield Road. Between the two, it still isn't clear whether it will serve Mousehole Lane or Witts Hill and Midanbury Lane or maybe an alternative route. More as we get it.
Stagecoach have released the new timetable for the 69, which starts on 2nd September.
First are retaliating to Bluestar's imminent new route to Townhill Park with a revised timetable on the 7 from 7th October.
More interestingly, on the same day, First will launch new route 11 from central Southampton to Hythe, treading well and truly on Bluestar's toes. We have no further details on the route yet but we can fairly safely assume that it will by-pass Marchwood and compete head on with Bluestar 9. Bluestar 8 is under contract to Hampshire County Council, so if First were to run via Marchwood, HCC would cut the subsidy and Bluestar would cut the route, unless they decide to run it commercially to try and get First of 'their patch'.
Hythe has expanded greatly since this map was put together.
Watersiders have long complained about high fares on Bluestar, so with some clever pricing, First could make big inroads here. They will of course also be taking on the historic Hythe Ferry, which is much quicker for direct journeys from Hythe to Southampton.
Regarding the route, apart from the Marchwood option, there is also the question of whether it will run direct between Totton (assuming it will serve the town centre) and town or whether it will run via the General Hospital as First 10 currently does. If it does run via the General, it will be far less attractive to Watersiders heading in to central Southampton, but will provide a new direct link from the General Hospital to Hythe.
My guess is that this is indeed retaliation against Bluestar for Townhill Park and that First 11 will be head to head with Bluestar 9. As soon as the exact route is revealed, we will let you know.
Xelabus have got their website working normally again. While it was down (and major browsers were warning of potential malware attacks), it appears that the X13 and X14 had yet another route and timetable change to become the X14 and X15, which will run for the last time this Friday due to low usage. One can't help thinking that those routes may have performed better if the passengers had a way to find out about them and if the routes weren't altered seemingly every month.
Sticking with Xelabus, their X5 becomes the X3 from 28th August. The route stays the same, but operating hours are cut drastically. The Saturday service is cut completely. It's a shame to see this route shrivel as it provides an important link between Valley Park and Eastleigh. I wonder if Xelabus's non-participation in PlusBus could be an issue here - there must be plenty of people in Valley Park who could use a bus to get them to Eastleigh rail station for a commute up towards London, but were put off the X5 by its already limited running hours and the fact that Eastleigh's PlusBus add-on ticket (available with train tickets to/from Eastleigh) is not recognised by Xelabus.
There are roadworks in Shirley Warren until Sunday causing diversions to First 3 and 10.
Velvet have announced several changes from 30th September: A will have some of its Monday to Wednesday evening journeys restored, after they were axed last October. This is balanced by a slight cut in service on Thursday to Saturday evenings. B will be the new route number for journeys from Eastleigh to Hamble via Hedge End. C1 and C2 get a slight route and timetable change. Velvet also take the Sunday C1 service back from Xelabus as of 2nd September, great news for users of PlusBus and the Solent Travelcard. E8 goes hourly on Sunday daytimes and has a slight timetable change on Thurs-Sat evenings. 46 could be disappearing, depending on what the misogynistic non-bus users at Hampshire County Council, who subsidise the route, decide. N3 is renumbered N8 and has a route change. N6 also has a route change.
First have a temporary bargain ticket for journeys between Millbrook and town. FirstWeek Millbrook is £8 until 1st September.
There were many comments to our last post, which questioned the future of First in Southampton. We'd all like to see the nationally tainted First brand turn over a new leaf and let the local management teams do what they do well with only minimal interference from head office in distant Aberdeen. But the national situation described in the last post means that the unthinkable (for some) could be round the corner and their Southampton operations might not be part of the First Group for much longer. So who might be willing to buy their Sotonian network?
Stagecoach has to be a contender. A major national operator, with a base nearby in Winchester, it has a track record of running strong, professional regional operations all around the country. South West Trains has been part of Stagecoach since BR was smashed up, so they're not completely unknown here. Indeed, their 46 route used to run right into central Southampton. The only thing that might put them off is that First's regional subsidiary here also includes Portsmouth, where Stagecoach are the only major competition. The recent case in North Devon demonstrated that the Competition Commission would not be likely to approve them taking over there. But if the price is right, Stagecoach might be interested in snapping up Southampton alone, meaning MegaRiders all round. They've already had one chance in our city back in the 80s of course: they bought the whole of what was then Hampshire Bus but broke off the Southampton and Eastleigh section and sold it on to become Solent Blue Line. Stagecoach were also responsible for selling Southampton's bus station to become the Marlands Shopping Centre.
The second potential suitor is RATP, better known as the company that runs the Paris Metro. They've owned Yellow Buses of Bournemouth for a couple of years now as well as an operation in London. They even run Manchester's trams. There would be no competition issues with them taking the rest of First Hants & Dorset's operations in Portsmouth and Weymouth and with the French state behind them, their pockets are certainly deep enough to make an interesting offer. The question is will they make a move to turn our buses yellow on this side of New Forest?
This is all speculation of course. First might decide to fight back, keep hold of Southampton, sell one or more of their other operations around the country and really make a go of giving our city the service it deserves. Their track record suggests otherwise, but the changes they made here in April do suggest a significant gear change and appear to have got Go Ahead worried. Anything could happen in the next few months.
Bluestar have registered a new route, the 16, to run between the city centre and Townhill Park via Portswood from 30th September head-to-head with First 7:
This is most probably a response to the national corporate problems at First. First needs money, fast, and has said that it might be prepared to sell some of its bus operations around the country. It tried to sell its North Devon operation to Stagecoach, but after the Competition Commission stepped in, decided to just close it, leaving passengers there with a Stagecoach monopoly after all. Here in Southampton, First completely overhauled their network in April. Either it was in trouble locally and that was the last gasp, or they saw potential in the Southampton business and were seeking to streamline it, concentrating on building profitable routes, which could bag them a small fortune when they sell. Or just maybe they genuinely are interested in serving our city for the long term. Either way, a sale of First Southampton's local operations could well be on the cards and Bluestar going head-to-head on a route they've never served before is a message both to First and to anyone thinking of buying their local operations here: that they are ready to move in on First's routes and they will compete for them. This will surely reduce the price potential purchasers would be willing to pay for First Southampton, although would any interested parties seriously have expected Bluestar to just sit back while their biggest competitor changes hands? Go Ahead know what they are doing and the uncertainty around the future of First is an opportunity that they are clearly determined to exploit to the full. If First stays in the city, they will have a fight on their hands. If they sell, whoever buys will face heavy competition and would probably be left with a fraction of the current First network. If no-one is willing to buy and Bluestar's attacks intensify, could we eventually see First just deciding to close their Southampton operations? All we know at this stage is that nothing is certain, but it's going to be a very interesting few months.
In other news, the bus stop outside Asda on Portland Terrace in town is closed for 3 weeks. No buses are diverted, so you'll need to walk to either the previous or next stops for Bluestar 3, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 18, Brijan 7, Unilink U1 and U6, Salisbury Reds X7 and First 8, 8A, 8B and 9.