First held a 'Meet the Manager' session on their Facebook page on Tuesday. Many people asked about the cuts in services to Sholing, Merry Oak, Harefield and Townhill Park, but they all got the same answer: that those services are not used by enough full fare-paying passengers. It's an interesting choice of words and accurately highlights several problems facing all bus companies in Britain outside London:
- Fewer people are travelling by bus
- A higher proportion of those still travelling by bus are pensioners on free passes
- Bus companies are not being adequately reimbursed by the government for the cost of transporting pensioners. The costs are therefore being picked up by taxpayers and full fare-paying passengers through higher fares, which in turn deter more full fare-paying passengers
- In the current system, all bus companies exist to make a profit. If they lose money on a route and local councils are unwilling or unable to subsidise it, they are free to cut that route.
When the council ran the city's buses, they had a duty to make sure that all areas of the city were connected with a reasonable service. Now nobody has that duty. First's only duty is to make money for its shareholders. The council can subsidise extra routes to fill in the gap in the commercial bus network, but it has no legal obligation to do so. Therefore we are now seeing services being drastically cut in large areas of Southampton.
With the new First 10 set to duplicate the eastern half of Bluestar 18, the boys in blue aren't taking it lying down. They've registered a timetable change for the 18 from 21st September (in addition to the change already scheduled for 1st Sep), details of which are still to be revealed, but it's highly likely that a frequency boost is on the cards. All Unilink routes also get new timetables from the same date.
Some Stagecoach routes linking our region with Winchester have new timetables from 30th August. See them at these links: 46, 66, 69.