Tuesday, 29 November 2022

NEWSFLASH: First finally pulls the plug on Southampton

First announced today that they are closing their City Red operation in Southampton. The final day of running will be Saturday 18th February 2023. All of their routes in the city will be withdrawn, with the exception of their Solent Ranger X4 and X5 services, which are run by their Fareham depot, which is unaffected by the move. 

Go Ahead's Bluestar, who will have a near monopoly, are already planning a network of replacement routes.

They will no doubt be helped by recent experience in Bournemouth, where Yellow Buses collapsed at the end of August and Go Ahead's More stepped in with 48 hours notice to successfully replace most of Yellow's routes. Bluestar have a bit more notice here, so there should be no gaps in service.

This move by First brings to an end almost 150 years of history, as their current operation is the direct successor of the Southampton Tramways Company, initially running horse-drawn trams from 1879 before coming under council control in 1898 and eventual conversion to electric trams. After the second world war, buses gradually replaced the trams, but the council-owned Southampton City Transport still had a monopoly on most routes within the city boundary. Buses outside of Greater London and Northern Ireland were deregulated in 1986, which meant competition was now allowed. In 1993, what was then known as Southampton CityBus was sold to its employees. They gave in to temptation in 1997, as First swooped in to wave a bunch of tenners under their noses and local ownership of our city's buses came to an end.

Since then, it's been a sad, long and slow decline.

The first major blow was in 2001, when the University of Southampton, unhappy at how First was serving their students and staff, decided to subsidise its own network of routes, which became Unilink. That made many First routes on the Portswood corridor become less and less viable. They were gradually cut back until they were eventually withdrawn (save for the Townhill Park route, which stumbles on), leaving a huge hole in their coverage of the city. When I was growing up in Swaythling in the 90s, First had a bus every 10 minutes to the city centre. Decades of mismanagement saw First eventually abandon Swaythling completely in September 2015.

Here's how First's network looked when this blog first launched back in 2009:

There have been some bizarre cutbacks, with First withdrawing routes, declaring them to be unviable, only for Bluestar to immediately pick them up and find them so viable that they are still running them to this day. Evidence: Bluestar 7 to Sholing and to Lordshill via Oakley Road, literally cobbled together over the years out of routes that First had simply given up on and stopped caring about.

Around this time, First lost interest in those routes that were kept running by council subsidy. Filling major gaps in the commercial network, most of them are now with Xelabus.

Here's their network in summer 2015:

By 2019, this was all that remained:

Much the same as their current network, which runs until 18th February 2023:

The main difference between the last two images is the addition of route 1 to Calmore which is a futile almost exact duplicate of Bluestar 12.

For more details of First's long and inevitable demise in our city, see this blog's previous posts. There's an index in the right-hand panel on the desktop version. We've been going since 2009, so we've managed to document a lot of the damage they've caused.

Looking to the future, Bluestar will now be in charge of the whole commercial bus network in Southampton. Good for the inter-validity of network tickets across the city. Not necessarily so good for the price of those tickets: with the absence of competition, Bluestar can and probably will raise fares significantly. We'll be watching and reporting.

We of course feel sorry for First's workforce, the best of which will almost certainly be picked up by Bluestar, and wish them well for the future. To First's management, who have never truly understood or cared about this city: good riddance.

Friday, 25 November 2022

Christmas Round Up

 Here are links to the Christmas and New Year service levels that have been announced so far:

More as we get them.

In other news, there have been fares rises at More, and First City Red 13 has a minor timetable change from Monday 28th November.

Wednesday, 9 November 2022

Bluestar xmas / Salisbury Reds fares up

Bluestar have revealed the level of service they'll be running over Christmas and New Year, including a limited service on Christmas Day, however the special timetables for that day and New Year's Day are yet to be published.

First Solent have published their new timetables with minor changes for routes 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 18 and X5 from Sunday 4th December.

Salisbury Reds fares go up on Monday 14th November, plus there are timetable changes on routes 87, 88 and Red5.

The Activ8, jointly operated by Stagecoach and Salisbury Reds, got a new timetable on 23rd October.

Cresta Coaches will take over routes 63 and 240 from Stagecoach from 21st November. The new timetables appear in Hampshire County Council's latest travel guide for Winchester.

Sunday, 30 October 2022

Minilink Closes / City Red 9 Reprieve / Sandbanks Ferry Shut for 6 Weeks


Southampton Minilink has closed down permanently, with both of their remaining services, the 13A City Centre-Harefield and C Eastleigh-Hiltingbury withdrawn. There are now no buses between Eastleigh and Chandlers Ford/Hiltingbury.

First City Red 9 has a reprieve. It was slated to be axed completely from tomorrow, but now the city council will subsidise it for three months. What happens after that is anyone's guess, but it means that from Monday the 9 will still run with a new timetable, albeit via Peartree instead of Merry Oak, which gets the rerouted 13. Other changes on City Red, mentioned in our previous post, also kicked in today.

Xelabus have a minor timetable change to the X4 Velmore-Hedge End from tomorrow, but the new timetable does not currently appear on their website. It does appear on Traveline (screenshots below) and comparing it with the current timetable I can see that:

  • The 1645 from Hedge End to Velmore will now leave 15 minutes later at 1700 Mon-Sats.
  • The 1810 from Eastleigh to Hedge End will now leave 10 minutes later at 1820 Mon-Sats and will run direct via Southampton Road, no longer serving Barton Peveril College.

Fares rise on Bluestar from tomorrow, 31st October. Also, their The Key smartcard is to be gradually phased out. It is already the case that the best value tickets are only available via their app.

Fares also rise at Southern Vectis on the Isle of Wight, where The Key is also being wound down. Use their app to get the best value.

Sandbanks Ferry will be closed for up to six weeks from tomorrow, 31st October, meaning changes to More Purbeck Breezer 50, which will be split into two routes for the duration of the closure:

  • 51: Bournemouth to Sandbanks
  • X50: Bournemouth to Studland via Poole & Swanage, running non-stop from Westbourne to Poole and Poole to Swanage.

South West Coaches X3 between Blandford Forum and Shaftesbury is withdrawn from 30th December.

In Winchester, Stagecoach have announced that they won't be running the 63 Owslebury service or the 240 Alresford-Ropley service after 18th November. They say to check Hampshire County Council's website for details of who will take over those services - it currently has no details of any change, so it's not clear whether anyone will be taking them on.

In Portsmouth, changes are coming from 4th December on First Solent 1, 2, 3, 7, 8 and 18, and from 8th January on Fareham routes 28/28A.

Friday, 7 October 2022

Minilink & City Red changes / Peartree to be cut off

Minilink 14 has now been withdrawn, leaving Chartwell Green with First City Red 8. The 13A remains weekends only until 30th October, after which it is still scheduled to become a daily service. The C in Eastleigh will be withdrawn on Friday 25th November.

First City Red have confirmed changes to and new timetables on much of their network from Sunday 30th October. The main changes are:

  • 2A: New route running weekday mornings only from Weston through to the General Hospital.
  • 3: Weekday daytime frequency increased from every 12 to every 10 minutes. Sunday daytime frequency cut from every 15 to every 20 minutes.
  • 7: Weekday daytime frequency reduced from every 12 to every 15 minutes.
  • 8: Extended to the General Hospital using the same route as the 3.
  • 9: Withdrawn. Sholing still has a more direct service to the City Centre on Bluestar 7. Merry Oak gets a rerouted 13.
  • 13: Weekday frequency cut to hourly. Diverted to serve Merry Oak instead of Peartree, leaving Peartree with no public transport.

Their new route map gives confirmation of the 8 mirroring the 3's route between the City Centre and General Hospital, and the changes to the 13 east of the Itchen:

Monday, 26 September 2022

Round up 26th Sep


Southampton Minilink 14 is withdrawn from 28th October, when the weekend-only 13A will go 7 days a week. Chartwell Green's loss is Harefield's gain. 

Minor changes from 16th October on First Solent routes 7, 8, X4, X5, F1 and F2. The F3 is withdrawn.

On 9th November there will be changes to routes 1 and 9/9A. More details as we get them.

First Wessex have some changes from 9th October on routes 3, 4, 8, X51 and X53. the biggest change is the loss of evening and Sunday services on the 4 and 8.

Southern Vectis have released details of minor changes to most of their routes from 2nd October.

Thursday, 15 September 2022

Sunday service on Monday / Other changes on the way

All operators will be running a Sunday service this coming Bank Holiday Monday 19th September, for the Queen's funeral. Go South Coast will also be pausing services across all their brands (Bluestar, More, Salisbury Reds, Southern Vectis, Unilink and Unibus) between 10am and 1pm so that their drivers have a chance to watch the funeral.

Other changes on the way:

First City Red 7 got a new timetable last Sunday to try and address reliability issues, partly caused by roadworks in St Denys.

First City Red 8 extends to the General Hospital from 30th October. We'll find out how often as soon as the timetable is released. On the same day, the 9 is withdrawn, surrendering most of Sholing to Bluestar 7, and there are new timetables on routes 3 and 13, which is rumoured to be dumping Peartree for Merry Oak.

Unilink has new timetables on all routes and a slight route change on the U2B in Glen Eyre from Sunday 25th September.

More introduce changes to many routes from Monday 19th September. Route 11 is withdrawn and replaced by a diverted X6.

First Wessex has new timetables from 18th September on routes 1, 2, 10 and X54. The X52 is withdrawn for the winter. Changes also on the 8X51 and X53 from 9th October.

First Solent have changes to routes F1, F2, X4, X57 and 8 from 16th October. The F3 is withdrawn.

Southern Vectis have registered changes to most services from 2nd October. Details on those as we get them.

Saturday, 27 August 2022

Changes on the way / Stagecoach increase fares / Xelacuts bite

More fairly minor timetable changes to several routes from Sunday 4th September on:

First Solent have a new timetable on routes F1 and F2 from Monday 17th October. They had been slated for the axe but have been saved by a funding reprieve.

Stagecoach fares will rise from Thursday 1st September. The adult Dayrider Gold remains £9.10, Winchester Dayrider rises 20p to £4.90 and the Portsmouth Dayrider goes up 30p to £4.70.

Xelabus X17 runs this Wednesday 31st August for the final time, leaving Bishops Waltham with no bus service towards Petersfield for the first time in decades. The X8 runs for the last time this Sunday, after which Boyatt Wood will now be a bus-free zone on Sundays and bank holidays. The X6/X7 run for the final time on Saturday 3rd September.

From Monday 5th September, Southampton Minilink launch the C between Eastleigh and Chandlers Ford, partly replacing the X6/X7. Velmore is spoilt for choice, also being served by an extension of Xelabus X4. Hiltingbury is left with no bus link to Eastleigh.

First Wessex have registered changes from 9th October on their routes 34, X51X52 and X53. Not yet clear what they are, but we'll bring you more as we get it.