Friday, 27 April 2018

From First, A Voyage Of Discovery

Not many years ago, if fbb had shown his readers this graphic, the last bus operator that readers would have expected to read about would be First. For the Aberdeen-based group, everything was corporate without exception. Even after Fearnley's arrival, Barbie became new Barbie, but still applied universally.

Slowly, but effectively, branding of services and specific route marketing began to creep into some parts of First Group's local management.

At the end of this month, something dramatic happens in Bath.
Three inter-urban routes get a stunning make-over. The leaflets are particularly attractive ...
... with information panels to encourage passengers to, well, discover.
The D1 (Bath to Warminster and Salisbury) is the only one of three to be largely unchanged from its predecessor 265.
As you can see, it runs every 30 minutes to Warminster with a continuation to Salisbuty every two hours. In Trowbridge, alternate journeys run via the "new" A363 and the well-landscaped White Horse Business Park (with pond) ...
... whereas the other half stick to the old main road through North Bradley.
But the D2 and D3 are a real step forward.
The 267 ran hourly to Frome with some journeys looping via Rode.
At Frome, all journeys served the newer estates north of the town centre via the delightfully named Clink, not shown on the map above. South of the town, buses performed a one way loop via Gibbet Hill and Critchill (more lovely names) and back via Sainsburys and the main road.
The D2 becomes every 30 minutes!
The loop, now incorporates a bit of everything, ...
... with buses running via Clink, Frome Centre, direct to Sainsburys, then via Gibbet Hill, Frome Centre and straight back along the main road. But, because the frequency is doubled, buses now run alternate ways round this mega-blob thus giving all bits of the town at least an hourly "direct" ride to everywhere.

Rode now gets a bus every hour.

Very well thought-out, First Bus!

Likewise the old hourly 272 ...
...becomes the half hourly D3.
All journeys run via Batheaston, rather than some using the snazzy A4 by-pass road.
First does have competition on the D2 and D3 corridors from, for example, Faresavers X72 (via the Batheaston by-pass) ...
... nibbling away at the contents of First's piggy bank; likewise an X67 to Frome.
Both these only run on Mondays to Fridays. Not knowing the fares structures at the moment, fbb can only hops that those from First are attractive enough to make the increased frequency a commercial success.

Unfortunately, First's leaflets only quote their "M-ticket" prices ...
... with the ominous warning "Tickets on bus may cost more" - off-putting to the casual user and first time user intent on "Discovering". fbb did go to "" but there was nothing about "ordinary" fares at all.


What developments like this really need is something like a "May Madness" special offer of a day return for £3 (???!!!) to "get the punters in".

But overall this is a superb example of how to make bus travel attractive. Compare it with fbb's examination of just one bus stop in Leicester or, even more depressingly, with a total lack of any meaningful publicity in Sheffield, and you quickly realise that bus companies still have a lot to learn!

And, in a month's time we have M3, T1, and T2 arriving in Bristol. fbb can't wait - but will have to, with a visit planned after the late May Bank Holiday. What excitement!

 Next Bourrnemouth Bits blog : Saturday 28th April 


  1. How apt a title for your suggestion
    May Madness
    These aren’t new routes. They are existing longstanding routes with existing customers paying the current prices.
    There’s no need to fill the bus up with people paying vastly less than now - in effect diluting the current solid revenues.
    It’s about incremental growth especially through frequency, quality of service and marketing.
    If it was a s simple as your suggestion - just cut the fares - don’t you think operators would be doing it.

    You’re starting to sound like all those people we regularly listen to at public meetings and forums - the ones who think thy are experts and that we re idiots - the ones who tell us - if you halved the fares twice as many people would travel.

  2. Another FBB 'blopper'! Service D2 does not divert via Rode hourly - Rode just receives one additional northbound journey on Monday to Saturday. The new service D2 will divert three times a day southbound via Rode and five times a day (Monday to Friday)/four times a day (Saturday) northbound.

  3. To Anonymous top. Strange how a bus company is perceived as different from any other retail business. Most producers/retailers will have introductory offers, e.g. BOGOF, to promote their new or relaunched range.
    The MetroBus M3 in Bristol, a service that may never be "commercial", is free for a few weeks.
    My suggestion is for a limited time offer (i.e. just like Tesco etc) to attract the new customers that a doubling of frequency will need.
    You have to "tempt" new business and painting the buses in pretty colours or doubling the frequency needs a greater "boost" to get the necessary quick returns.
    We know what can happen - "the new Discover services have not performed up to expectations ...."
    First are very good at short-term developments, with withdrawals before the business has had time to grow.

    To anonymous below. Thanks for the correction. I misread the timetable. Sorry that perfection sometimes (often) evades the blogging brain!

    1. FBB. Far too simplistic.
      You’re doing it now. assuming we’re idiots who know nothing and that you’re an expert.
      You’d want to offer reduced prices to tempt NEW customers, not to existing customers.
      The advance of technology and a degree of business intelligence these days allows a much greater ability to specifically and directly place offers with potential new customers.
      The days of blanket May Madness fare cuts are long gone.

  4. Further timetable correction: Faresaver X72 *does* run on Saturdays, at an hourly frequency. Their timetable leaflet includes the evening 271 journeys operated by First under contract to Wiltshire Council.

  5. Half fares for all as a promotion: been there, done that, seen the numbers rise and revenue fall.

    Reduce and simplify fares: First Bristol, been there, done that, increased numbers dramatically, swapped lots of single decks for double decks and the bottom line? After several years, little better, I understand.

  6. By stark comparison First apparently closed both their Southampton and Fareham travel shops last Friday. According to Southampton bus update site no advance warning given and staff only told on the day.

    Don't worry passengers have been advised they can you get it all on their mobile phone!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. I wouldn't rely on the Soton bus blog for impartial views of First in Southampton!

  7. FBB - you really are being naughty in your choice of words as it could mislead.

    I also followed the link to the discover website after you said:

    "Unfortunately, First's leaflets only quote their "M-ticket" prices ...

    ... with the ominous warning "Tickets on bus may cost more" - off-putting to the casual user and first time user intent on "Discovering". fbb did go to "" but there was nothing about "ordinary" fares at all."

    Now, depends what you mean by "ordinary" fares. Is there a full faretable? Well, no. However, does it provide the detail on the "ominous" on-bus fares - well, yes it does. It provides a comparison between those and the electronic version. It also details the information on fares for young people and students.

    In fairness, the X72 cover does have that mistake of Mon to Fri when it is (and has been for the last five years) a six day operation. Like First, Faresaver also offer both on-bus and e-tickets, with the latter similarly discounted.

    We can only look forward to the Faresaver expose by our portly pursuer of truth!

  8. Random sample of three consecutive D3s in Melksham this afternoon:
    1 "Discover"
    2 First "Barbie"