Monday 24 September 2012

Bluestar versus First : Latest News

Firstly, warm congratulations to Peter Shelley and Christine, to whose Silver Wedding "do" the fbbs were invited yesterday; and a good "do" it was too. As an avid bus ticket machine collector, Peter had appointed his daughters as Paris-style "poin├žonneuses" to clip appropriate admission tickets.
Here is the happy couple in earnest and reminiscent mood!
Peter is head honcho at Hampshire County Council public transport section and was formerly a colleague of fbb. Appropriately, but co-incidentally, today's blog is from his "patch".
You may remember the story so far ...
First introduces a new network in Southampton including the X2 which effectively doubles the frequency of First's service to the Millbrook Estate. Solent Blue Line also operates to Millbrook and they are very much not chuffed. So they attempt to nibble away at First's traditional city network with a 20 minute frequency to Townhill Park.

A rather small (A6 size) and feeble leaflet dropped through fbb's letterbox on Thursday last.
It contains details of Bluestar's new trendy "App" ...
... whatever one of those is. The "Key Card" is  also featured.
Of course, there is a timetable, of which this is an extract.
And there is simple and adequate diagrammatic map. But therein lies a snag; and it's a snag which is not at all uncommon in public transport information. The timetable and the map don't match. Four of the time points on the table are simply not shown on the map. fbb has added them to make the (time?) point.
Why the difference? fbb guesses that the people who draw the map never get to see the timetables (and vice versa).  Surely the map and the timetable should show the same detail?

The next phase of the story, however, is that  First starts a competitive service to Hythe, as previously blogged (read again). Publicity is beginning to appear and we are promised trendy "First" branding as below:-
At the same time, it is rumoured that First have won the tender for the Hythe local services, although details are not yet published. So, the next move passes to Bluestar.

Having lost the tender for the Hythe local, a new registration has been lodged for Bluestar 8 (currently identical with Firsts's new 11 but at different times) ...
... increasing it to every 30 minutes and extending journeys every hour to Calshot, mirroring the H3, due to be taken over from Bluestar by First.
But the H3 is tendered (subsidised) by Hampshire County Council whilst the revised service 8 is run commercially without subsidy.

This is a real "spoiler" for First, because the council will not subsidise a route if it is being run commercially by another operator. So, in a likely "opt out" clause, First may well lose the H3; which in turn may make the whole of the Hythe local tender (H1, H2 and H3: see map) unviable.

To summarise:-

First starts  X2  upsetting Bluestar

Blustar starts  16  to challenge First

First starts  11   competing with Bluestar  8 .

First "pinches" tendered  H1 , H2  and  H3  from Bluestar.

Bluestar doubles the frequency of  8  extending it to mirror  H3 .

First loses  H3  ( probably) and ...

... finds revised Bluestar  8  running at similar times to  11 .

All this will reveal itself to Joe Public over the next month or so. It's getting silly and there will be tears before bedtime. Too many buses and too few passengers mean unhealthy financial losses. And what is at Calshot to bring about this "needle match"? A few beach huts ...
... and a view of the Needles! To be fair, there is a little village as well.

When an irresistible First
Such as you.
Meets an odd immovable object like Blue.
You can bet as sure as you live.
 Somethings gotta give
 Somethings gotta give
 Somethings gotta give

 Next Bus Blog : Tuesday 25th September 


  1. Precisely the sort of actions that make politicians (and the public) call for regulation or competition by contract.

    And who can blame them.

  2. Indubitably! But the bus companies don't say that, do they?

  3. Firstly, my congratulations to Peter and Christine. (I'm a former colleague of both - I'm sure Peter will be able to work out who I am from my 'alias'!)

    As far as Calshot and the Waterside is concerned, this is an area where I had some involvement with the bus services, many years ago. There is quite good potential - no railway line, while the services from Southampton always had something of a dual role, acting as feeders to the Hythe Ferry as well as carrying traffic to Southampton and Totton. It's true there's not a lot at Calshot, and some of the potential traffic generators are some way from the bus stops, but the rest of the route is fairly well populated. So a little competition to keep the operators on their toes, and encourage some fresh ideas is no bad thing.

    I often wonder what lies behind the thinking that bus services have to be constant? The rest of the world changes (whether we like it or not), and bus services need to keep up. A commercial operator, with a financial incentive, is far more likely to do so than some public tendering or franchising authority, which will have to analyse the requirements 'second hand'. We have that system in Germany, and, frankly, in rural areas it doesn't give you any better service than the UK approach. One company near to where I live has been pressing the local authority to improve the bus service for years - with no result. And, of course, it can only be changed once a year! It's daft, and is sure to waste money as well.

  4. And Bluestar also prepares to defend its Totton services with increases in routes 10/11 and 12 both from 30min to 20min. Going to be an interesting six months. Come on Sir Brian, you must be tempted to join in from the North !

  5. Ah yes, but you forget that the start of this spat was Bluestar's increased competition through constantly increasing the frequency on the 18!

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