Tuesday 10 January 2023

Southampton : Last Of First

How It Used To Be

Southampton Corporation Transport was always a proud operator of trams and then buses as above. A notable location was the Bargate,
Services were extensive within the city boundary as shown by this 1950 map, below as a western bit ...
... and then to the east.
Note that, back in 1950 (the date on the map) the link at Woolston was by floating bridge ...
... made redundant by the opening, in 1977, of the Woolston Bridge known more correctly as the Itchen Bridge..
Buses did not travel on the floating bridge, so it was either a bus ferry bus ...
... or a "long way round" bus ride.

As the city expanded outside the original boundary, the Hants and Dorset bus company ...

... argued for a share of the business, so ended up running a few city routes, notably to Millbrook and Thornhill, a route operates by Bluestar today.
Then came deregulation and an end to operators' "territorial" rights and agreements. It would be fair to say that staid and reliable Southampton Corporation Transport was ill-prepared for the arrival of competition.

This duly arrived in May 1987 in the form of Solent Blue Line, a Southern Vectis subsidiary.
Operation was concentrated on four Corporation routes ...
... with some fairly un-municipal marketing, seen below when the 160 was extended to Butts Road.
And trips to Paris as well!
Insiders who worked for Southern Vectis at the time have confessed (off the record) that this operation was not successful. Indeed had not the October 1987 development happened, Blue Line would have had to be shut down.

But along came Brian Souter. He had brought Hampshire Bus and made pots of money selling the Southampton bus station and the depot, both for redevelopment. So his piggy bank was replete! Why bother running buses when you can make your money selling off the assets?

Thus it was that Solent Blue Line gained legitimacy by being a new version of Hampshire Bus.

Slowly but surely the competitive Southampton city services faded into obscurity and history, being replaced with pre-existing Hampshire bus services avoiding any aggro with the Corporation.

Blue Line begat Blue Star and, with Southern Vectis, was sold to GoAhead. Southampton Citybus went to First.

How It Is Now.
Over the intervening years, First has retreated, retrenched and rebranded; the most recent being as City Red ...
... meanwhile, Blue Star has expanded and inserted extra routes to provide infill and new links after First's apparent policy of reduction. Not quite so easy to see at this size, but below we have the current Blue Star western area ...
... and to the east of the River Itchen.
There is a lot more Blue Star than there was, to which must be added the Blue Star contract to run the Unibus network of services for the University of Southampton, originally an independent company.

Then comes this announcement.
First waves an un-fond farewell after service on 18th February.

Followed immediately by this announcement.
And very soon after the initial announcement the new services were paraded on a revised Blue Star network map; and very recently we have been provided with a full set of timetables.
So, tomorrow fbb will explain the new services and show how they replace all (almost all) of First's abandoned network.

Surely First and GoAhead have not been in unofficial and (possibly) illegal collusion? Of course not!

Puzzle Picture
The pink ferry shelter is at Warsash for the ferry to Hamble.

fbb does not know what happened to the Hornby Railways programme which did NOT appear at 2000 yesterday on Yesterday.

 Next Southampton blog : Wednesday 11th January 


  1. Andrew Kleissner10 January 2023 at 08:43

    Your blog makes it abundantly clear how complicated all this privatisation and competition has made things for passengers, who basically want one co-ordinated, comprehensive and efficient service.

    BTW when I went to Uni in 1971 the Guy Arab in your photo - the last of its kind in the city - was still in service. Members of the Transport Society always hoped that it would turn up! (I think that there were one or two open-toppers too, but not in regular service).

  2. Always wondered with the Solent Blue Line operation what might have been planned for a potential route 150 ? Seemed to me an odd omission as their other routes were 140, 160 and 170 . . .

  3. If I remember correctly the Unilink network was initially run by Southampton CityBus (not a separate company, unlike Universitybus (now Uno) in Hertfordshire). Presumably they didn’t do so well and the contract was soon let to Solent Blue Line / Bluestar