More on Laidlaw & First here
Subject to anti-trust, First Group is to be the (proud?) owner of Laidlaw Transit Systems, Laidlaw Education Services and Greyhound. UK City analysts feel that Laidlaw and First is a good fit. It adds to First’s considerable North American school transportation (as they say Stateside), giving First 50 per cent of the American market.
Laidlaw’s local bus services (transit systems in US parlance) are also a good fit, at least with First’s UK business. But what of Greyhound? UK market analysts and press reports suggest that First might sell Greyhound on.
To British eyes, that seems strange. In Britain, it’s the scheduled markets – local bus “transit” or express “inter-city bus transportation” – that are the most significant, not the school bus. First tried to change this in the UK, to push school transport up the agenda, with its American yellow bus schemes. Has it succeeded?
In Britain, “school transportation” remains in a highly fragmented third place. It includes bus passes for free travel on local bus and rail services but principally in provincial England, free travel equates to a seat on contract coaches, buses and double decks provided by any one of thousands of operators in any one of dozens of vehicle designs in any one of hundreds of liveries, most of which are not yellow. For the smaller operators providing the backbone of British free school transport, it’s their bread & butter in an otherwise shrinking private hire and tours market. For the larger operators, it can be a hard-to-provide peak vehicle (and therefore expensive) problem.
We wouldn’t say that First in the UK has failed in its attempt to revolutionise UK school transport. After all, significant proportions of First Student’s 8,000 daily passengers travel on American vehicles (with a reported 98 per cent satisfaction level). Other than these early adopters, few embraced the American school bus system in England, as offered by First. Even in West Yorkshire, where it all began, Metro has veered away from First to its own adapted MyBus concept, using instead something less akin to a Confederacy iron-clad in favour now of a more modern, accessible, low floor vehicle.
But what First did in the UK with its American yellow bus pilots was fly a flag. It got local education authorities thinking, other manufacturers interested and moved the debate on. Who’d’ve believed 10 or even five years ago that school transport in the UK would be as high on the political agenda, even if its seems to have reached a ceiling at the moment. In certain circumstances, LEAs now question the use of double decks. The “3 for 2” concession is almost unheard of. Modern school vehicles are starting to appear in parts of the country. Car-born congestion at school times is a major issue, with which the school bus can help.
Yet, the two school bus markets at opposite sides of the Atlantic remain very, very different. Culturally as well as geographically distant.
Saturday, 10 February 2007
More on Laidlaw & First here
Posted Saturday, February 10, 2007