In an age of partnerships and even possibly quality contracts, competition seems alive and well. Here we focus on some English theatres that have sprung up or will shortly do so. A number, including this, feature First (e.g. Ipswich, already tackled). As local managers at First are reported as having more sway, there’s a rush at First to engage in some local conflicts. Some are pre-emptive; others responsive. We look first at…
From Townhill itself, passengers currently have the choice of First’s 2 or 7. The 2 operates three per hour via Bitterne and tales 30 minutes to Southampton. The 7 runs via Portswood at six per hour off-peak (five per hour peak) and takes 25 minutes.
The comment from Bluestar that:
“We have listened to the growing number of customers who have requested a fast and reliable service between Townhill Park and the city centre”is somewhat predictable but, as yet, the operator isn’t revealing exactly how much quicker than First’s 7 (if at all) its new service will be. It doesn’t appear to offer much in the way of new links, though the 16 will operate twice an hour—and twice as frequently as First after 2100 currently—during weekday evenings. The 16 sticks at twice per hour on Sundays compared to First’s time-of-day variable 20-, 30- and 60-minute service. The 16 also adds to the already considerable number of buses that have to funnel through the busy Portswood corridor, including Bluestar’s indirect UniLink U1. Unsurprisingly, First is about to up its ante on the 7s.
Also from Bluestar’s press release is the following:
“A £1mil investment has been announced for an all new bus route for the Bluestar network”£1mil? This for three *refurbished* single deck Volvos (once of Poole), complete with wi-fi (as paid for by Better Bus Funding Area status) and “comfortable seating”. I can’t make this figure add up, even with (eight new) drivers and on-costs.
But what started in Millbrook may well finish not in Townhill Park but deep in Bluestar territory, in Hythe, no less. Or will it?
On 7th October, one week after Bluestar’s 16, First will introduce an 11 between Southampton and Hythe. Bluestar already runs a bus every 20 minutes for Watersiders on its 9, to Langley or Fawley via Hythe, sweeping in an arc from Southampton first westwards and then southwards around the western side of the Solent.
First’s challenge, however, competes against Bluestar’s hourly 8 to Hythe via Marchwood (that the 9s ignore). The 8s are subsidised and the contract is due up at the end of October. First may therefore have considered it prudent to give the daylight two bus working 8s a go commercially, as is its right. If so, that isn’t so much head-to-head competition with Bluestar but if as a consequence the 8s are unlet, it does mean a loss of work, subsidy and revenue for the Go South Coast subsidiary. And that’s an easier position in which to be for First than another head on fight.
There may be room aplenty in Southampton for two antagonists, provided things don’t get silly. It’s possible that such tit-for-tattery may spark more changes.
Meanwhile, in terms of competition for tenders rather than commercially, in a surprise move, First has beaten Stagecoach and Velvet to part of the disintegrating Xelabus “network” by gaining Hampshire council’s 63/63A from Winchester to Owslebury. Or, maybe, the service was just too rural, too revenue depleted and just too infrequent for Stagecoach to bother.