It’s somewhat ironic that just as Go Ahead appears to be centralising, the corporate monolith that is/was* (*delete as appropriate) First Group is moving in the opposite direction. Doubly ironic, then, that First’s latest act of localism should parody a livery made recognisable by Go Ahead. Exit First Somerset and enter something green.
|Reports suggest there are few buses yet in the new livery. Here is one, branded specifically for Taunton rather than The Buses of Somerset. From their Facebook pages|
The newly catchily-named The Buses of Somerset’s livery is more than a derivative of Go Ahead’s Southern Vectis, though, in spite of its emergence from the Stenning stable. And it’s much more than about a livery. It concerns re-establishing an image and making a mark. Perhaps it’s even recognition that this is a new beginning. Say The Buses of Somerset, “We’re looking to do everything better, to up our game”.
The actual livery wears well. It’s a comfortable fit, like a hand in the correctly sized glove. My only nagging concern might be the two-tone green skirt, right across an area prone to accident damage. But, hey, perhaps the roads across the Somerset Levels really are long and straight with wide verges.
First appears to be coming along. And Somerset has the possibility of seeing a major step change. Compare this to Southampton. In Southampton, First is re-sub-branding its 3s as The Threes—with buses in their new red paint redolent of Southampton City Transport. But why stop there? The Threes boast faux leather interiors à la Caffè Nero but such buses with upgraded interiors are not unique in Southampton. There’s already more leather in the city than in the late Imelda Marcos’s shoe collection, clothed under Barbie off-white. So why not go the whole hog and introduce something really local?
For that’s what First appears to be doing in Somerset. Interesting that The Buses of Somerset website also says this,
“Over the coming months we’ll be giving your local First buses a bit of a makeover, with smart new colours, a stylish new look and a name that means something locally”
I can’t help recalling the decision made 30 years ago by the Cheltenham & Gloucester Omnibus Company. While nationalised, it split from parent Bristol Omnibus. I wonder what Gloustrians and Swindonians felt about “Bristol” being on the side of their buses. The new management recognised that Gloucester, Cheltenham and Swindon markets were distinct and different from both Bristol and each other. Accordingly, they branded very locally, retaining a tight back office but devolving much to its local managers. That lasted 10 years till Stagecoach took over (and Stagecoach has made a pretty good fist of things since).
Does the same apply in Somerset when compared to the region with which it has traditionally been lumped: also Bristol & Avon.
There will be those who will wonder why the privatisation name of Southern National hasn’t reappeared but it is perhaps time for a clean break from the past. Southern National was OK but it inherited some older vehicles and even older practices. There will be those who ponder whether The Buses of Somerset is nothing but a passing fad, like First Student, FTR and Overground. Plus people are already speculating that this portion of First Bus is for sale. On all these, time will of course tell but surely, here, we have something that could potentially bring back respect and patronage. Why else would you go to this trouble?