Bluestar (bus company)
Scania OmniCity in Southampton in May 2009
|Parent||Go South Coast (part of the Go-Ahead Group)|
|Service type||Bus service|
|Destinations||Southampton, Winchester, Eastleigh, Romsey, Lymington, Calshot, Totton, Hythe, Brockenhurst|
|Operator||Go South Coast|
|Chief executive||Andrew Wickham|
Solent Blue Line Ltd, which trades primarily under the name Bluestar, is a bus operator providing services in south Hampshire. It is a subsidiary of the Go South Coast sector of the Go-Ahead Group.
In October 1987 Solent Blue Line purchased the Hants & Sussex business from Basil Williams and the Eastleigh and Southampton routes which had previously been part of Hants & Dorset, from Stagecoach in Hampshire. This expanded the fleet from 16 to 115 buses. New buses began to be purchased with Leyland Olympians for the Southampton to Winchester service and minibuses for the Eastleigh to Winchester service. Some services were operated under franchise by Brijan Tours and Marchwood Motorways.
From here the network expanded until in 2003 the network underwent a change, involving a new name and the launch of the Bluestar brand soon after, as a name for their premier services with Bluestar services one and two launching in 2004, the three and four service launching a year later and the Waterside services eight and nine having fully launched by 2006.
In July 2005 Solent Blue Line was included in the sale of Southern Vectis to the Go-Ahead Group and subsequently the head office functions of the company were consolidated with those of the other Go South Coast companies, Southern Vectis and Wilts & Dorset, in Poole. In October 2006 Solent Blue Line purchased Marchwood Motorways
After the withdrawal of the Red Rocket brand on 25 February 2008, most of the company's services began to run under the Bluestar brand. The fleet has recently undergone several updates, including the introduction of a smartcard system called the key, the introduction of free Wi-Fi internet to all buses, and USB charging points.
The company itself holds the original name of Solent Blue Line, however none of the buses it operates use this branding, the last few buses using this branding was incorporated into the Bluestar network in 2008. As a result, a number of sub brands are used for the bus services.
Bluestar was originally launched in 2004 running the main routes with destinations outside of Southampton. However, since 2008 the service has become the main brand for the company. The vast majority of these services terminate in Southampton, with the exception of services 7 (Sholing - Woolston - City Centre - Shirley - Millbrook - General Hospital - Lordshill) and 18 (Thornhill - Bitterne - Northam - City Centre - Shirley - Millbrook) which go through the city, and service 5 (Boyatt Wood - Eastleigh - North Baddesley - Romsey) thus not going near the city centre. In addition to these services, Services 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 11, 12, 16 and 17 also operate under the Bluestar brand.
The Nightstar services used to run on Friday and Saturday nights and were aimed at people who had a night out in Southampton. All services began at Leisure World, Southampton and made their way past other large clubs before completing its route. These routes generally followed those of their daytime number counterparts with additional stops to take into account destinations served by other routes. In January 2013, all but the Unilink U1N ceased to run due to council funding cuts.
The QuayConnect shuttle service runs a service around the city of Southampton, stopping at Southampton Central railway station, Westquay Shopping Centre and Town Quay, for the Hythe Ferry and the Red Funnel ferries to the Isle of Wight. The service was started as City-Link, under the previous operator, Enterprise, but the operation was taken over by Bluestar on 28 September 2008, and rebranded as QuayConnect in May 2016, with new livery of red and white, featuring the newest Red Jet which came into service for Red Funnel shortly after. Originally, the two buses used on the service were inherited from Enterprise, and were repainted in a new two-tone blue livery with the interiors rebranded. Originally the service was free to use for all passengers, but a change in May 2014 saw a £1 single fare introduced to all passengers except Red Funnel ticket holders, who remain entitled to free travel. The frequency of the service was also cut down to every 30 minutes, but with a duplicate bus running on some morning services and a 15-minute frequency between 4-7pm, or when local events take place in Southampton or the Isle of Wight, such as Cowes Week or Bestival.
The contract was extended for a further ten years in December 2017 and the company ordered 32 new buses for the Unilink fleet.
New Forest Tour
It commenced in 2004, using distinctively branded yellow and orange Bristol VRs (in the same livery as the old Southern Vectis open-top services). The service was reversed in 2005, to run in the opposite direction. For the 2006 season, two low-floor East Lancs Myllennium bodied Volvo B7TLs from Wilts & Dorset were used, retaining the Wilts & Dorset livery but with "New Forest Tour" vinyls added. In 2007 the buses passed to Solent Blue Line and were repainted in a new green and orange livery, with ponies on the side. Again, this is similar to the Southern Vectis livery which that company uses on their open-top buses.
Between 2008 and 2010, Bluestar used Baby Bluestar branding for their local services. There have been twelve Baby Bluestar services, of which the H1, H2, H3, P1, T1 and T2 all still run, albeit under the Bluestar name. Five of the other services have since been dropped and reverted to the normal Bluestar services.
Red Rocket was launched on 3 September 2006 as a high frequency network centred on Eastleigh, extending to Winchester in the north and Hamble-le-Rice in the south. Red Rocket services were either withdrawn or re-branded to Baby Bluestar on 24 February 2008, to enable Solent Blue Line to trade under the Bluestar name.
There were originally eight Red Rocket routes, lettered to avoid confusion with the Bluestar and Solent Blue Line service in operation at the time.
The Solent Shuttle was an express bus link that ran between Portsmouth and Southampton. The service itself was established in 1976 as a joint venture between Hants & Dorset and Southdown Motor Services, between passing on to other operators including Southampton City Bus, First Hampshire & Dorset and Tellings-Golden Miller; First branded the services as the 727 and the 747 while Tellings-Golden Miller branded it the Solent Clipper, under the service names the X27 and the X47.
Solent Blue Line took over the service, but ran into difficulties following the cessation of funding from Portsmouth and Southampton City Councils. The service was due to close on 2 June 2007, but by popular demand and with the support of pensioners associations in both cities, the service continued on a two-hourly basis. However, the service was ceased two years later on 21 February 2009.
The Beep! Bus service operated between Eastleigh, Boyatt Wood, Velmore and Southampton between 8 October 2008 and February 2009. The service operated in direct competition with the rival Velvet B service operating on the same route and timetabled three minutes behind those of the Beep bus. Initially the service was registered with VOSA as a Wilts & Dorset route to begin on 15 September 2008, but this was later cancelled and replaced with an identical Bluestar registration. The service began a full week before its registration date to match the start date of Velvet's service, but was unable to take fares and so operated as a free service until their start date a week later. Normal fares were slightly lower than Velvet's on some journeys but local journeys were more expensive. Bluestar operations director Andrew Wickham said that the decision was "a business decision pure and simple", adding that they "are not scared of competition" but Velvet were "deliberately creaming off" some of their passengers. The rival Velvet service ended on 10 January 2009 because of low passenger numbers. Soon after, Bluestar announced their intention to withdraw Beep! Bus from February 2009, ironically one year after they withdrew the Red Rocket B service.
Do the Docks
The 'Do the Docks' tour was an open-top bus tour of Southampton docks, using open-top buses from the New Forest Tour and a debranded Wilts & Dorset Leyland Olympian. The service changed on 29 July 2007 as a result of low passenger numbers following poor weather during the 2007 summer season, with the service losing its "turn up and hop on" format and becoming a chartered service. The route saw a brief reprieve in April 2008, when the service ran for two days on 26 and 27 of that month, as part of the Caribbean festival in Southampton. As Solent Blue Line no longer had the open-top buses for the routes, a hired Southern Vectis open-top bus was used.
Incidents and investigation
In March 2007 whilst being used as a rail-replacement bus a double-decker member of the Red Rocket fleet drove under a low bridge at Barnham causing the top to be ripped off, in addition to minor damage to the bridge. It is now with Southern Vectis as an open-topper. A similar incident occurred at Romsey in May 2015, when a double-decker bus had its roof removed after colliding with a railway bridge
In July 2009, the MP for Eastleigh Chris Huhne asked for an investigation into allegations of anti-competitive behaviour of Bluestar against Velvet's over their implementation and subsequent removal of extra services, which operated between Eastleigh and Fair Oak, to rival Velvet's service, the Fair Oak Flyer.
In the early hours of 22 March 2011, there was an incident between a car and a Bluestar bus on route 2 between Southampton, Eastleigh and Fair Oak, resulting in a single fatality of the car driver, and the passenger last known to be in a critical condition. Only one passenger of the 10 on-board were treated for minor injuries.
At around 16:30 on 7 February 2012, a Marchwood Motorways Mercedes-Benz Citaro caught fire on Calmore Roundabout, Totton. The bus was being driven Not In Service by a mechanic at the time - there were no injuries but the bus was destroyed.
- Companies House extract company no 2103030 Solent Blue Line Limited formerly Musterphantom Limited
- Bruce, Geoff (1990). Bus Handbook 8: South West England. Harrow Weald: Capital Transport. pp. 60–3. ISBN 1-85414-125-2.
- Companies House extract company no 3203900 Hants & Sussex Omnibus Limited
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