First Scotland East
|Service type||Bus services|
|Chief executive||Paul McGowan|
|Website||First South East & Central Scotland|
First Scotland East is collective name for FirstGroup bus operations in the south east and central Scotland, which covers First Scotland East and Midland Bluebird. The company was created by the merger of three companies: Lowland Scottish, Eastern Scottish and Midland Scottish to form a single operation in 1997.
In 2000 the company was split into two licences, First Edinburgh and Midland Bluebird although both licences function as one entity under one name, but in 2012 they reverted to two separate entities.
The main depots are:
During 1998, First decided to reorganise their operations within the area and to merge three subsidiaries: Lowland Scottish, Eastern Scottish and Midland Scottish. By doing so helped simplify the operations, as areas such as West Lothian or Mid Lothian were covered by at least two out of the three companies. The start of the process came into effect in 1999, with many back-office functions being transferred to Larbert and a new single livery introduced. By 2002 all of the companies' operations were controlled by Larbert.
The company's original name was First Edinburgh, despite this name the operating area was much wider and covered much of the Central, and Borders regions of Scotland and into northern England. The name was renamed First Scotland East in 2008 to better reflect the operating area.
In 1997 First launched Fife First to compete with Stagecoach Fife (who had recently started competing with First in Glasgow) on route 56 between Edinburgh, Dunfermline, Cowdenbeath and Ballingry, using vehicles transferred from Lowland, Midland and Rider York and painted in allover red. A sub-depot was established in Dunfermline with Westfield providing most of the vehicles used. Fife First ceased in July 2000 when the service was axed and the low floor buses used were transferred to the Falkirk area.
Edinburgh bus war
In 2001 First sought to increase their market share of Edinburgh city services, cutting fares and increasing traffic on certain routes, while cutting back on more traditional routes. This sparked a very bitter bus war between First and Edinburgh city operator Lothian Buses, with fares being cut, extra vehicles drafted in, timetables altered and routes diverted. Lothian complained to the Office of Fair Trading, claiming First was engaging in anti-competitive behaviour in an effort to become the dominant operator in Edinburgh. The OfT ruled that First's conduct represented legitimate competition, that it did not intend to drive Lothian off the streets, and that its fares were low enough in comparison to its costs. Regardless of this decision, the First network in Edinburgh was curtailed, ending the bus war and with Lothian Buses remaining the dominant city operator.
Heavy losses were made, which resulted in cutbacks in many parts of their operations which included the loss of all travel shops in Dalkieth, Falkirk, Edinburgh, Galashiels, Hawick and Livingston. The main depot at Westfield in Edinburgh was also closed. Many traditional routes to Penicuik, Dalkeith and Bonnyrigg that were cut back have been taken over by Lothian Buses.
ScotRail and Undertakings
In June 2004, the ScotRail franchise was awarded to FirstGroup, with the services transferring to First ScotRail on 17 October 2004. The Competition Commission placed a number of controls and undertaking, which resulted in First ability to raise fares and alter selected number of services. In 2009 and 2012, First were released from a number of routes which were controlled.
Scaling back and Restructuring
In June 2012 First closed Dalkeith depot and scaled back operations in Musselburgh, with 20 bus routes ceasing across East Lothian and Midlothian. First tried to sell the operations and transfer staff to another operator, but was unsuccessful. In November 2012 Linlithgow depot closed.
In June 2013 route X38 Stirling to Edinburgh was rebranded as First Bluebird with buses painted in a dedicated blue livery. It is operated by Midland Bluebird. Within a year most of the buses in the Forth Valley area were rebranded as First Bluebird.
First tried to improve passenger growth with a number of revised networks in Falkirk and West Lothian during 2012. In January 2015, First withdraw over a dozen bus routes. Paul McGowan, managing director of First Scotland East, said: "I appreciate that some of our passengers will be disappointed. However, the services that we're changing have been operating at a loss, in some cases a considerable loss, for many years"
The Company made a request in October 2015 to the Competition and Markets Authority about reviewing of the undertakings given in 2002 by FirstGroup. The undertakings were given following the Monopolies & Mergers Commission’s conclusion that the completed acquisition by FirstBus of SB Holdings Limited which took place in 1996 created a merger situation which may be expected to operate against the public interest. As part of the undertaking First had mileage floor which required to First to operate x number of mile no mater what. In April 2015 First was released from the undertaking with all requirements dropped.
In May 2016 First announced it would cease operations in East Lothian with both Musselburgh and North Berwick depots closing, affecting 88 jobs. In August 2016, Lothian Buses took over the two depots with all staff given the option to transfer. Services are operated under the East Coast Buses brand. In the Scottish Borders First also withdrew from a number of routes with Perryman's Buses taken most of them over.
Originally together with First Glasgow to the west, First operate buses throughout most of the Central Belt of Scotland, from Dumbarton in the west to Dunbar in the east and as far south as Carlisle in England. First Scotland East provide services in Falkirk, the Lothians, Stirling and the Scottish Borders. Although operating very limited services in Edinburgh, these are mainly from the city centre to outlying towns in West Lothian. These only operate on arterial routes, therefore do not serve the city extensively, with most routes within Edinburgh and Midlothian operated by Lothian Buses.
The company's presence has scaled back over the years in the Scottish Borders has declined drastically due to the withdrawal of commercial town services and the loss of rural tendered services to local independent operators. Depots in Berwick-upon-Tweed, Hawick, Jedburgh, Kelso and Peebles all closed, leaving just Galashiels as an operating base in the Borders, although buses are parked at Kelso. In 2013 the company had started to expand its operations again after winning council tenders and improving its commercial network, however by 2016 its presence had shrunk even further.
First Scotland East has appeared before the Traffic Commissioner on five occasions, in relation to various issues surrounding the company. Public enquiries were held in 2004 and again in 2005, regarding maintenance; in 2008, regarding both maintenance and timekeeping; and again in 2010 regarding timekeeping. A formal warning with regards to maintenance was given in November 2011. Following the first four public enquiries, the company dealt with many of the issues raised and sorted out all outstanding issues. In August 2012 the company appeared for the fifth time in front of the Traffic Commissioner due to further issues regarding services in the Falkirk area.
As at February 2016 the fleet consisted of 420 buses and coaches.
- Companies House extract company no SC091923 First Scotland East Limited
- Companies House extract company no SC016923 Midland Blue Limited
- Bus firm hits back over 'fares war' BBC News 15 August 2001
- Bus wars to be investigated BBC News 27 September 2001
- First Edinburgh / Lothian Office of Fair Trading 9 June 2004
- FirstGroup clinches Scottish rail franchise The Daily Telegraph 12 June 2004
- Watchdog agrees ScotRail merger BBC News 28 June 2004
- FirstGroup plc and the Scottish Passenger Rail franchise Competition Commission June 2004
- Changes to Services in the East Lothian and Mid Lothian Regions of Scotland FirstGroup 2 April 2012
- Changes to services after closure of First Dalkeith depot Midlothian Council
- Bus depot moves out Linlithgow Gazette
- First brings back the Bluebird name for East Scotland bus operation The Bus People 28 June 2013
- Upset on Falkirk buses after timetable changes Falkirk Herald 9 November 2012
- Forthcoming Network Alterations - Falkirk area - Monday 29 October 2012 FirstGroup
- "Three bus services to be withdrawn in West Lothian". BBC News. 18 November 2014.
- Falkirk bus services to end in new year Central 103.1 FM 17 November 2014
- Barber, Stuart (23 November 2014). "Big changes on Falkirk's buses as routes are cut". Retrieved 25 May 2016.
- FirstGroup undertakings review Competition & Markets Authority
- Notice of intention to release undertakings Competition & Markets Authority 15 March 2016
- "Bus company First set to end all bus services in East Lothian this summer". East Lothian Courier. 24 May 2016. Retrieved 25 May 2016.
- First plan to cease operations in East Lothian Route One 24 May 2016
- Lothian Buses saves First services Route One 5 July 2016
- Perryman's set to take over threatened Borders bus routes Border Telegraph 15 July 2016
- New bus services for Hawick, Peebles and Selkirk ITV News 15 July 2016
- Decision of the Traffic Commissioner Against First Bus Traffic Commissioner 1 April 2008
- Tell us what's going on! Falkirk Herald 21 June 2007
- Buses in chaos Falkirk Herald 4 October 2007
- Falikirk bus bosses say sorry for failing Falkirk Herald 19 August 2012
Media related to FirstGroup buses in the United Kingdom at Wikimedia Commons