One of the double-deck Alexander Dennis Enviro400 buses used on Unilink services.
|Slogan||University bus links anyone can use.|
|Headquarters||Barton Park, Eastleigh|
|Service area||University of Southampton|
|Operator||Bluestar (part of the Go South Coast division of the Go-Ahead Group)|
Unilink is the branded bus service operated under contract and serving the University of Southampton in Hampshire, England. The service was created in 1998 following the University's expansion onto several new campuses, requiring new transport links between them. The current contractor of the service is Bluestar, part of the Go-Ahead Group, who took over in 2008. The service also encourages use by members of the public outside the university community.
The foundations for the service began with the opening of the Southampton Oceanography Centre in 1996. Located in Southampton Docks, this was the first of the University's campuses that were not either within walking distance of the main campus or were self-contained (whose students had no need to travel to a different campus – Winchester School of Art and Southampton General Hospital being the main examples). As a result, the University launched the student only shuttle service to serve the new campus. The service ran every half-hour with one service every hour running by Avenue Campus while the other ran by Portswood. The service was run by the University's Business Services division.
In 1998, the University made a three-year agreement with local operator First Southampton to run a new bus service under the Uni-link name. First's service launched on 21 September 1998 and saw the introduction of three new routes, 101, 102 and 103, operated under the Uni-link branding. First also rerouted their 4, 6, 11, 13 and 20 routes so that they would run closer to the University allowing better connections with other areas of Southampton. The company also ran two night services, labelled the 104 and the 105.
In 2001, as the University's agreement with First finished, the University made some changes to the service following some dissatisfaction and some bad experiences with the service. The University made Uni-link a company itself and awarded the operation of this service under contract. The first contract winner was Minerva Accord, who started their 5-year contract at the beginning of the 2001/2002 academic year.
At launch, the company ran two main routes, the U1 and the U2, with a number of smaller routes and variations also in existence. Later in the life of the company, Uni-link launched the U6 and the U9 routes. As some of these routes, especially the U1, was used very heavily the company received various grants that allowed their fleets to expand. The company added its last route in September 2005 when it was awarded a five-year contract by Southampton City Council to run the City-link service shuttle service in Southampton city centre. This nearly doubled their passenger numbers, adding one million passengers per annum.
In 2008, local bus company Bluestar were named as the winners of the next ten-year contract to run the service. The service launched on 29 September 2008, coinciding with the new university year. The new company used a fleet composed mainly of new vehicles.
In 2012, free Wi-Fi was installed on all Uni-link and Bluestar buses as a result of a £4.5 million investment from Transport for South Hampshire. In July 2013, Uni-link changed their smartcard system to 'The Key' smartcard that adheres to ITSO specifications and is currently used by several other companies owned by the Go-Ahead Group. The smartcard allowed Uni-link pass holders access onto Bluestar's central Southampton services (and vice versa) and allowed for greater deals with other Go South Coast operators. However it meant that the older cards, which included the University of Southampton student ID card, would not work with the new system leading to some controversy among the student population.
Uni-link's current fleet is primarily made up of twenty-three Alexander Dennis Enviro400 double decker buses. These went into service on 3 September 2013 and feature a livery of sea blue and turquoise with the University logo at the front and the Unilink logo at the back. They replace the double decker fleet used previously and is used on all routes except the U2. The U2 route is served by two Scania OmniCitys repainted in the new livery and six new Wright Eclipse buses introduced a few weeks later. An older double-decker (Sep 2005 reg) is also used.
- "Bus Service 93/93a". University of Southampton Bulletin. 3 (20): 1. 3 February 1997.
- Sally Nash and Martin Sherwood (2002). The University of Southampton: An Illustrated History (Paperback). James & James. p. 126. ISBN 0907383947.
- "A new look for Uni-link". University of Southampton Bulletin. 7 (45): 1. 3 September 2001.
- "From Campus-link to uni-link!". University of Southampton Bulletin. 4 (47): 1. 24 August 1998.
- "Company Information". Uni-link (Bluestar). Retrieved 21 March 2013.
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- Osborn, Steven (6 September 2013). "Unilink Relaunch Marks Franchise Anniversary". Wessex Scene. Retrieved 13 September 2013.
- "Unilink - New fleet launched". Uni-link. Retrieved 11 January 2014.
- Osborn, Steven (6 September 2013). "Unilink Relaunch Marks Franchise Anniversary". Retrieved 11 January 2014.
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