As mentioned in the People’s Provincial section, FirstBus bought up that Company in 1995. To merge the two separate areas of their newly-acquired ‘empire’ – i.e. Hoeford depot and Hilsea depot, FirstBus painted their vehicles in red and cream, carrying the name ‘First Provincial’.
|Provincial uniform full length||Provincial uniform logo detail||
Leyland National - MSO 12W
First Provincial 412
Leyland National - EEL 893V
First Provincial 400
In April 1999, these two areas were merged with the Southampton area to create a new ‘First Hampshire’ which started to make use of the corporate ‘Barbie’ livery with mostly pink and purple colours – hence the ‘Barbie’ name! Depots were Hoeford, Hilsea and Portswood (Southampton). Portswood depot closed in 2010 after serving Southampton area since the days of the trams. A new depot opened in Empress Road, Southampton on 29 August 2010.
Dennis Dart - N615 DWY
First Hants & Dorset 47015
Dennis Dart SLF - S638 XCR
First Hants & Dorset 42138
Scania - YS03 ZKF
First Hants & Dorset 62410
In April 2003, for operational and management reasons, the First Hampshire area was merged with the operations in Dorset to become ‘First Hampshire & Dorset’. Depots now included Weymouth and Bridport. Yeovil became part of the cluster at a later date.
On 22 April 2012, new Eclipse services – E1 and E2 - were introduced using 14 bespoke Volvo single decker buses to run on the newly-opened Bus Way between Fareham and Gosport, making use of the former railway track which had been disused for many years. The aim of this Eclipse service is to provide a quick, efficient service on a dedicated Bus Way, giving parts of Gosport a direct link with Fareham railway station and providing a more reliable service because it avoids much of the congested A32 road between the two towns. The Bus Way is called Henry Cort Way with Hutfield Link being the name of the link at Frater. In April 2013, the route of E2 was revised slightly to make use of Forest Way instead of A32 to improve timing reliability.
On 3 June 2013, the former First Hampshire & Dorset operations were joined to First Berkshire to provide a local community link.
GreyhoundIn September 2009, First Group launched a new coach service, which was branded as ‘Greyhound’, to provide a regular frequent link between the coastal towns of Southampton and Portsmouth and London. The coaches were refurbished vehicles with leather seats. Wi-fi and a daily newspaper on board. With advanced online booking for £1 each way, the service was in direct competition with the railways. At first, the service seemed to be catering for a new market with direct journeys to central London. However, an announcement came in October 2012 that First Group had ‘pulled the plug’ on its high profile Greyhound UK coach operation between the south coast and London. The original forty daily departures had dwindled to three trips each way by mid-2012 because of falling demand. On 17 November 2012, the final Greyhound services operated.
|Greyhound - YN06 CGB||Greyhound - YN55 PXL|
Between 2012 and 2018, the decline in the use of Dennis Darts became obvious, especially in 2017 when most had finished if they weren't DDA compliant. One remained in private use for University contract work in Portsmouth and is now preserved by the Provincial Society. Taking over the dominant role of preferred single deckers, StreetLites became a familiar sight on the local streets in various guises - basic plain livery, "Solent Ranger" and "Star" liveries. At the same time, the use of Volvo single deckers came to an end in this period. New double deckers arrived for the Portsmouth Park & Ride contract in 2014. Their distinctive shades of blue for that service help them to stand out, especially when used in normal service. Replacement MMC Eclipse buses arrived before the end of the five year arrangement - all buses in public service using the whole of the Bus Rapid Transit route must be five years old or younger. All images in this section have been taken by James May.
The Alexander-Dennis Enviro200MMCs were introduced on to the Fareham – Gosport BRT corridor on 2nd October 2016, with a further three buses acquired the following year. Following the fleet overhauls of 2012 to 2016, the following years were quieter, with the Eclipse Enviros settling down on to their corridor, the Solent Ranger Wright Streetlites primarily operating the X5 to Lee on Solent, Stubbington and Fareham, and the Optare Solo SRs operating the 9/9A around Bridgemary and Rowner. After a number of route changes, the 9/9A settled down on using the BRT corridor for the northern end of the route, connecting Redlands Lane with Wych Lane before leaving the link to serve Bridgemary. The next significant change come on the routes running on the A3 corridor between Waterlooville, Cosham and on to Portsea Island – loosely along the old Portsdown and Horndean Light Railway, where a further batch of ADL Enviro200MMCs arrived in January and February 2020 for routes 7 and 8.
The Covid-19 pandemic saw some temporary changes to bus services in to Gosport, some of which are still in place at the time of writing. Due to a large proportion of the fleet being taken off-road due to reduced services, and for the first time since Eclipse buses were introduced in 2012, the Eclipse-branded Enviro200MMCs operated across the whole of the Solent network, with some days seeing the type operate 100% of all Gosport services. This practice still exists into September 2021, with the Enviros operating routes 9/9A at a reduced frequency, along with the more standard E1 and E2, a decision that makes sense considering the 9/9A share the BRT link for part of the journey. Further double decks were also transferred in to the fleet from First Manchester in May 2020, with five ADL Enviro400s introduced alongside the three existing buses purchased in 2014 for Portsmouth Park & Ride services, which were withdrawn from March 2020 until July 2021.
2021 will see the extension of the BRT link, for approximately another mile, from Hutfield Link to Rowner Road, which required a new ramp and embankment being constructed. It is due to open in Autumn/Winter 2021, and will see route E1 diverted along the section allowing faster journey times. Away from BRT, the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the other services in Gosport. Route 10, the last route to serve Gregson Avenue and Nobes Avenue in Bridgemary, has been withdrawn. As mentioned before, the 9/9A are running at a reduced frequency of about every half an hour, compared to their previous every 15 minutes. The X5, serving Stokes Bay, Lee on Solent and Stubbington, is also only hourly on Saturdays presently, although does often see double decks.
The future remains exciting, however. A bid from First Hampshire, Dorset & Berkshire has been put in to the ZEBRA – the Department for Transport’s Zero Emissions Bus Regional Areas scheme, for funding to introduce 34 electric buses into the area and equip Hoeford depot with charging points. Bidding has been put in to convert Portsmouth city route 1, the Fareham – Southsea route 3, and the Fareham to Gosport routes 9/9A to electric buses. There is also expected to be an announcement for the next cycle of Eclipse buses due soon, which, due to the pandemic, will have exceeded the usual renewal of buses within five years. Furthermore, consultation over plans to redevelop the bus station has been released, the key feature of which suggests moving the bus station to its ‘historical’ location, with six bays and a shelter next to Falklands Gardens. The next five to ten years should be very interesting in the development of bus travel on the Gosport peninsula.