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FirstGroup plc
First Group services mosaic 2015.jpg
FirstGroup operates bus, coach, rail & tram services in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada & Ireland
Owner Publicly owned (LSEFGP)
Transit type bus, coach, rail, tram & yellow school bus
Chief executive Tim O'Toole (CEO)
Martin Gilbert (Chairman)
Headquarters Aberdeen, Scotland, United Kingdom
Began operation September 1986
FirstGroup plc
Public company
Traded as LSEFGP
Founded September 1986
Revenue £6,717.4 million (March 2014)[1]
£268.0 million (March 2014)[1]
£64.2 million (March 2014)[1]
Number of employees
116,000 (March 2014)[1]

FirstGroup[2] is a British transport group, registered and operating in the United Kingdom. The company also operates transport services in Ireland, Canada and the United States. It is listed on the London Stock Exchange and is a constituent of the FTSE 250 Index.[3]



Wright Eclipse Gemini bodied Volvo B9TL in September 2012

FirstGroup originated from the deregulation of bus services in the United Kingdom in 1986, whereby private companies purchased nationalised and municipal bus operators.[4]

In September 1986 the Somerset based services of the Bristol Omnibus Company that were rebranded in 1985 as Badgerline were purchased by a management buyout. As Badgerline Group, it expanded through acquisition purchasing 12 other formerly nationalised bus companies in England and Wales. Badgerline Group became a public limited company in November 1993.

In January 1989 Grampian Regional Transport, the bus operator in Aberdeen owned by Grampian Regional Council, was privatised in a management buyout led by its then general manager Moir Lockhead.[5] As GRT Bus Group, it expanded through acquisition purchasing six former nationalised bus companies in England and Scotland. GRT Bus Group became a public limited company in April 1994.

In April 1995 FirstBus was formed through the merger of the Badgerline and GRT Bus Groups, with fleets in England, Wales and Scotland. Aberdeen was selected as the headquarters.[6]

At the time of the merger, FirstBus had 5,600 buses, 4,000 of which came from Badgerline.[7] Badgerline's Trevor Smallwood became chairman of FirstBus, while GRT head Moir Lockhead became deputy chairman and chief executive.[7]


FirstBus continued the policy of growth by acquisition acquiring former council owned operations and companies formerly owned by English, Welsh and Scottish nationalised operators. FirstBus went on to acquire larger urban metropolitan operators by taking advantage of the privatisation of the PTE bus operations and the privatisation of London bus services. FirstBus acquired GM Buses North in Manchester and Strathclyde Buses in Glasgow in 1996, Mainline in South Yorkshire and CentreWest in London in 1997, and Capital Citybus in London in 1998.[7]

The company was renamed FirstGroup in December 1997[2] after the company moved into railways in February 1996 with the Privatisation of British Rail, through a 24.5% shareholding in Great Western Holdings that won the Great Western and North Western franchises, and a 100% shareholding in First Great Eastern that ran the Great Eastern franchise from January 1997. In March 1998 FirstGroup purchased the 75.5% shares in Great Western Holdings it did not already own and rebranded the franchises First Great Western and First North Western.[8][9][10]

In September 1998 FirstGroup made its first overseas foray when New World First Bus commenced operating bus services in Hong Kong formerly operated by China Motor Bus. FirstGroup had a 26% shareholding in the joint venture.[11] In May 2000 FirstGroup sold its shares to joint venture partner New World Development.[12]

In September 1999 FirstGroup purchased Ryder Public Transport Services, a provider of school bus transportation in the United States.[13]

In May 2000 FirstGroup began operating the London Tramlink concession under contract to Transport for London.[14]

In August 2003 FirstGroup purchased GB Railways which owned Anglia Railways and GB Railfreight and held 80% of the shares in Hull Trains.[15] Having not been shortlisted for the Greater Anglia Rail Franchise, this gave FirstGroup another chance to bid. However it was unsuccessful and the franchise was awarded to National Express from April 2004 including the services operated by First Great Eastern.

In November 2003 FirstGroup purchased a 90% shareholding in Irish coach operator Aircoach.[16] The remaining 10% was purchased in 2005.

In February 2004 FirstGroup's joint venture with Keolis commenced operating the First TransPennine Express rail franchise, FirstGroup having a 55% shareholding.[17][18] In April 2004 FirstGroup commenced operating the First Great Western Link franchise[19] and in October 2004 the First ScotRail franchise.[20] In December 2004 the remainder of First North Western passed to Northern Rail, some services having already been transferred to Arriva Trains Wales and FirstTranspennine Express.

In April 2006 FirstGroup commenced operating the First Capital Connect franchise[21] and a renewed First Great Western franchise that had been expanded to include the Thames Trains and Wessex Trains franchises.[22][23]

Greyhound Prevost coach at Toronto Coach Terminal in April 2009

In February 2007 FirstGroup agreed to buy the US-based firm Laidlaw, an operator of inter-city coaches and yellow school buses across North America, for £1.9 billion (US$3.7 billion). This also gave it a controlling stake in Greyhound Lines, the largest bus operator in North America. The Greyhound name and the names of Canadian subsidiaries of Greyhound Canada were retained, and all other Laidlaw-owned services in the United States and Canada were rebranded under the First or Greyhound names, except for Voyageur Colonial and Grey Goose in Canada.[24]

In May 2007 FirstGroup purchased some bus services in the Rhine-Neckar region of Germany.

In January 2009 DSBFirst, FirstGroup's joint venture with Danish State Railways commenced operating the Oresundtrain rail franchise from Helsingør and Nivå in Denmark along the Kystbanen line and over the Øresund Bridge to Malmö, Växjö, Kalmar, Karlskrona and Gothenburg in Sweden. FirstGroup had a 25% shareholding in the Danish business and 20% in the Swedish business.[25] By March 2011 this was 30%.[26]

In June 2009 FirstGroup made a takeover offer for fellow transport operator National Express Group, which was struggling with debt at the time and was struggling to hold onto its National Express East Coast rail franchise. This was rejected, National Express saying it did not "consider it appropriate" at the time to discuss a takeover. FirstGroup believed that there was "significant industrial and commercial logic" for a merger, but National Express wished to focus on its own initiatives.[27]

Recent years

In June 2010 FirstGroup sold its railfreight business First GBRf to the Eurotunnel Group for £31 million,[28][29] ending the group's involvement in rail freight transport.[30]

In September 2010 former London Underground managing director Tim O'Toole, already a board member since May 2009 and Chief Operating Officer and Deputy Chief Executive since June 2010, was announced as the successor to retiring group Chief Executive Officer Moir Lockhead with effect from 31 March 2011.[31][32]

In September 2011 FirstGroup's German bus operations were sold to Marwyn European Transport.[33]

In December 2011 DSBFirst ceased operating the Swedish part of the operation after difficulties encountered by Danish State Railways over cross subsidies.[34][35][36]

In July 2012 FirstGroup provided bus and coach services for the London 2012 Olympic Games. This involved the provision of venue shuttle and park and ride services, services connecting peripheral park and ride sites on the M25 with the Olympic Park and Ebbsfleet, and a nationwide network of express coaches to the Olympic Park and the Weymouth and Portland sailing venue. The services required around 900 vehicles in total, although some were sub-contracted.[37]

In June 2013 most of the First London bus operations were sold to Go-Ahead London, Metroline and Tower Transit.[38]

In April 2015 FirstGroup lost the ScotRail franchise, which is now run by Abellio.


FirstGroup plc is Britain's largest bus operator, running more than 20% of all local bus services. A fleet of nearly 9,000 buses carries some 2.9 million passengers a day in more than 40 major towns and cities. FirstGroup also runs passenger rail services in the UK. Passenger rail franchises consist of First Great Western and First TransPennine Express (55% shareholding). It also operates Hull Trains (80% shareholding), a non-franchised open access passenger train service. FirstGroup operates tram services on the London Tramlink network carrying approximately 24 million passengers a year on behalf of Transport for London.[39]

In North America, FirstGroup has several divisions: First Student, which runs school bus routes;[40] First Transit, which holds many city and county public transport contracts;[41] and First Vehicle Services, which maintains vehicles for many corporations, organisations and local governments, including the other First divisions and Greyhound lines.[42] Canadian operations are provided through its First Canada subsidiary, which operates school buses and fulfills public transport contracts.

FirstGroup owns and operates the Aircoach service in Dublin,[43] linking Dublin Airport with the city centre, the south side of Dublin, Greystones and Bray as well as long-distance express services runs to Cork and Belfast. Aircoach also operates car park shuttles at Dublin Airport. Until 2009 Aircoach did not carry corporate branding. Buses introduced since January 2009 on Aircoach carry a FirstGroup logo alongside the Aircoach logo.

Corporate branding and liveries

First bus in corporate livery in Bishops Lydeard in 2014

FirstGroup has always had a consistent brand and uses the First brand for most of its operations. FirstBus began to apply a standard corporate typeface to its fleet names in the late 1990s, introducing the stylised f logo depicting a road. A corporate white, pink and blue livery was introduced, nicknamed "Barbie", to new buses, while further bus company acquisitions continued. Inherited bus fleets were initially left in their original colours with First fleet names, with the intention that the Barbie scheme would stand for a set service quality. Later older buses received a modified "Barbie 2" livery.

Buses of Somerset liveried Alexander ALX400 bodied Dennis Trident 2 in Taunton in February 2014

As part of its corporate branding, First subsequently removed all local branding for its bus services, buses simply carried the 'First' brand, although each company still operated independently. In 2012, the group began to introduce a new purple, white and lilac livery to its bus fleets, which also reinstated local branding.[44] In January 2014, the company rebranded its First Somerset & Avon operations in Bridgwater and Taunton as The Buses of Somerset, using a two-tone green livery.[45][46]

First's TransPennine Express and Hull Trains operations carry a predominantly blue livery, including white, pink and purple. This was also used by First Great Western until 20 September 2015, when the First Great Western operation was re-branded as Great Western Railway, with a new logo and dark green livery paying homage to the original Great Western Railway.[47]

London Tramlink operations are painted in white, green and blue as per Transport for London requirements. In Scotland, First ScotRail operated with a blue livery with white saltire markings on the carriage ends, as mandated by the Scottish Government's transport agency Transport Scotland.[48]

Similarly, in North America, all owned and operated services are operated under the First or Greyhound brands except in the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Manitoba for regulatory reasons, and vehicles operated under contract to public agencies, which carry the branding of the agency that owns the particular bus. All American subsidiaries of Greyhound Lines are now operated under the Greyhound name.[49] Greyhound UK services in the United Kingdom are painted in the same navy blue and grey livery introduced to the American Greyhound fleet in 2009.

Current operating companies

Bus & coach services

United Kingdom

Marshall bodied Dennis Dart in Bromborough in March 2007 in the original Barbie livery
Leyland Olympian in Chester in August 2007 in the modified Barbie livery
  • First Rail Support provide emergency and planned rail replacement transport to train operating companies using First and non First Transport through its 24-hour control room in Simonstone, Lancashire.


Aircoach Jonckheere SHV bodied Volvo in Greystones


United States

Rail services

United Kingdom

Services formerly operated

FirstGroup Rhein-Neckar Mercedes-Benz Citaro in Mannheim in August 2008

Bus & coach services


  • FirstGroup Rhein-Neckar sold September 2011 to Marwyn European Transport

Hong Kong

United Kingdom

Rail services

United Kingdom

Denmark & Sweden


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 "FirstGroup Annual Report 31 March 2014" (PDF). FirstGroup plc. Retrieved 28 March 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 Companies House extract company no SC157176 FirstGroup plc
  3. FirstGroup plc Ord 5p London Stock Exchange
  4. "RESEARCH PAPER 99/59" Check |url= value (help). 8 June 1999. Retrieved 25 Mar 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Interview with Moir Lockhead. 11 April 2006
  6. Badgerline links with GRT The Independent 5 April 1995
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Buses Magazine, Issue 648, March 2009, Ian Allan.
  8. "£75m of additional passenger benefits agreed with FirstGroup" (Press release). Department for Transport. 6 March 1998.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Conditions met for FirstGroup takeover of Great Western" (Press release). Department for Transport. 30 March 1998.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. FirstGroup Annual Report 31 March 1999 FirstGroup plc
  11. UK bus operator wins £55m franchise The Independent 1 April 1998
  12. Milestones 2000 NWS Holdings Limited
  13. FirstGroup to Buy Ryder Unit Europolitics 8 September 1999
  14. "Croydon Tramlink Light Rail Network". International Railway Journal. London. June 2000.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. GB Rail Offer Unconditional FirstGroup plc corporate news 14 August 2003
  16. Aircoach Announces 15m Euro Deal Aircoach news 7 November 2003
  17. SRA Announce Preferred Bidder for TransPennine Express Franchise Strategic Rail Authority announcement 28 July 2003
  18. Keolis in the UK Keolis SA
  19. Preferred Bidder Announced for New Thames Trains Franchise Strategic Rail Authority announcement 4 November 2003
  20. FirstGroup clinches Scottish rail franchise The Telegraph 12 June 2004
  21. Department for Transport Announces Winner of Thameslink/GN Franchise Department for Transport press release 13 December 2005
  22. Greater Western Franchise Department for Transport publication 2 February 2006
  23. Wessex Train Company News Tessa
  24. "FirstGroup buys Greyhound buses". BBC News. 9 February 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. FirstGroup starts operations in Scandinavia FirstGroup plc news 12 January 2009
  26. FirstGroup Annual Report 31 March 2011 FirstGroup plc
  27. "National Express turns down bid". BBC News. 29 June 2009. Retrieved 29 June 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. "FirstGroup plc: Disposal of rail freight business" (Press release). FirstGroup. 1 June 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. Rose, Michael (1 June 2010). "Eurotunnel buys GBRf from FirstGroup". Reuters.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. "First GBRf bought by Eurotunnel". RailNews. Stevenage. 1 June 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  31. Miles, Tony (November 2010). "O'Toole takes over from Lockhead at FirstGroup". Modern Railways. London. p. 7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  32. Milmo, Dan (22 September 2010). "Tim O'Toole confirmed as new FirstGroup chief executive".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  33. FirstGroup sells German bus unit BBC News 30 September 2011
  34. DSB CEO dismissed over accounting irregularities Railway Gazette 1 April 2011
  35. Veolia takes over Öresund train services 28 June 2011
  36. Veolia takes over from troubled DSBFirst Railway Gazette 28 June 2011
  37. "Statement re Bus and Coach contract at London 2012 Games" (Press release). FirstGroup. 15 February 2010. Retrieved 16 April 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  38. FirstGroup Announces Sale of Eight London Bus Depots FirstGroup 9 April 2013
  39. "Tramlink". Transport for London. Retrieved 2 March 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  40. First Student About Us First Student
  41. First Transit About Us First Transit
  42. First Vehicle Services About Us First Vehicle Services
  43. "Aircoach". FirstGroup. Retrieved 20 May 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  44. Makeover for First Aberdeen's Bus Fleet First Group plc press release 13 June 2012
  45. First introduces The Buses of Somerset Euro Transport 30 January 2014
  46. First drops corporate look in Somerset Bus & Coach Professional 5 February 2014
  47. "First Great Western unveils rebranded Great Western Railway trains". BBC News. 21 September 2015. Retrieved 23 September 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  48. ScotRail 25th Anniversary Publicity Materials Transport Scotland
  49. Greyhound Services & Routes Greyhound America
  50. "Crossrail Timetable". Retrieved 9 January 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links