|Founded||1 April 1995|
|Headquarters||Aberdeen, Scotland, UK|
Republic of Ireland
(Interim Executive Chairman)
|Products||Bus, coach, rail & tram|
|Revenue||£4,591.1 million (2022)|
|£122.8 million (2022)|
|£642.0 million (2022)|
Number of employees
FirstGroup plc is a British multi-national transport group, which is based in Aberdeen in the north-east of Scotland. The company operates transport services in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. It is listed on the London Stock Exchange and is a constituent of the FTSE 250 Index.
The creation of what became FirstGroup is closely tied to the deregulation of bus services in the United Kingdom during the 1980s. During April 1995, two acquisitive private bus operators, Badgerline and GRT Bus Group, merged together to create FirstBus. The new company initially operated a fleet of 5,600 buses to provide services to numerous regions across England, Wales and Scotland. Throughout the late 1990s, FirstBus continued its policy of growth by acquisition. To this end, it acquired several former council owned operations and companies formerly owned by English, Welsh and Scottish nationalised operators.
During December 1997, the company was renamed FirstGroup to reflect its recent entry into Britain's recently privatised railways. Around this time, it had a 24.5% shareholding in Great Western Holdings that was awarded the Great Western and North Western franchises, as well as a 100% shareholding in First Great Eastern. FirstGroup made its first overseas foray in September 1998 via a 26% shareholding in the joint venture New World First Bus that provided bus services in Hong Kong. In September 1999, FirstGroup purchased the American company Ryder Public Transport Services. During May 2000, it began operating the London Tramlink concession. During August 2003, FirstGroup purchased GB Railways, which owned Anglia Railways and GB Railfreight and held 80% of the shares in Hull Trains.
In February 2007, FirstGroup agreed to buy the US-based bus operator Laidlaw, along with a controlling stake in Greyhound Lines, the largest bus operator in North America. During June 2009, FirstGroup made a unsuccessful takeover bid for rival transport operator National Express. In June 2010, FirstGroup sold its rail freight business First GBRf to the Eurotunnel Group, exiting the rail freight sector as a result. During October 2016, First Transit commenced operating the A-train, its first rail operation in the United States. In August 2017, FirstGroup's joint venture with MTR Corporation commenced operating the South Western franchise. In May 2020, FirstGroup announced it would retain its UK bus operations and sell off its activities in North America. During June 2022, FirstGroup rejected a £1.2bn takeover offer from US private equity company I Squared Capital.
FirstGroup originated within the deregulation of bus services in the United Kingdom in 1986, whereby private companies purchased nationalised and municipal bus operators. During September 1986, the Somerset based services of the Bristol Omnibus Company that were rebranded in 1985 as Badgerline were purchased in a management buyout. As Badgerline Group, it expanded through acquisition purchasing other formerly nationalised bus companies in England and Wales.
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. As GRT Bus Group, it expanded through acquisition purchasing six former nationalised bus companies in England and Scotland. During April 1995, FirstBus was formed through the merger of the Badgerline and GRT Bus Groups, with fleets in England, Wales and Scotland. The former King Street Barracks site in Aberdeen was selected as the headquarters. At the time of the merger, FirstBus had 5,600 buses, 4,000 of which came from Badgerline. Badgerline's Trevor Smallwood became chairman of FirstBus, while GRT head Moir Lockhead became deputy chairman and chief executive.
Throughout the late 1990s, FirstBus continued its policy of growth by acquisition. To this end, it acquired several 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.
During December 1997, the company was renamed FirstGroup; this change was due to the company's entry in February 1996 into Britain's recently privatised railways, having 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 that it did not already own and rebranded the franchises First Great Western and First North Western.
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; the company held a 26% shareholding in the joint venture. During May 2000, FirstGroup sold its shares to joint venture partner New World Development. In September 1999, FirstGroup purchased Ryder Public Transport Services, a provider of school bus and contracted public bus transportation in the United States. In May 2000, FirstGroup began operating the London Tramlink concession under contract to Transport for London.
During August 2003, FirstGroup purchased GB Railways, which owned Anglia Railways and GB Railfreight and held 80% of the shares in Hull Trains. Having not been shortlisted for the Greater Anglia franchise, this outcome gave FirstGroup another chance to bid. However, it too was unsuccessful and the franchise was awarded to the rival transport company 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.
In February 2004, FirstGroup's joint venture with Keolis commenced operating the First TransPennine Express rail franchise, FirstGroup having a 55% shareholding in the venture. During April 2004, FirstGroup commenced operating the First Great Western Link franchise, it also commenced the First ScotRail franchise in October 2004. 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.
During April 2006, FirstGroup commenced operating the First Capital Connect franchise and a renewed First Great Western franchise that had been expanded to include the Thames Trains and Wessex Trains franchises.
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, in exchange 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.
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. By March 2011, this shareholding had increased to 30%.
During June 2009, FirstGroup made a takeover offer for fellow transport operator National Express, which was struggling with debt at the time and was struggling to hold onto its National Express East Coast rail franchise. This offer was rejected; a National Express spokesperson stated that 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.
In June 2010, FirstGroup sold its railfreight business First GBRf to the Eurotunnel Group in exchange for £31 million, ending the group's involvement in rail freight transport. 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.
During September 2011, FirstGroup's German bus operations were sold to Marwyn European Transport. In December 2011, DSBFirst ceased operating the Swedish part of the operation after difficulties encountered by Danish State Railways over cross subsidies.
In July 2012, First Travel Solutions provided bus and coach services for the London 2012 Olympic Games as First Games Transport. This involved the provision of venue shuttle and park and ride services, services connecting the 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. These services required around 900 vehicles in total, although some were sub-contracted. During June 2013, most of the First London bus operations were sold to Go-Ahead London, Metroline and Tower Transit.
In April 2015, FirstGroup was unsuccessful in bidding for the ScotRail franchise, which was run by Abellio ScotRail until the end of that franchise in March 2022. During December 2015, FirstGroup was awarded the next TransPennine Express franchise. The new franchise commenced on 1 April 2016 with a commitment to introduce new trains, routes and faster journey times.
During October 2016, First Transit commenced operating the A-train under contract to the Denton County Transportation Authority, its first rail operation in the United States. In August 2017, FirstGroup's joint venture with MTR Corporation commenced operating the South Western franchise, the company holding a 70% shareholding in South Western Railway.
In May 2019, FirstGroup announced its intention to sell its UK bus operations and that its US activities were to receive greater attention in the future. However, the only sales completed were parts of First Greater Manchester to the Go-Ahead Group and Rotala.
In May 2020, FirstGroup announced it has effectively reversed its previous strategy, opting to retain its UK bus operations and instead sell its assets in North America. In April 2021, FirstGroup agreed terms to sell the First Student and First Transit businesses to EQT Partners; the sale completed later in 2021.
During October 2021, FirstGroup announced the sale of Greyhound Lines to FlixMobility, completing its stated divestments to focus on its core UK public transport businesses. In October 2021, the open-access operator Lumo commenced operating services on the East Coast Main Line.
In June 2022, FirstGroup's board unanimously rejected a £1.2bn takeover proposal from US private equity firm I Squared Capital; a spokesperson stated that the offer had undervalued the company. While talks between the two companies continued for a further two months, I Squared ultimately called off its efforts in August 2022.
In February 2023, FirstGroup announced that subject to regulatory approval, it would purchase both the bus services and bus dealer operations of Purfleet-based Ensignbus.
FirstGroup 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 Avanti West Coast, Great Western Railway and South Western Railway. It also runs two non-franchised open access passenger operations - Hull Trains and Lumo. FirstGroup operates tram services on the London Tramlink network carrying approximately 24 million passengers per year on behalf of Transport for London.
FirstGroup owns and operates the Aircoach service in Dublin, 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.
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 stylized f logo depicting a road. A corporate white, pink and blue livery nicknamed "Barbie" was introduced 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.
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. 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.
Hull Trains carries a predominantly blue livery, including white, pink and purple. This was also used by First Great Western until 20 September 2015, when the franchise was rebranded as Great Western Railway, with a new logo and dark green livery paying homage to the original Great Western Railway.
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.
Current operating businesses include:
In September 2022 First Bus was reorganised as follows: