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RSP Member - FirstGroup plc

FirstGroup plc is the UK’s largest surface transportation company with a turnover of over six billion pounds, employing 110000 staff in Europe and North America.  First runs local bus services throughout the UK outside London, and these currently carry almost 600 million passengers each year in more than forty major towns and cities from Aberdeen to Penzance, with express coach services also operated in Ireland.  Full details of First’s operations can be found at www.firstgroup.com.

First is also a major UK train operator, with three current passenger franchises: Great Western Railway, TransPennine Express and South West Trains.  First also owns Hull Trains, an “open access” operator.  Between them these companies operate a significant proportion of the UK passenger rail network with a balanced portfolio of intercity, commuter and regional services.  The Croydon Tramlink operated by First on behalf of Transport for London carries over 31 million passengers per year.

Investment in both vehicles and technology continues.  Not only is all First’s bus ticketing equipment compatible with ITSO Smartcards, but following the complete rollout of mobile ticketing, contactless payment is also available across all UK Bus operations.  In twelve months, the first contactless operation (Aberdeen) has reached 30% penetration for this type of payment, whereas mobile ticketing use increased 65% in 2017-18.  The rollout of new generation ticketing machines across First bus operations is nearing completion.  These provide opportunities for all the above payment methods (plus cash!) as well as improving communications between drivers and control rooms, with a further doubling of digital transactions expected in 2018-19. 

Complementing the above First has developed the Journeymakers training programme for drivers and other customer facing staff to improve the journey experience and to increase passenger satisfaction scores.  This is being rolled out across the business.

Having previously trialled LPG, CNG, fuel cell and battery electric vehicles, together with experimental hybrids, today all First’s diesel buses run on ultra-low sulphur diesel. Investment in Euro6 diesel has been significant with 12% of the fleet already to this standard and through a combination of current fleet investment plans and retro-fit, this figure will reach 27%.  The use of more fuel efficient and less polluting hybrid vehicles continues to grow, and in partnership with City of York Council, electric vehicles were introduced to the York Park & Ride services in 2014. Other electric buses are being used on Manchester’s MetroShuttle services.  Meanwhile, in Aberdeen a partnership with the City Council introduced the first UK use of hydrogen fuel cell buses outside London.  Biomethane generated from human waste was used to power an experimental vehicle operating in Bristol as part of that city’s European Green Capital 2015 programme, followed by a pilot double deck vehicle and plans are now in place to extend the use of such vehicles in the Bristol area.  The first flywheel hybrid double deckers outside London are linking Stirling City Centre with the City’s University, and “virtual electric” double deck vehicles were placed into service in 2016 in Bristol.  These latter buses have a far greater range under pure electric power than conventional hybrids and pick up power both from regenerative braking but also from a charging plate mounted in the roadway.  First has also worked in partnership with local authorities to retrofit many older vehicles with state of the art emissions treatment systems under several government sponsored initiatives since 2012.

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