Unilink, the university’s dedicated bus service, has been relaunched with a new look and new vehicles.
The relaunched Unilink was unveiled on the 3rd September 2013 by the Managing Director of Go South Coast, Andrew Wickham, and the Provost and Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Southampton, Prof. Adam Wheeler.
Among the changes are a new logo and vehicle livery, designed by Ray Stenning of the Best Impressions design agency, and a brand new fleet of primarily double-decker buses, built by the notable Scottish bus manufacturing company Alexander Dennis. The changes come as contractor Bluestar reach the half-way mark of their current ten year contract to run the bus service. That contract stipulated that the route should use buses no older than five years, and the new buses will replace those bought by Bluestar in 2008 when they won the contract.
The new buses are equipped with WiFi, and are fitted with new engine technology that reduces the bus’ fuel consumption and emissions produced, contributing to the university’s plans to become more sustainable. They cost the company £4.5 million and have been specifically laid out so as to increase capacity.
The relaunch also includes timetable changes that will come into effect in a few weeks time. Buses on the U1 route will run every seven minutes between the National Oceanography Centre and Wessex Lane Halls of Residence, with extensions to Southampton Airport now only every 15 minutes. Other routes retain their frequency, although daytime U6 journeys will no longer serve the NOC.
Latest in a summer of change
This latest relaunch follows on from the changes at the beginning of this summer with the introduction of the key smart-card system. That decision was controversial amongst the student population, with some questioning the advantages to students. The new system saw the University ID card used previously become incompatible with the new systems and requiring all students with a bus pass to apply for the new card. The benefits were use on Bluestar’s city services, mainly the 16 to Townhill Park and the 18 to Millbrook, Shirley, Bitterne and Thornhill. However, some students questioned the benefit when compared to the inconvenience of carrying another card, while others saw the deal as benefiting Bluestar customers only.
The other change that occurred over the summer was the raising of some fares. While one-way tickets remain at £2, child tickets increase to £1.60 and day-rider tickets increase to £3.50.
These new buses will now only accept the key smart-card and new students are being provided with one in their welcome packs, while returning students have to visit their on-campus shop or order one online.
Among the first challenges for the new fleet will be the university ‘Open Days’ this weekend and the Freshers’ events at the end of this month.
Update: More buses added to the fleet
Around six weeks after the initial launch of the buses, Unilink has now added more buses to their fleet. These are a couple of single decker buses for use on the U2 route between the Civic Centre, Avenue Campus, Highfield, Glen Eyre and Basset Green for Bencraft. Prior to this, around three of the buses used before were repainted in the new livery and these buses are at present still in use around the network. These new buses contain around the same number of seats as before and are built by Northern Ireland based company Wright Bus who pioneered the low floor bus style.
While these new buses came into service without much fanfare they will no doubt made a valuable contribution to the award winning service.