FirstBus, operating as First Worcester, has returned to Herefordshire. The operator who withdrew from Hereford City and closed their garage there in 2015, has won a number of Herefordshire Council contracts in the Ledbury Area. From September they will be taking over services such as the 417 Ledbury-Worcester and the 675 Ledbury-Colwall-Malvern from Astons Coaches and the 672/673 Ledbury-Bromyard from DRMBus.

First Worcester is the last vestige of the one might Birmingham & Midland Omnibus Company, known as Midland Red. The company operated a vast network of services in Herefordshire and Worcestershire stretching from across the Welsh border in the west to Evesham in the east and Redditch in the north. Following deregulation of bus services in the 1980’s and the privatisation of the National Bus Company, the Herefordshire routes became part of Midland Red West and thence First Midland Red.

The 417 and 657 services will be operated from Worcester garage and will probably be linked with their main Worcester-Malvern service. If so it may well be only a matter of time before this large company casts covetous eyes on the 476 service operating a new Worcester-Malvern-Ledbury-Hereford express service. Deregulation of bus services was meant to stimulate competition and thus has been in a state of constant flux since then. The industry has seen a contraction in the number of operators of local services with many small operators giving up or being driven out of business by the powerful larger companies such as FirstBus and Stagecoach.

The future for Herefordshire bus services is far from certain with the likely continuation of cuts in the local authority budget and the larger companies seeking to maximise their revenue by swallowing up the more lucrative routes. There is plenty of work for Rail & Bus to do in order to help maintain and develop a comprehensive and sensible network of local services in the county.

A comprehensive paper on the history of Midland Red in Herefordshire is available in hard copy from GHAL Productions of Ledbury, email: ghal@binternet.com: tel: 01531 633594