In February 2007, FirstGroup plc, a bus and rail transport operator in the United Kingdom with subsidiaries in North America, acquired Laidlaw International, Inc. for $35.25 per share or approximately US$3.6 billion including the assumption of US$0.8 billion of debt. FirstGroup plc completed the acquisition of Laidlaw International on October 1, 2007, and is currently rebranding Laidlaw services under the First umbrella. The deal combined North America’s two largest private school bus operators — Laidlaw Education Services and First Student Inc. — giving them a combined 40% of the school bus contractor market. FirstGroup also announced that the Laidlaw name would not be kept, but that the Greyhound name would be maintained.
Laidlaw had grown primarily through acquisitions of other companies and contracting of services formerly directly provided by government entities. At the time of its acquisition by FirstGroup in 2007, Laidlaw was the largest provider of intercity bus services, contract public transit and paratransit, and contract school bus service in both the United States and Canada.
Laidlaw was the parent company of Laidlaw Transit (which was merged into First Transit), Laidlaw Education Services (merged into First Student), Greyhound Lines and Greyhound Lines of Canada (which retain their names), and a number of Gray Line Sightseeing franchises in major North American cities.
Beginning in 1972, under the leadership of Michael DeGroote, Laidlaw, Inc. began growing through acquisitions of other companies when it acquired a Canadian intercity and charter bus company. In 1979, it acquired a Canadian contract school bus business. In 1978 it entered the U.S. solid waste industry. In 1983, Laidlaw entered the U.S. school bus transportation sector with its acquisition of ARA Transportation, a major contract school bus provider which also owned a Wayne Corporation bus dealership. In 1984, Laidlaw Inc. exited the trucking business, as the company began a consolidating smaller school bus contracting companies in the U.S. and Canada. In 1988, Laidlaw, Inc. purchased a controlling interest in itself from Canadian Pacific Limited, parent of Canadian Pacific Railway.
Instances of reverse privatization were rare, but did occur during Laidlaw's years of expansion. In Virginia, several school districts canceled their school bus contracts with private operators and brought bus operations in-house. By the late 1980s, the only 3 remaining district school bus contracts were at Petersburg, Norfolk and Hopewell. Self-operation conversions for all three were urged by Virginia Department of Education officials as "cost-saving." The contracting companies unsuccessfully disputed the state's financial calculations and cost allocations for the reverse privatizations, which effectively ended all public school bus contracting in Virginia by 1996. In 1991, after losing its major school bus contract in Norfolk, Virginia to a governmental conversion to district-self-operation, Laidlaw sold the rest of its urban-suburban bus line, school bus contracting business serving independent schools and day camps, and related assets in the Norfolk area to Virginia Overland Transportation. Virginia Overland Transportation was an operator of public service transportation and a much smaller industry consolidator in the state. The company had also lost their contract in Petersburg to self-operation in 1989, but was still operating at Hopewell. The latter converted in 1996, and Virginia Overland's parent company based in Richmond closed in 2004. The former Virginia Overland subsidiary operation in the Norfolk area acquired from Laidlaw operates as Transquest and is now owned by Serco Group. As of 2007, Transquest was continuing bus contract operations transporting students to many independent schools in South Hampton Roads, including Norfolk Academy.
In the 1990s, Laidlaw continued to acquire hundreds of smaller school bus and public transit contractors in the U.S. and Canada. These also included major competitors, including Mayflower Contract Services in 1995, and National Bus Service in 1996. Around the same time, the company acquired American Medical Response, a nation-wide U.S. ambulance service provider and CareLine, Inc., U.S. ambulance consolidator of smaller ambulance contractors.
In 1998, a watershed year, Laidlaw Inc. acquired Greyhound Lines U.S. operations, Greyhound Canada, the DAVE Companies (specialists in paratransit) and emergency management companies EmCare and Spectrum Emergency Care.
Between 1997 and 1999, Laidlaw, Inc. exited the solid waste business after incurring heavy losses through its investments in Safety-Kleen and Greyhound Lines. After almost 20 years of expansion, Laidlaw Inc. filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code in June 2001.
Laidlaw International, Inc. listed its common shares on the New York Stock Exchange (Ticker: LI), on February 10, 2004, and emerged from reorganization on June 23, 2003 as the successor to Laidlaw Inc. Canadian Pacific sold its remaining 17% interest in Laidlaw Inc. The company later sold American Medical Response, its EMS contract operations to new owners.
Laidlaw customers include: