In 1932 the York-West Yorkshire Joint Committee was formed as a joint venture between West Yorkshire Road Car Company and York City Council. The Transport Act 1985 banned such joint ventures, and thus West Yorkshire Road Car Company took full ownership before being rebranded as Yorkshire Rider in October 1986. In January 1991 it was rebranded as York CityRider. In April 1994 the Rider York business was included in the sale of the Yorkshire Rider business to Badgerline. Following Badgerline merging with GRT Group to form FirstBus in April 1995, Rider York was rebranded as First York.
There are sixteen colour-coded Overground routes numbered 1-13 and other services numbered as 5A, 10A and 13A which operate at weekday frequencies of between eight and thirty minutes.
On 27 February 2007 First York introduced an hourly service linking York with Leeds Bradford Airport. Branded as route 120 York Aircoach, it was based on a model and brand successfully used by Aircoach, a sister FirstGroup company operating to and from Dublin Airport. Four Volvo B10M-62 coaches previously operated by First Coaches and First Trafford Park were acquired for this operation. All used First Excel coach branding with additional York Aircoach branding applied. The service was later rebranded as York Airlink 787, with the coaches replaced by buses. It was withdrawn on 26 April 2009.
In 2009, First York commenced operating route X64 to Leeds in competition with Yorkshire Coastliner. It ceased in August 2010.
Route branding is not common on First York buses, apart from the park & ride brand. In the past route branding existed on services 1, 4, 5, 6, 10 and 12. The branding depicted the line colour, frequency of vehicles and main stops along the route.
Throughout June and August 2013 First York held several consultation meetings with customers to improve the service in the city. Several new changes were announced, and the first were implemented on 29 September 2013.
In August 2015, First York commenced a five-year contract to provide services for the University of York.
First York also operate park & ride services in York, in partnership with the city council. The service was designed to relieve York's overcrowded car parks, and cut congestion.
First York shuttle buses operate to and from York railway station and the York Racecourse on race-days. This service is operated by First York, Transdev York and York Pullman.
In May 2006, First York became the first bus operator in the UK to introduce Volvo B7L/Wright StreetCars as part of the FTR scheme being trialed in the city. Eleven articulated StreetCars operated on route 4, which links the University of York, the City Centre and Acomb. Each bus carried 42 seated and 71 standing passengers.
These buses contained a driving compartment separating the driver (known as a 'pilot') from the passengers, and used GPS satellite tracking technology to give traffic light priority to late-running buses. There were conductors on board the buses (known as 'customer service hosts') who sold tickets to passengers. There was a large amount of marketing about the ability to buy 'm-tickets' on mobile phones, and prepaid tickets which were scanned by the ticket machines on the buses. However, the automated ticket system was a failure as there was a high incidence of technical problems, and the machines were taken out of operation and boarded over. As a result, First York was forced to employ further 'customer service hosts' to sell tickets to passengers.
The FTR scheme was largely unpopular with people in York for a number of reasons, such as problems with ticketing, pricing, being late and the vehicles being excessively long. Protests were especially heated among students and the York University Student Union was engaged in negotiations with First York to introduce student discounts. The university later discussed contracts with York Pullman. York Pullman began the UniBus service between the university and the station. Due to competition from the UniBus (now owned by Transdev York) the price of the ticket for students on route 4 dropped significantly.
The FTR scheme meant that bus stop areas had to be extended to accommodate the length of the longer vehicles, however in many cases this was done in contravention of the guidance given in the council's highway design document. This led to FTR buses blocking the road adding to traffic congestion. In 2009 First York replaced the FTR with conventional buses on evenings and on Sundays.
Following its victory at the 2011 local elections, the controlling Labour party on the City of York Council made sure that the FTR buses were replaced. First agreed with this, and the FTR vehicles ran in York for the last time on 10 March 2012. They were transferred to other First West Yorkshire services and replaced by 11 Wright Eclipse Gemini bodied Volvo B9TLs from First South Yorkshire's Rotherham depot.
In May 2015 the fleet consisted of 110 buses.
In 2001/02 41 new Volvo B6BLEs, B7Ls and B7TLs enter the fleet. This represented a significant investment in the First York fleet. These buses replaced original vehicles such as DAF SB220s, Dennis Darts, Leyland Atlanteans, Leyland Leopards, Leyland Nationals, Leyland Olympians, Mercedes-Benz 709Ds and Scania L113s. During 2006 First York received Dennis Trident 2s from First Somerset & Avon and three Optare Solos for a short while, until Veolia Transport took control of the routes operated by these buses. A number of buses were cascaded to other First companies as newer buses arrived in 2008. The nine Wright Eclipse Fusion bodied Volvo B7LA articulateds used on park & ride services also left the fleet moved to Leeds and Somerset, after being replaced by 15 articulated Mercedes-Benz Citaro O530Gs in January 2009.
In 2014, six electric Optare Versas were introduced. These were followed by a further six in 2015.