Arriva is aiming for a different approach for its recently acquired low cost operation in Yorkshire

Last September Arriva found itself in an unusual position. Since 2008 the group had been in a joint venture with Julian Peddle, David Shelley and Peter Harvey and their Leicester-based Centrebus operation to take on the former Stagecoach operations in Huddersfield. This was subsequently expanded to include Honley-based K-Line, one of the many independents that developed in the immediate aftermath of deregulation, and Arriva’s Hinckley operation in Leicestershire.

However, last year Peddle and his partners decided to sell their 60% share in the joint venture, Centrebus Holdings, and this has brought about a unique opportunity for the group with the acquisition of those shares. While the Hinckley-based operation is now managed by the Arriva Midlands business, the 125-vehicle Yorkshire operations have been relaunched with a distinct new identity and management team as Yorkshire Tiger.

“It’s been a busy few months,” admits Martijn Gilbert, Yorkshire Tiger’s business director, who was parachuted in from a business development role at the group’s UK rail division, to lead the newly created operation. “I moved up to Leeds last summer and since then we’ve acquired the business, relaunched  and refocussed it. There haven’t been very many quiet days overall.”

Of course there are real reasons for keeping Yorkshire Tiger and Arriva’s ‘traditional’ bus business in the county separate and primarily it is one of cost. While Arriva Yorkshire has a core commercial network, Yorkshire Tiger has an air of an entrepreneurial upstart. Its bread and butter work are routes operated on behalf of local authorities and more marginal commercial operations. But wouldn’t it have been much simpler and easier to bolt the business on to the Arriva Yorkshire operation? Gilbert parallels the situation with the supermarket industry.

“Arriva Yorkshire is more like the mainstream supermarkets like Tesco or Sainsbury’s,” he says. “We have a very different approach and we’re probably more like Aldi or Lidl; one of the discounters. They’ve changed over the last few years from being perceived as the cheap option with sometimes questionable quality to a position of offering good value. That’s where we’re coming from and where we’re positioning the business.

“At heart we’re a low cost operation. You could say that it would make sense to tack the business onto Arriva Yorkshire, but it wouldn’t really work. When you take into account things like central overheads, it would be impossible for the business to make any sort of meaningful return. It needed a different approach to work.”

Of course, things did have to change with the purchase of Centrebus’s stake. The former Centrebus Holdings business was managed from afar as part of Peddle’s main Centrebus business, based in Leicester, meaning that the Yorkshire operations are benefitting from true, local management for the first time with a new head office function now set up at the operator’s Elland depot. Gilbert describes this team, all of whom have been appointed since Arriva acquired the business last September, as multi-functional, but backed up, where necessary by the resources of Arriva.

“We have a really short chain of command, meaning that we can react really quickly,” he adds. “We have a series of frameworks that are set by Arriva, mostly relating to finance, engineering and health and safety, but apart from that we have a great deal of autonomy and that’s really empowering, but being part of a major group also meant that the expectations of our stakeholders changed. We had to make some fundamental changes to the business in order to reflect that and that goes beyond having a management team in place. We also want to grow the business and the creation of a new brand was a fundamental part of that change.”

It led to the appointment of branding guru Ray Stenning of Best Impressions to create a new look and feel for the business. The purchase agreement meant that the Centrebus name had to be phased out and the new Yorkshire Tiger brand aims to create the perception of something new and very different, unusual perhaps for a small low cost operation. “We wanted to create something different from the traditional bus operators in the area,” adds Gilbert. “Something very visible that would convey some of the messages about what we wanted to do with the business. We wanted to look professional but also affordable, emphasising the fact that at heart we are a good value operation, and we wanted a uniquely local focus and feel.”

The starting point was taking the orange from the existing Centrebus brand as it was something that existing customers would already associate with the business. Gilbert, working with Nigel Featham, the regional managing director of Arriva’s bus business in Yorkshire, kicked around ideas with Stenning during a morning meeting and from that the Yorkshire Tiger brand emerged. Stenning notes that what has been created is witty, quirky and fun with buses sporting tiger print vinyls on a base coat of orange. This is continued to vehicle interiors with a bespoke tiger pattern moquette. When applied to some of the older vehicles in the Yorkshire Tiger fleet, it certainly creates a bright and welcoming interior.

Although the Honley-based K-Line operation is keeping its own identity for now, the Yorkshire Tiger brand was unleashed across the remainder of the former Centrebus operation last October, just a month after Arriva took control of the business. Gilbert describes it as a flexible and adaptable brand. Already that has seen the tiger pictured in the Yorkshire Tiger logo donning a mortar board for an improved network of services linking the University of Leeds campus. Elsewhere, there are a plethora of tiger-based puns used on marketing material and this is being extended to include marketing tie-ups with Yorkshire County Cricket Club and, more recently, Leeds Rhinos for shuttle services when matches are being played, a move designed to cement the brand in the minds of young people.

However, contrasting with this cheap but very cheerful approach for the main business is the newly launched Flying Tiger brand. It has been developed to bring together the network of services that connect Leeds Bradford Airport and which were branded as Airport Direct in Centrebus days. Here the emphasis has moved away from the value proposition of the main Yorkshire Tiger brand to reflect a premium and high quality service.

“We’ve a nice medium-sized business,” explains Gilbert, “and the real core of it remains the more marginal services and tendered operations. With the airport network we have a chance to do something really different, but which reflects the core values of Yorkshire Tiger. It’s still about value, it’s still about quality, but it’s a very different market from a customer point of view.”

The network can be split into two. The main volume business is the 757 service connecting Leeds city centre and the railway station with the airport. It operates predominantly on a commercial basis and the relaunch has seen frequencies boosted to every 20 minutes on Monday to Saturday daytimes with a half hourly service on Sundays. This is supplemented by the 737 and 747 services which link the airport with Harrogate, Bradford, Guiseley and Shipley at hourly intervals and which are operated on behalf of Metro, the former West Yorkshire PTE which is now part of the wider Combined Authority.

“We have a unique opportunity in that we already have through ticketing arrangements for rail passengers transferring at Leeds to reach the airport, but that hadn’t really been emphasised in the past,” adds Gilbert. “I spent five years in Cardiff where people moaned about how remote the airport was and how difficult it was to get there by public transport, but if you look at other airports, like Bristol for example, they too have remote airports but the difference is that the public transport option is really quite good. We want to go down that route with Flying Tiger and make it as good as we possibly can.”

A new fleet of Optare Versas midibuses, featuring high quality interiors created by Stenning and his team, have been introduced in the 757 service. Meanwhile, the existing Airport Direct-era Scanias are set to be refurbished
to the same high standard for use on the 737 and 747.

Of course aside from the launch of Flying Tiger, plenty of other things have been achieved since Arriva gained control of the business. Gilbert spreads out a document, titled ‘Yorkshire Tiger’s Journey’, on the table of the Leeds coffee shop where we’ve been chatting. What’s remarkable is just what has been achieved. Alongside the more prosaic things like issuing new staff uniforms and identity cards, there are some big ticket items like the introduction of new ticket machines and the establishment of the new head office at Elland. Strikingly though, there’s a checklist of items for the future. “We’re only just over halfway through the first year,” he adds. “It’s been exciting and extremely rewarding, but there’s still more to do. This is only just the beginning for Yorkshire Tiger.”

 

This article appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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