Posted by: SB Websites | April 27, 2015

ANE Sapphire 7 Pulsar 2

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In 2012 Arriva UK created a detailed and extensive research project to identify the key things that passengers wanted from Arriva’s services which included giving them surveys, allowing site visits and creation and evolution of focus groups in an effort to increase ridership on the services across the country as this was becoming a problem across the network. From this research there were 4 main points which were raised. The public wanted ‘A punctual, reliable, frequent and direct service’, ‘Well-presented, customer focused drivers’, ‘An enhanced feeling of personal safety, space and comfort’ and ‘A customer charter with no-quibble money-back guarantee’. From this Arriva created a new high-profile brand called ‘Sapphire’ to give them the opportunity to improve perceptions of the bus to regular passengers, encourage non-users to give the bus a try to persuade infrequent users to make more of their journeys on the bus. They then developed a premium standard for all Sapphire services to keep to which allows the brand to maintain its classy status which are developed from the research project. These include things like:

  • Direct routes which run frequently and will have special attention paid to them to ensure good timekeeping
  • Well-presented, customer focused drivers with extra training in customer service
  • New, more comfortable luxury seats, with high backs, deeper bases and more space
  • Free WiFi for all passengers
  • Charging points to charge up smartphones, laptops or tablets
  • Audio-visual announcements to assist those who are visually impaired or unfamiliar with the route or bus service
  • CCTV on board each bus for added security

Arriva also designed the Sapphire customer charter which sets out Arriva’s commitments on things like reliability, punctuality, frequency and cleanliness and guarantees you your money back if you’re not satisfied. It includes things like:

  • Aiming to provide all passengers with a safe, comfortable journey on a clean, well-maintained bus
  • Ensuring all services are operated from dedicated, professional drivers with additional training in customer care
  • Keeping to all of the advertised times as much as possible but allow passengers to understand that factors such as traffic congestion or road works might affect their journey which may be beyond their control
  • Being committed to working with others to try to reduce the impact of the above issues and find ways to minimise the disruption if at all possible
  • Setting a punctuality target which ensures a minimum of 95% of scheduled journeys will run no more than five minutes late or one minute early
  • Keeping the passengers informed if the service is changing route because of roadworks or special events which they will advertise on board and/or via their website, Facebook and Twitter pages
  • Having timetables and fares information easily accessible via the website
  • Allowing the purchase of tickets via the Arriva m-ticket app
  • Offering a no-quibble money back guarantee for those who were unsatisfied with the service they have been given

Therefore in 2013 4 key routes were chosen as a ‘testbed’ to see whether it would be a successful initiative by evaluating passengers’ perceptions of it and if it made them change their mind following the criteria identified from the research project. The first service to receive this treatment was the 1 which ran from Chester to Wrexham using refurbished ex Liverpool Cross River Express ADL Enviro 400’s with Arriva North West and Wales, the 280 with Arriva Shires and Essex which runs from Aylesbury to Oxford using refurbished Enviro 400’s too, then the 31/31A with Arriva Midlands which runs from Oadby to Leciester using refurbished Volvo B7TL / Wright Gemini 1’s and finally the 7 from Darlington to Durham with Arriva North East using brand new VDL SB200 / Wright Pulsar 2’s. Arriva monitored the services very closely and quickly identified a growth passenger levels and satisfaction so 12 more routes across the country got the Sapphire treatment in 2014:

  • Route X21/X22 : Ashington – Newcastle
  • Route 5/5A : Easington to Middlesbrough
  • Route X3/X3A/X4 : Whitby, Loftus and Lingdale to Middlesbrough
  • Route 362 : Chorley – Wigan
  • Route 575 : Wigan – Horwich – Bolton
  • Route 12 : Rhyl – Abergele – Colwyn Bay – Llandudno
  • Route 1/1A/2/2A : Huntington and Holder Drive to Walsall
  • Route 110 : Tamworth to Birmingham
  • Route 38 : Stenson Fields to Derby
  • Route 321 : Watford to Luton
  • Route 480/490 : Dartford and Bluewater to Valley Drive
  • Route 101 : Gillingham to Maidstone

with 4 more launched this year:

  • Route 10 : Chester to Connahs Quay
  • Route 38 : Crewe to Sandbach and Macclesfield
  • Route 110 : Hall Green to Wakefield and Leeds
  • Route 320 : Hemel Hempstead to Watford and Rickmansworth

And these routes planned to be converted this year:

  • Route 6 : Durham to Bishop Auckland and Cockfield
  • Routes 22/24 : Durham to Sunderland or Hartlepool

The North East division of Arriva is home to 7 Sapphire services alone with 2 more being added this year which has completely transformed Arriva’s bus network in the region which is now turning a fairly standard region to a very modern cutting edge network of bus services and also increases competition with Go North East who have operated services with Next-stop announcements, free Wi-Fi and Plug Sockets already in 2013.


The 7 service operates between Darlington and Durham every 15 minutes and always used very old ageing vehicles as the service never got heavily used in peak times so the vehicles were relatively lightly loaded in the middle of the day. It was allocated vehicles DAF SB220 / Plaxton Prestiges, Dennis Dart SLF / Plaxton Pointers’s, MPD’s and a VDL SB200 / Wright Pulsar 2 from time to time. When the 7 service was announced to be included in the Sapphire test programme it came as a shock to most people with the service not being that profitable. 11 brand new VDL SB200 / Wright Pulsar 2’s were purchased for the service which were fully kitted out with the next-stop announcements, free Wi-Fi and Leather trimmed Civic Esteban V3 seats. On the Low Floor section these were arranged in a 2+1 fashion to allow more space with a 2+2 layout being present on the higher section above the rear axle. They also feature Bonded Glazing windows which are the only batch of Pulsars in the UK to receive this treatment which does look more aesthetically pleasing than the gasket glazed version.

Externally, the vehicles are painted in the standard Sapphire livery of a slightly lighter shade of aquamarine and a dark turquoise which is split with an attractive swoosh arrangement compromising similar colours to the standard Arriva livery. The Sapphire identity was designed by Ray Stenning which has been finished to an incredibly professional design, every detail has been created to show a premium standard, even down to the ‘Chrome’ style hand rails internally. On all Sapphire services the features are included above the doors and driver window,  a large Sapphire logo on each side along with slogans explaining the brand is from Arriva with the route information above the windows and the route map on the rear. When these vehicles entered service a launch was held at Darlington Market Place to promote the service, for about 3 months the service had little increase but in 2014 a rapid increase in ridership came to fruition and the service became overcrowded at peak times as the service extends to Framwellgate Moor for New College Durham on Monday to Friday’s. Therefore an official duplicate was added onto the 07:22 departure from Darlington; in general this was a very positive move for Arriva as it proved that Sapphire had the ability to increase passenger usage on services that were heading towards the break-even mark. With this heavy increase in ridership a batch of brand new Alexander-Dennis Enviro 400’s have been ordered which is the first time the service has had Double-Deckers new since 2001 when the service was numbered the 713/723 with the DAF DB250 / East Lancs Lowlanders’.

The 7 operates every 15 minutes Monday to Saturday daytimes and operates Hourly on Sundays and evenings. The service currently has a PVR of 11 with the duplicate included with 9 Pulsars allocated to Darlington and 2 Pulsars allocated to Durham with the same number in PVR for each with the current setup. 1512-1521 are allocated to Darlington with 1522 and 1523 allocated to Durham; interestingly 1523 has the license plate of NL63 VVO, going back to the Scania N113DRB / East Lancs E Type’s that used to operate from the depot in 2010. 1520 NL63 VPU kicks off the Sapphire updates with a 7 to Darlington.

The Sapphire and MAX updates will be posted separately for each service brand to make it easier to search but has been split over a few weeks due to the high number the region currently has.

1520 Sapphire 7


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