From Tiger to Flyer

Wednesday 2nd September 2020

It’s all change for the bus network serving Leeds Bradford Airport this week.

Sunday saw Transdev Blazefield take over the three bus routes connecting Leeds, Bradford and Harrogate and introduce a smart new ‘Flyer’ brand. Social media coverage and photographs online looked very impressive so I popped up to Yorkshire yesterday to see if reality lived up to the hype.

It does.

The three routes were previously branded ‘Flying Tiger’ and, as often happens with bus routes serving airports, used appropriate numbers in the 7×7 series with 737 for the Bradford via Shipley route; 747 for the Bradford via Greengates to the airport and continuing on to Harrogate route; and 757 for the Leeds route.

Now Transdev Blazefield have renumbered them as A1 for Leeds, A2 for Bradford-Airport-Harrogate, and A3 for Bradford and Shipley. The A1 runs every 20 minutes taking six buses and the A2 and A3 are both hourly taking two buses each with a fifth for peak hour journey times.

Each route performs a useful function in West Yorkshire’s bus network catering not just for airport passengers but also those travelling to and from destinations all along the routes – in fact that seems to be the biggest market. That’s why West Yorkshire Combined Authority (Metro) provide funding for the Bradford and Harrogate routes and how Transdev Blazefield came to be operating them from last Sunday.

Metro put the routes out to tender earlier this year and Transdev beat three other bidders including First Bus and Yorkshire Tiger by offering an alternative combined tender for the 737/747 securing a three year contract worth almost £1.4 million. That sounds a lot of money but it’s over three years and includes an extensive daily operation with overheads (a bespoke garage) so I reckon WYCA have got a good deal, as have Transdev. To hit their revenue targets Transdev must positively sell the services, making the bus travel proposition irresistible; hence the brand makeover.

With Leeds Bradford Airport entering ‘sleep mode’ when lockdown kicked in at the end of March, Yorkshire Tiger (the Arriva company behind ‘Flying Tiger’) threw in the towel on the commercial 757 Leeds route. However West Yorkshire Combined Authority wanted it to continue to provide a service for ‘essential worker’ passengers along the route.

A temporary contract was awarded to CT Plus who operated the route using a hastily conceived ‘Runway 757’ brand. That continued until last weekend when Transdev Blazefield took over the 757 (now A1) as well as beginning the three year contract for the A2 and A3.

Transdev Blazefield has acquired the former Tiger garage at Idle near Bradford and are now employing around 60 staff on Flyer including a sizeable number transferring over to operate the eleven buses deployed on the network.

As you’d expect from one of the country’s leading operators, Transdev Blazefield embarked on a high profile pre-introduction promotion (including the inevitable buses and planes photos) as well as, importantly, briefings and booklets for all the staff moving across to their new employer, which is always good to see.

And not forgetting new on brand signs for the bus garage.

CEO Alex Hornby and Operations Director Vitto Pizzuti were on hand at the new depot first thing on Sunday morning making sure everyone felt welcome to their new company – that’s how you motivate staff and show you’re interested and care.

There was also a member of staff at the airport yesterday making sure drivers were comfortable with all the new arrangements, procedures and buses as well as providing information and assistance for passengers.

I spoke to a few drivers on my travels and not surprisngly they were all pleased to be joining Transdev and looking forward to the future. It all felt very positive – a new beginning for them.

Design for the new Flyer brand comes from the renowned Best Impressions stable – ironically as did the now defunct Flying Tiger brand – and includes a very attractive livery on the buses ….

…. a new website packed full with easily accessible information (including easy to download timetables) … well as an attractive and informative booklet containing all the details of times, tickets and maps that passengers could want.

I understand the booklets have been distributed to attractions along the route including hotels and are also available on board buses.

What a contrast to the dire situation now pertaining in many other bus companies where it’s almost impossible to find information either in print or online.

There’s also a new FlyerBuses Twitter account to keep social media fans informed….

I managed to do a complete tour of the three route network yesterday and was highly impressed with the transformation from Tiger to Flyer.

In particular you can’t help but notice the branded bus shelters from where Flyer buses depart right outside the airport’s terminal building.

It’s a text book example of providing crystal clear signage, helpful information and enticing sales messages. There’s no doubting from which shelter each bus departs and helpful maps as well as departure times are displayed both outside and inside each shelter.

Clear destination blinds also show the Transdev standard countdown to departure….

…which I notice also appear internally at timing points along the route. A nice touch for passengers on board.

It was evident a lot of careful thought has gone into exactly what is required to inform and sell the service as well as make an impressive presence at the airport – and it’s commendable that it was all in place for launch day.

Harrogate bus station had clear signage too,

A classic case of successful launch logistics, project delivery and mobilisation – to throw in a few buzzwords, but which is sadly lacking elsewhere – I can’t help but compare what I saw yesterday with (the hugely resourced) TfL’s dismal efforts on Saturday to promote their newly expanded route 112 now taking 16 buses instead of 11 – ironically the latter number being the peak requirement to run the three Flyer routes. Just compare and contrast.

Meanwhile back in West Yorkshire, similar frustrations as Metro hadn’t updated their poster displays outside Leeds station….

… and at Bradford Interchange old route numbers were on display, but at least there were departure times…

…. and on the other side Transdev had put up one of it’s own displays. Good for them.

Departure bay V at Bradford Interchange, used by the A3, was blocked by a parked up National Express coach yesterday lunch time ….

…. so the A3 had to leave from an adjacent stand, which was annoying. But I understand plans for a reallocation of bays are in hand.

Another inconvenience was a driver changeover on the A1 at Rawdon just eight minutes running time from the airport. It wasn’t very slick either – taking a full five minutes from stopping, changing over and setting off again resulting in a five minute late arrival at the airport. I’m sure that’s something Transdev will want to improve on and will do so, as they stamp their quality standards on the operation. And because you know they care about things like that.

Another driver took a wrong turning in Yeadon thinking he was on an A3 heading to Bradford rather than an A2. He soon realised and quickly got us back on the correct route and it turned out it was his first day on the job. We had a chat arriving into Bradford and he told me he’d previously worked for Shearings until that company collapsed so was very pleased to now be working for Transdev. A very pleasant driver who I’m sure will be a great employee.

Numbers travelling were fairly low yesterday; but typical for most bus routes around the country at the moment. Two passengers travelled from Leeds to the airport on the bus I was on with the A3 from Bradford taking three there who’d boarded seperately in Bradford, Shipley and Guisely. The two A2 journeys (one to Bradford and one to Harrogate) saw no one go from the airport to Bradford but two alighted from Bradford and one boarded towards Harrogate – albeit, like me, testing the new arrangements out. While at the airport I saw two passengers board an A1 to Leeds.

So although low numbers, and it was in the middle of the day, journeys are being consistently used for travel to and from the airport – and of course the airport itself is very quiet at the moment. There’s optimism for a post Covid future with Leeds Bradford Airport’s plans to expand as a regional airport and their understandable desire to increase the number of passengers using the bus. It should make for a positive partnership with Transdev’s Flyer.

As well as the Flyer routes Transdev also operate route 62 which links the airport with Otley and Ilkley so the company now has quite a neat airport market within its operating area which must give opportunities for the future. I also wonder if that overhead of a small eleven vehicle bus garage in Bradford will need reviewing too, either for consolidation or expansion, as although small, it’s well placed.

As highlighted earlier, all three Flyer routes perform a useful function in the wider network and it was good to see passengers using them along the routes – especially the A3 through Shipley and Guisley.

The buses themselves really do look impressive outside and inside.

They’re not new buses, and have seen service on other routes which Transdev Blazefield recently converted to double deck, but following their Flyer makeover I’m sure many passengers will think they’re riding on a new bus.

The interior cove panels are to Transdev Blazefield’s usual excellent standards and promote travel to other destinations on the routes …

… as well as helpful information for those travelling to the airport….

… and there are the usual touches of Best Impressions humour….

There aren’t any luggage racks insatalled yet, as is common on airport buses, which I understand follows a hold up at DVSA but they are in hand. Personally I find them a bit utilitarian and spoil the interior ambiance, especially on a single deck route that’s also used by many non airport bound passengers, but I do understand they’re probably necessary if only to stop suitcases rolling around the floor in the wheelchair and buggy area or blocking the gangway.

Airport bus routes need a timetable that spans a long day for those early departing flights and late evening arrivals as well as catering for airport staff. First journey on the A1 is at 04:30 on Mondays to Saturdays (05:00 on Sundays) with last journey back from the AIrport at 00:05 (23:00 Sundays) making for an extensive operation. There’s a similar early start from Bradford on the A2 with the first journey from Harrogate at 05:45. The A3 starts slightly later from Bradford at 06:00.

Airport routes also often have premium fares sometimes reflecting departure charges imposed by the aiport (eg Glasgow) but here the fares are just the usual tarriff and offer great value. There’s a range of tickets for regular travellers including a generous fifty per cent discount for airline and airport staff. Full details are available online and some examples are also contained in the booklet.

Flyer’s origins lie in the Harrogate based West Yorkshire Road Car’s network. It’s come a long way since the early days when the service from Harrogate to the airport was ironically operated by Blazefield under its previous ownership between 2005 and 2010 . Then the 90 minute frequency route 767 was branded ‘Bus2Jet’ and subsidised by North Yorkshire Country Council. After a brief period when a local coach company, Proctor’s Coaches, took over and North Yorkshire reduced its funding to a nominal contribution, West Yorkshire’s Metro got involved and their funded route 737 from Bradford was extended through to Harrogate taking over the 767. This was operated by Centrebus using ‘Airport Direct’ branding. September 2013 saw Arriva purchase Centrebus’ operations in West Yorkshire setting up a separate company and brand – Yorkshire Tiger – for the purpose. By 2015 North Yorkshire County Council’s minimal involvement had ceased, the Harrogate route was linked to the more direct route 747 from Bradford and the Flying Tiger brand arrived. Five years on, that has begat Flyer, and the service is back with Transdev Blazefield.

It’s once again in excellent hands with an exciting future. I’m sure it will successfully take off.

Roger French

14 thoughts on “From Tiger to Flyer

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    1. Jet2 is based at LBA and has several 757s in its fleet, as well as lots of 737s.

      I agree that 747s aren’t a regular feature of LBA though!


  1. Interesting that the A2 almost re-creates the old West Yorkshire Road Car 51 between Bradford and Harrogate, which later became 674 on countywide renumbering around 1975. (The 51 may even have been taken over from Samuel Ledgard in 1967, but I can’t be certain about that). The main difference in routing is that 51 did not divert off the main road through Yeadon, thus saving 6-10 mins with a standard timing of 67/68 mins for the through journey. This compares with anything between 62 and 103 mins on the A2.
    You could say that just goes to show the effect of traffic congestion over the years, but perhaps it really just demonstrates that 50 years ago standardised running times were paramount even though congestion was already an issue. I suspect that late arrivals in Bradford or Harrogate were the rule rather than the exception at certain times of day.

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    1. Sadly I only got West Yorkshire under the belt once in NBC times on a run twixt Leeds and Barnsley when I went to pick up some Musk Turtles for a lady there,I use to keep reptiles at the time,It was a West Yorkshire coach there and Yorkshire Traction back and I suppose West Riding must have had a hand in those services too?I got East Yorkshire too, Scarborough to Bridlington, United south and East Yorkshire local NBC was United but as United and Northern did loads of joint routes I did them fairly frequently too.i find myself wondering,of all the things to wonder about in this huge universe!,if I did Ribble too as I had done the joint United/Ribble Newcastle Carlisle route a few times?


  2. 757s often landed at the airport, Jet 2, Thompson etc. And ironically way back in the 80s when flights were mostly local with small planes, two 747 flights a week from the Airport to Canada ran!


  3. It’s not just other operators that need to watch and learn. The whole effect could only have happened with the full co-operation of the Airport; and it’s a shame that the bus stops in Leeds and Bradford hadn’t been updated correctly (although hopefully they’ll be done within a few days).
    It is all down to “Integration” between bus company and infrastructure manager . . . . if they talk to each other at an early stage and more importantly buy into the concept, then good things happen.
    Yes . . . compare and contrast with the TfL experience shows what happens when the local Authority either doesn’t care or, more often, has no resources to do anything. Bus stops are maintained by contractors oft times, and if there’s no-one to tell them what is changing, they won’t do it!!


  4. … and meanwhile we have a new network of colourful Flying Tiger branded buses operating out of Arriva’s Wakefield depot. Spotted two on the 196 today…. yet to locate the airport in Hemsworth !!! Now taking bets on how long they will stay on the road before they’re repainted.

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  5. When Yorkshire Tiger, then under Martijn Gilbert’s management, rebranded the Leeds – Airport service as Flying Tiger, using new Versa’s it was a high-quality operation – extra luggage spece, stop announcements/displays, USB charging, semi-coach seats, on-board posters detailing the route in central Leeds, posters with information about types of plane that had flown from LBA, and sponsorship from Monarch (who were based at the Airport). Then Martijn left, Yorkshire Tiger couldn’t renew the lease on its Leeds depot and started to run down its other operations in the area, and everything started to drift when operations moved to Idle. The Versa’s became increasingly more grubby inside, the stop announcements/displays fell out of use, and unbranded ex-Tiger blue vehicles started to be used. At some point the Flying Tiger brand was extended to the Bradford routes, when some new 737/747 branded Enviros(?) were purchased, but as often as not they’d end up on the Leeds 757 with Leeds Versas on the Bradford routes, and end-of-the road Tiger Blue stuff thrown in willy-nilly . . . and the Enviro’s soon became pretty shabby very quickly. It was a sorry end to what had started off as a high-quality operation.

    CT Plus did quite a respectable job in the short, and temporary, time they held the contact: they come up with brand, and applied it to buses and also programmed it into the Ticketer machines.

    You mention fares to the Airport not being set at a premium level, and I note that the single fare from the Airport to Leeds is now £4.00. I recall it was more that that in Flying Tiger days, which is why Airport workers used to get on/off at the first stop just out of the Airport premises, from where normal fares did apply. Some of the group fares look to be absolute bargains – a period return to Leeds/Bradford/Harrogate for up to five people for £15.00; as do some of the offers for Airport workers – 50% of normal fares, or seven days travel for £10.

    Nigel mentioned WYRCC service 51 and its possible origin with Samuel Ledgard. Ledgard’s Bradford – Harrogate service ran via Shipley, White Cross, Menston, and Otley and paralleled WYRCCs 53 (except for the double-run into Menston village). The diversion of the A2 off the A658 at Rawdon to serve Yeadon on the way to the Airport reflects the tension between providing direct links to the Airport/links for local Airport workers/general routes. The Flying Tiger route used to take a much longer deviation between Rawdon and Yeadon to serve the Westfield Estate and Kirk Lane before Yeadon: now a more direct routing is taken so the A3 now covers Kirk Lane (unserved by any other bus) between Guiseley and Yeadon, instead of the Kirk Lane estate (which is served by frequent Leeds – Guiseley buses . . . but of course the Kirk Lane and Westfield estates have lost their links to Bradford (hardly ever used I suspect) and the Airport (perhaps of more significance, for Airport workers).

    I picked up a Flyer timetable myself this morning at Lees Bus Station (I live in Yeadon). There are no longer paper timetables on display in the Metro travel centre, but Transdev have put a supply of Flyer timetables out on the concourse near the A! departure bay.

    And don’t forget Transdev Keighley & District operate the other service serving LBA: 62 – Keighley – Steeton – Addingham – Ilkley – Menston Stn – Otley – LBA.

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  6. Something has struck me as “odd” about the Flyer Versas since they appeared around Yeadon, and tonight it finally came to me – no luggage racks. I see this was mentioned in the report, but I overlooked it on first reading (as I did your mention of the 62). I understand that when the 757 was commercially operated by Flying Tiger one of the conditions of gaining access to the airport was that Yorkshire Tiger would provide vehicles with additional luggage capacity, and that repeated failure of Yorkshire Tiger to supply suitable vehicles in recent months has been a cause of friction with the airport authorities. At the time of their introduction Yorkshire Tiger made much of the fact that they had been specially designed in conjunction with Optare, so one wonders what has prevented Transdev commissioning the same design from Optare and getting them approved in time for the re-launch. I believe that a blanket prohibition on double-deckers entering the airport grounds applies.


  7. Interesting article as always Roger, thank you.

    Re Philip Rushworth’s comment:
    Why the ban on double-deckers at LBA? Last year I travelled on a double decker from Liverpool South Parkway station to Liverpool JL airport on a standard double decker. No luggage rack, suitcases rolling around, and me standing by the bottom of the stairs trying to keep everything in place at each twist-and-turn around the estates.

    My local airport (EMA) is probably single-deck only, because that’s all that the main local operator (TrentBarton) has.

    Liked by 1 person

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