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.
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) …..as 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.
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.