Our history

Running transport services for more than 70 years

Arriva is now one of the leading transport operators in Europe but our roots are based in Sunderland in a second-hand motorcycle shop opened in 1938 by the Cowie family.

British Bus PLC

In the UK, our buses are organised into regional units, each with a fascinating story of their own.

The core UK bus business outside of London was brought into what is now Arriva when the then Cowie Group acquired British Bus PLC.

Up until 1985 many UK buses were nationalised. The 1985 Transport Act broke up the old National Bus Company and privatised it, one subsidiary at a time.

Some companies were sold to their management teams or employees, while others were bought by entrepreneurs. It wasn’t long before a number of groupings started to form.

Some of the newly privatised bus companies started to acquire other operators, and some started to change hands. One of these emergent new groups became British Bus PLC.

Our longer-serving employees fondly remember some of the old companies, and many have family connections spanning several generations. Many of our customers often remember the old bus company names with fondness too.

To find out more about the history of our local bus operations, see below.

North East


Much of what is now Arriva North East used to be United Automobile Services. But preparations for the privatisation of the National Bus Company changed all of this in the mid-1980s. The huge area covered by United was split in two. The northern part was sold to its management team as Northumbria Motor Services. Its management-owned holding company, Proudmutual, was passed to British Bus in 1994.

Operations in County Durham, Teesside and North Yorkshire were sold initially to Caldaire Holdings in 1987. This had been formed by the West Riding management team to buy its own company. (See also Arriva Yorkshire). What had become North East Bus passed to the Westcourt Group in 1992 after some local reorganisations. In 1995, this passed to National Express and then to British Bus in 1996.

Services in the North East

Today we provide services across the North East from depots in Alnwick, Blyth, Ashington, Newcastle, Durham, Darlington, Stockton, Redcar and Whitby.




Yorkshire (West Riding) Electric Tramways began tram services in the Wakefield area in 1904. Operations in the Castleford area followed in 1906. The West Riding Automobile Company was formed in November 1923 to run motorbus services. West Riding almost doubled in size in 1950 when it bought out a local rival operator - J Bullock and Sons.

The Yorkshire Woollen District Transport company developed bus services centred on the Dewsbury area. Both West Riding and Yorkshire Woollen were nationalised, latterly under common management.

When the National Bus Company was privatised, the management team, as Caldaire, bought West Riding and Yorkshire Woollen. Separate identities were maintained for the two operations and routes in Selby.

The long-established independent operator South Yorkshire Road Transport of Pontefract was acquired in 1994. The group was sold to British Bus in 1995.

Services in Yorkshire

Today all operations are under a common ‘Yorkshire’ banner and run from depots in Wakefield, Dewsbury, Heckmondwike, Castleford and Selby.

North West


National Bus Company subsidiary, Ribble Motor Services, was divided into smaller units in readiness for privatisation. A new operation comprising Ribble’s routes in Merseyside, West Lancashire and Wigan revived the old North Western name. This was bought by Drawlane, the predecessor of British Bus, in 1988. Drawlane merged the operation with its Bee Line Buzz business in Greater Manchester.

Arriva North West acquired the operations of Merseyside Transport in February 2000. These had originated as municipal operations in Liverpool, Wallasey, Birkenhead, St Helens and Southport, which had merged to form the former Passenger Transport Executive business. This acquisition more than doubled the size of our business in the North West of England.

Arriva North West and Arriva Cymru, its Welsh neighbour, were merged in 2002, to form Arriva North West and Wales. Responsibility was taken for the Crewe, Winsford and Macclesfield operations of Arriva Midlands North in 2003. Blue Bus of Bolton was acquired in 2005, almost doubling our presence in Greater Manchester. The Welsh operations began trading under a separate ‘Arriva Buses Wales’ banner again from January 2009.

Services in the North West

Today we provide services from depots in Liverpool, Speke, Bootle, Birkenhead, St Helens, Southport, Bolton, Wythenshawe, Winsford, Macclesfield and Runcorn.



The former National Bus Company subsidiary, Crosville, provided services over a huge area of North and mid-Wales and Cheshire. Like many others, it was split into smaller units in readiness for privatisation. Crosville Wales was bought by its management team in 1987. It was passed to the National Express group in 1989. Drawlane, subsequently to become British Bus, bought it in 1991. The Oswestry depot and Abermule outstation were sold to Midland Red North in 1992.

Arriva Cymru, as it had become, merged with Arriva North West in 2002, but was demerged again in January 2009 as Arriva Buses Wales.

Services in Wales

Our services run from depots in Bangor, Llandudno Junction, Rhyl, Wrexham and Chester.



The origins of the core of the Arriva Midlands business lie with the Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Company. This was better known as Midland Red and was split into smaller regional businesses prior to the privatisation of the National Bus Company.

Midland Red East, based in Leicester, changed its name to Midland Fox in 1984. It was sold to its management team in 1987, with help from the directors of Stevensons of Uttoxeter who also bought operations in Swadlincote. Several smaller operators were taken over and in 1989 the business was bought by British Bus predecessor, Drawlane. It acquired the Loughborough Bus and Coach Company in the same year.

Municipally-owned Derby City Transport was sold to its employees, with help from Luton and District Transport, in 1989. (See also Arriva the Shires). It passed to British Bus in 1994 with Luton and District Transport and the Clydeside operations in Scotland.

Midland Red North, based in Cannock, was bought by Drawlane in 1988. Various re-organisations in the north of its territory saw depots exchanged between Crosville and North Western.

Stevensons of Uttoxeter was a family business founded in 1926. It acquired a controlling interest in the East Staffordshire District Council’s operations in Burton-on-Trent in 1985. In 1987 it became involved in the management buy-out of Midland Red East. This included the purchase of Midland Red East’s depot in Swadlincote. Growth followed in the Potteries and the West Midlands. Stevenson passed to British Bus in 1995, and it subsequently came under the management of Midland Red North.

In 2003, a re-organisation saw operations in Crewe, Macclesfield and Winsford pass to Arriva North West. Arriva Midlands North, Arriva Derby and Arriva Fox County merged to become Arriva Midlands. The purchase of Chase Coaches in 2007 reintroduced the company to Walsall.

Services in the Midlands

Today we operate from depots in Oswestry, Shrewsbury, Bridgnorth, Telford, Cannock, Stafford, Wednesfield, Burton-on-Trent, Tamworth, Coalville, Derby, Thurmaston and Wigston.

South East


Arriva’s operations in the south east of England were grouped together in 2010, combining units previously known as Arriva the Shires and Essex and Arriva Southern Counties. Both developed from an amalgamation of several sections of former National Bus Company subsidiaries, each with long and illustrious histories of their own.

Luton and District Transport was formed in 1986 from the Aylesbury, Luton and Hitchin depots of United Counties. These had belonged to Eastern National until 1952. The United Counties operation grew rapidly when the former Luton Corporation municipal operation was taken over in 1970. There was further growth when it took over the collapsed Court Line business in 1973.

In 1987, Luton and District became the first National Bus Company subsidiary to be sold to its employees. A year later it acquired Red Rover in Aylesbury. Luton and District also assisted in employee buy-outs on Clydeside (which became Arriva Scotland West) and in Derby (now part of Arriva Midlands). Two significant additions in 1990 were two-thirds of the Stevenage operations of Sovereign and all of London Country North West.

London Country Bus Services had been divided into smaller units in readiness for privatisation, just like United Counties. London Country was the former ‘country area’ operations of London Transport which formed a ring around Central London. The western part of the North East sector of London Country became Sovereign. The former London Country North West Slough depot was sold to Bee Line in 1993.

The Luton and District business was bought by British Bus in 1994. Further smaller acquisitions followed and in 1995 a new identity - The Shires - was introduced.

The former North East sector of London Country was privatised as County Bus and Coach in a management buy-out in 1990. It was sold to what became part of the National Express group in 1998. This business was passed to Cowies in 1996 as East Herts and Essex.

Arriva Southern Counties grew from a diverse background. The bulk of the former operations of Maidstone and District Motor Services were at its core. This former National Bus Company subsidiary was founded in 1911 and we celebrated its centenary with pride. Maidstone and District was sold to its management team in 1986. The business was expanded with the purchase of New Enterprise in Tonbridge (still operating under its separate identity) and Maidstone Boro’line, the former municipal operation in Maidstone. It was sold to British Bus in 1995.

The south-eastern sector of the former London Country operation became Kentish Bus and Coach. It was based in Northfleet, and was sold to Proudmutual in 1988. Proudmutual was formed as the holding company for the Northumbria Motor Services buy-out (see also Arriva North East). Kentish Bus and Coach expanded successfully by providing tendered bus services in London, and passed to British Bus in 1994.

London Country’s south-western sector, based in Reigate, became London & Country. This was bought by Drawlane at privatisation in 1988. It too expanded successfully into the London tendered market. It added the former Alder Valley operations in Guildford, Woking and Cranleigh in 1990. The municipal operations in Southend and Colchester were bought in 1993.

There was significant re-organisation once all had come under British Bus ownership The businesses were amalgamated as the Invictaway Group. Later this became Arriva Southern Counties, based at the former municipal bus operator offices in Maidstone.

After Cowies’ transformation into Arriva, a re-organisation took place. The Arriva Shires and Essex management team took responsibility for the operations of The Shires, East Herts and Essex and the former municipal operations in Southend and Colchester. Those in Grays, Southend and Colchester passed to Southern Counties in 2003 and Colchester was subsequently sold. The Wycombe Bus operation of GoAhead Group was acquired in 2000. This had once been part of the National Bus company subsidiary, Alder Valley, an amalgamation of the former Thames Valley and Aldershot & District companies.

MK Metro was acquired in 2006. This had once been the Milton Keynes section of the former United Counties company.

The acquisition of the Tellings Golden Miller Group in 2008 brought the Colchester operation back into the Arriva fold, but this hasn’t been re-integrated into the Arriva South East operation.

Services in the South East

Today our operations run from depots in High Wycombe, Aylesbury, Milton Keynes, Watford, Hemel Hempstead, Luton, Stevenage, Ware, Harlow, Southend, Grays, Dartford, Northfleet, Gillingham, Sheerness, Maidstone, Tonbridge (New Enterprise), Tunbridge Wells, Cranleigh and Guildford.

A separate but still utterly fascinating story covers the iconic Greenline coach brand.

Find out more about the history of Greenline here.

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Arriva Group

Arriva is one of the leading providers of passenger transport in Europe, employing over 53,000 people and delivering 2 billion passenger journeys a year across 14 European countries.

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