Our History

The various local bus companies that now make up Arriva each have an amazing heritage of their own, with some surprising stories to tell. You can learn more about the history of your local bus services. You might be surprised to find out just how long we’ve been an important part of your local community.

Arriva is now one of the leading transport operators in Europe. But our roots are in Sunderland, in the North East of England, in a second-hand motorcycle shop opened in 1938 by the Cowie family. To find out more about the history and growth of Arriva plc please visit the Arriva group website.

In the UK, our buses are organised into regional units, each of which has a fascinating story of its own. The core UK bus business outside London came into what is now Arriva ownership when the then Cowie Group acquired British Bus plc.

Until 1985 many buses were nationalised. But the 1985 Transport Act broke up the old National Bus Company and privatised it, a subsidiary at a time. A variety of fates were in store. 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.

There is a fierce loyalty amongst our longer-serving employees to some of the old companies, and many have family connections spanning several generations. Customers often remember the old names with fondness too. These links will take you to the fascinating histories of our local bus operations.

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 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, 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.

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