Our history

Running transport services for more than 70 years

Arriva are one of the leading passenger transport operators in Europe, providing bus and coach services, as well as train, tram and even bike-sharing.  Every day our 35,500 colleagues work hard to connect millions of people safely, reliably and sustainably to people, places and venues they value.

The Arriva story began in 1938 when the Cowie family opened a second-hand motorcycle shop in Sunderland.  The Cowie business grew alongside the motor industry, diversifying into bus operation in 1980 and taking a major step change in 1996 with the purchase of British Bus PLC to form Arriva.

However, our history can be traced back even further; each of our regional business units has its own long and fascinating story, many of which stretch back over 100 years to the introduction of the motor bus.

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, 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 Birkenhead, Bootle, Runcorn, Speke, Stoneycroft, St Helens, Southport and Wythenshawe.



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, Rhyl, Wrexham and Chester.



The origins of the Arriva Midlands business lie with the Birmingham & Midland Motor Omnibus Company – better known as ‘Midland Red’.

Founded in 1905, the company had expanded to cover Staffordshire, Leicestershire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire by the 1920s.  Between 1923 and 1969 the company also manufactured its own buses, pioneering advances we now take for granted such as runner tyres, air suspension, and disc brakes.  

Part owned by the Great Western and London Midland Scottish railways, Midland Red became part of the state-owned National Bus Company in 1969 with its motorway coach services being spun off to become the foundations of National Express.

In 1981 Midland Red’s bus operations were split into four separate units – North, East, South and West.

Midland Red North adopted local brand names for its networks, including Mercian in Tamworth, Hotspur in Shrewsbury and Tellus in Telford.  The business was sold to British Bus in 1992, becoming part of Arriva in 1996.

Midland Red East adopted a radical new identity of Midland Fox, complete with FoxCub minibuses and FoxHound coach services.  The business grew rapidly in the late 1980s, later becoming part of British Bus with many of Fox’s mangers taking on senior positions within the new parent company.

Meanwhile, Derby Tramways had started operation between Market Place and the Railway Station in 1880, becoming part of ‘the Corporation’ in 1899.  Trolleybuses were introduced from 1932, with all services converted to motor bus by 1967.  The company was renamed Derby City Transport in 1977 when Derby was awarded City status, becoming part of British Bus in 1994 by which point the business traded as City Rider.

Elsewhere, the United Counties Bus Company was also split into smaller units during the early 1980s.  Luton & District Transport – LDT – was created out of United Counties in 1986, focused on the former Luton Corporation Transport network which had been acquired by United Counties in 1970.  The company was sold to its employees in 1987, becoming part of British Bus in 1994 at which point it traded as The Shires with buses carrying Luton & Dunstable or Network Watford names.

Another spin off from United Counties was Buckinghamshire Road Car based in Milton Keynes.  The company later traded as Milton Keynes Citybus and then MK Metro before becoming part of Arriva in 2006.

Services in the Midlands

Today, Arriva Midlands operates from depots in Derby, Tamworth, Telford, Shrewsbury, Coalville, Hinckley, Leicester, Milton Keynes, Leighton Buzzard, and Luton.

We are proud partners of the University of Nottingham where we operate the HopperBus campus-to-campus network, and of London Luton Airport where our Greenline 757 coach service connects the airport to central London up to every 30 minutes 24/7.

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 Aylesbury, High Wycombe, Hemel Hempstead, Stevenage, Harlow and Ware, plus Colchester, Southend, Northfleet, Gillingham, Maidstone, and Tunbridge Wells.

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

Find out more about Greenline here.

Southern Counties


Arriva’s operations in the South-East of England are divided into the Bucks & Herts and Kent & Essex areas.

Our Bucks & Herts network has its history in London Country Bus Services, the new name (from 1968) for London Transport’s country area bus services operating in the expanding post-war commuter belt around the capital.

In the mid-1980s London Country was split into four geographic businesses.  London Country North-West in Hemel Hempstead and High Wycombe was sold to its management in 1988, and went on to acquire the Aylesbury operations of both United Counties and the independent Red Rover business.  The company became part of British Bus in 1994.

London Country North-East had a more complex existence, with the Stevenage operation sold to the AJS Group and rebranded Sovereign in the 1990s.  Sovereign was in turn split to operate from two separate depots, one becoming part of Arriva in 1996 and the other in 2004.

AJS Group rebranded operations at Harlow and Ware as TownLink, with the business sold on to the Lynton Travel Group in 1991, West Midlands Travel in 1994, and then the Cowie group in 1995.  In 2010 operations at Harlow passed to the Tellings-Golden Miller business, a coach company which had become part of Arriva in 2007; however ‘Network Harlow’ was brought back into the Arriva brand in 2015 with Tellings-Golden Miller sold back to the Telling family in 2016.

Our Kent & Essex area is built upon the erstwhile Maidstone & District Motor Services company, founded in 1911 and serving parts of Kent and East Sussex with buses carrying a classic colour scheme of deep green and a rich cream.

Part of the Tilling Transport Group until 1948, Maidstone & District had opened England’s first Bus Station in 1922 at Palace Avenue in Maidstone, and expanded to serve Chatham and Hastings in the 1930s.  Sold to its management in 1986, the business bought the operations of Maidstone Boro’line in 1992 and merged with Kentish Bus of Northfleet (once part of London Country South East) in 1995.  Through this time the company had built a network of inter-urban and London commuter services, branded as Invictaway with a logo featuring the heraldic White Horse of Kent.

North of the river, Colchester Corporation Tramways commenced operation in 1904 before moving into buses in 1928 and later being branded as Colchester Borough Transport and CBT Coachways.  Following intensive competition from another bus company the local council sold CBT to British Bus in 1993 for a token sum of £1, British Bus also taking on the operation’s considerable debt.  Similar to Harlow, Colchester was placed under the management of Tellings-Golden Miller between 2007 and 2015 and traded as ‘Network Colchester’ during this period.

Southend Transport was founded in 1901, introducing motor buses to its fleet in 1912.  In a repeat of the Colchester situation, intensive competition from another bus company had left Southend Transport in a difficult financial position and it was also sold to British Bus in 1993.

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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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