Arriva Sapphire adds sparkle to Chester and Wrexham

Designed to get first-time users and reluctant bus users out of their cars and on public transport, Arriva's Sapphire scheme is an interesting idea.

Friday 26th April was the official launch, with the first vehicles hitting the road at 0540 on Monday 29th April 2014. The high-specification service is certainly a step up from the previous operation, which used Arriva standard VDL SB200 single decks and DAF DB250s originally hailing from London.

Friday 26th April was the official launch, with the first vehicles hitting the road at 0540 on Monday 29th April 2014. The high-specification service is certainly a step up from the previous operation, which used Arriva standard VDL SB200 single decks and DAF DB250s originally hailing from London.

Frequency has remained the same, at every 12 minutes Monday-Saturday daytime and every 20 minutes at peak times on a Sunday. However, the vehicles couldn’t be more different; they’re nine Alexander-Dennis Enviro400 double decks on the Alexander-Dennis Trident II chassis.

Interestingly, the Sapphire buses are not new; they are recently displaced from Arriva Merseyside’s Birkenhead garage where they were used on Cross River Express services until Arriva took delivery of 33 new Volvo B5LH hybrid buses for those services.

So – what’s special about Sapphire?

The high-specification interiors are certainly a selling point, and Arriva apparently hopes that this will sell the concept to passengers. Leather seats have been fitted throughout, with the top deck seeing heavy-duty coach seating in a 2+1 layout and the lower deck having more standard headrest seats, all made by Wrexham Industrial Estate-based Esteban.

As well as this, Icomera’s Moovbox WiFi equipment is fitted, as seen in an increasing number of the fleet, though it’s given the Sapphire touch with its own landing page and one-time registration page. Passengers are required to register once, and fill in a short questionnaire, before using the service, after which their device is recognised.

In the upper and lower saloons information screens and speakers are fitted to deliver automated next stop announcements; produced by Hanover Displays, who also produce Arriva’s standard destination equipment, it is an impressive innovation, and offers passengers a clear and concise reminder of where they are on the route, bilingually in both Welsh and English.

In a more radical move both the upper and lower decks are fitted out with 13-amp plug sockets, and USB ports for charging mobiles, tablets and laptops; this feature, in particular, proves to be a great selling point to younger customers, many of whom have found it a great novelty!

In addition, drivers have received additional customer service training and wear a smart new uniform, with shirts and distinctive blue ties and scarves with name badges for a more personal feel. Drivers are dedicated to the Sapphire service and permanently work Route 1 to Chester.

The launch was well attended by local councillors, Arriva management and potential passengers, as well as special guest Ray Stenning whose agency Best Impressions designed the Sapphire and Arriva Hybrid identities.

Arriva Buses Wales managing director Michael Morton was on hand to formally launch the vehicles. Speaking about the service, he commented; “We’ve deliberately selected this route between Wrexham and Chester as it offers a longer journey time, so customers have more opportunity to take advantage of the free WiFi, or to enjoy simply sitting on comfy leather seats! The investment is significant at a time when there are plenty of economic challenges out there, although we firmly believe in continuing to try and improve our service offering whenever and wherever we can.”

Sapphire represents £650,000 invested into Service 1, and the result is a very impressive one. It will be interesting to observe the development of the service in the coming months, as Arriva clearly has very high hopes for the corridor.

I believe that Sapphire will be an excellent boost to route 1. Having spoken to many passengers myself, and overheard their comments around the area, it’s easy to see that the upgrade has created a buzz in the town.

One older passenger from Mold told me; “I take two buses to Wrexham now – my X44 to Chester and the 1 to Wrexham. Now these new buses are in operation, my journey to Wrexham is better than some of the holiday coaches I’ve travelled on.”

High praise indeed – a glance at Arriva Buses Wales’ Facebook page shows even more positive comments, a novelty given that Facebook is a standard platform for customer service abuse!



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