An Innovative Journey for the Bus Industry

It’s amazing to think that it’s five and half years since we launched the Arriva m-ticket app in November 2009, becoming the first national bus company worldwide to pioneer such technology.  Whilst there have been more than 20 Million journeys made on Arriva buses in that period, mobile ticketing is still a relatively new concept within transport, especially within buses, although in many ways it’s frustrating to still be using a visual display for manual recognition of the ticket, especially knowing that there have been technologies such as NFC available for many years, but unfortunately they’ve not been adopted widely to enable commercial market viability. Hopefully this will change within the next few years, with Beacon technology set to revolutionise the ticketing world, offering the potential for account based ticketing based on a ‘Be in, Be out’ concept. Mobile payments are also developing fast, with contactless EMV, NFC and ApplePay all expected to make our lives easier. That said, I don’t expect our buses to go cashless at any stage soon (if ever), and we must adopt a ‘horses for courses’ policy and present ticketing options for all of our customers, allowing them to choose what’s best for them.

It’s also been very pleasing to see the fantastic reception that our other app, the Arriva Bus App has had. Remember that this was only launched in some parts of the UK in summer 2014, and we’re fast approaching 600,000 downloads, which shows that our customers want up-to the minute information at their fingertips when they’re ‘on-the-go’. We’ve already been short-listed for some awards, and judging by the customer comments in the app stores, we’re setting the bar high for real-time information travel apps.

And let’s not forget the humble smartcard. Whilst perhaps lacking the flexibility that mobile has to offer, we should not forget that some people don’t have a smart mobile device, or simply don’t trust m-commerce, so having the cashless benefits of a smartcard, and the ability to re-use again and again is attractive to many, and in some areas, inter-operable tickets exist that enable passengers to use their tickets on multiple bus operators, and in some cases, different transport modes.

So what’s next? Increased integration between the two apps is a certainty, and in fact you can now select a ticket from the Arriva Bus App and jump straight through to the relevant screen within the m-ticket app, but a big area to tackle is to add ‘A to B’ fares, enabling the answer customers to see at a glance how much a single trip between two points would cost. With the recent launch of the Apple watch, there will be much focus on ‘wearables’ for transport ticketing, so watch this space

Dressed for Success

“Will you host this year’s Made a Difference Awards?” I was asked on what was literally my first day of a new job at Arriva. “How hard can it be?” I thought, not being a stranger to standing up and ‘saying a few words’ on occasion. Of course I would; I’d be delighted.

That was back in September last year, at the start of the planning for what was definitely one of the greatest evenings I’ve ever spent at work. But this wasn’t about me.

It was about the 250 Arriva people from all across the country who were nominated by colleagues and customers for doing the amazing things, big and little, that make a difference to our business.

It was about the 19 individuals and teams who were highly commended for their part in the success of one of the biggest bus operators in the UK.

It was about the 11 amazing people, who, on the night, tasted success as they were rightly named as winners in their individual category.

It was also about the energy, enthusiasm and commitment all of those who brought the awards to life; by taking the time to nominate colleagues, judge the entries and ensure that the celebration was one that everyone enjoyed.

And it was about the generosity of employees and sponsors who, on the night donated over £2000 to charity.

These are the people who make Arriva a great place to work and one that we’re all proud to be part of. Of course, success isn’t something we should just get dressed up to celebrate; it’s something we should all do every single day. But who doesn’t like a party from time to time?

All I had to do was say a few words; it was everyone else who made the real difference.

 

 

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It’s good to talk

The thought of tackling a crisis can be the stuff of nightmares for some communications professionals. Forewarned is indeed forearmed so far as many circumstances go, but a crisis by its very nature can come out of nowhere, so perhaps a more apt adage would be ‘fail to prepare, and prepare to fail’ otherwise you might find yourself sinking should the worst happen.

At a recent communications conference in Stockholm, professionals from across the Arriva Group gathered en-masse to discuss the matter in great detail, pouring over the ‘what-ifs’ and ‘maybes’ crisis situations will undoubtedly throw at you. From experience, it is events like these that can really put the cat amongst the pigeons and get the brain ticking over. It’s good to remain aware of the acute complexities that handling such events involves, and that can only be done by practicing and refining your crisis communication plans on a regular basis. Time passes, communication channels grow, and staff move on. You cannot expect that any existing plan will stay as robust as when it was first conceived, it has to be reviewed and put to the test regularly to ensure the structure will remain intact at the crucial moment.

Practise really can make perfect (or as perfect as it can be given the scenario). Knowing what to say, or perhaps more importantly, what NOT to say, is paramount if you want to stop an issue turning into a crisis, or a crisis turning into major reputational damage for the business. The key is always to stick to the facts. Ask questions, be aware, but never, EVER, get dragged into speculation. The truth is your friend, but it has to be succinct and measured. Remain sincere, empathetic, and most significantly, honest when questioned, but take the time to ensure that what you’re sharing is ‘need to know’ and reflects that which is also being offered by your partners, emergency services, clients, etc. Online and social is no different. Go to black-out if necessary. Say nothing until you know what you’re saying is right. Not wanting to revert back to age-old sayings, but ‘silence is golden’ (whoever said PR was cliché?!)

It all sounds so simple and straightforward on the face of it, that’s for sure, but of course we all know that it’s never that easy. Each and every circumstance will have its own unique challenges and these cannot be sanctioned against, but what we can do is make sure we know the basics, remain level-headed and be equipped for how to react. What was is the Cub Scouts say? ‘Always be prepared’. That’s life in the communications world. Dib, dib, dib. Dob, dob, dob.

 

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Building a social structure fit for the future

2014 for Arriva social media was all about using the existing foundations of our regionally focused customer channels (Facebook and Twitter) and looking at how we drive these forward taking a national branded approach.

This involved ensuring social media was at the heart of everything we do in all aspects of our marketing from national campaigns, customer service and specific campaign channel activity. The strategic approach is primarily about driving engagement and improving customer communications. This has led to the development of some key campaign activity such as gamification where social media users could take part in a Facebook game where they ran their own bus company, facing real life situations and were entered into competitions to reward their play.

One thing that most brands can never shy away from is that customer service is an inevitable part of social media. We have a dedicated team in place that responds to incoming customer queries (both positive and negative) and we’re in the process of getting all depots trained to push out service updates to keep our customers informed. In order to keep a strong national approach, all staff who are involved in social media had the opportunity to take part in a Social Media in Business BTEC qualification to further enhance their skills and knowledge.

Looking forward to 2015, the approach is still very much focused on engagement through developing more regional specific content marketing and national marketing campaigns. Customer data is also a larger focus for the business and social media is a key stream where acquisition and specific targeting opportunities are apparent. Community engagement pieces and user generated content have always worked really well in campaigns and this is something we’re looking to maximise this year.

B2B is another key area of focus and how we can really leverage streams such as LinkedIn to promote us as partner of choice. We’ve launched an Arriva Bus UK LinkedIn page to promote great local and national work streams from all aspects of the business from engineering right through to HR.

We’re looking forward to the challenges ahead for 2015 with a flexible and united approach.

 

 

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New Year, New Challenges but lots to look forward to at Bootle Depot for 2015!

As we all know, reliability is paramount for our business in ensuring we achieve customer satisfaction. There are of course many reasons why on occasion, reliability may be affected, for example road works, incidents on the road, or inclement weather, which are unavoidable. However despite this, depot managers are responsible for ensuring that the running and recovery times are accurate for all routes.

From driver focus groups and liaising with the union, we at Bootle identified some anomalies which were affecting our service reliability, and for obvious reasons wanted to put this right. Therefore on 11th January we had a significant service change on routes 54, 58, 62, 311, 310 and a new route 63. Whilst it is early days, the changes seem to be a huge success, with reliability bolstered by as much as 10%, which is an excellent result. This will obviously improve our all-important customer satisfaction, but we have also received some really positive feedback from both drivers and supervisors too.

Aside from these achievements, we are also looking forward to the delivery of 16 brand new E400 double decker’s for our 52/52A service this year, which is a real boost for Bootle depot. The double decker’s will come with e-leather seats and free WiFi. We are confident that these types of additions to our routes will help to increase in passenger numbers by making bus travel a more attractive option and in turn boost the route profitability. As with any garage, our engineering department are also looking forward to having these new buses as part of our fleet. We are aiming to launch these vehicles on Sunday 1st March by offering a “free travel” day for both our existing passengers, and also potential customers who may be interested in using the service.

Whilst it is  Beauty Machine  early days for the service changes, our initial positive staff feedback has given 980nm laser  an indication it will be a success, however we will continue to monitor the reliability to measure the long lasting performance. We are all looking forward to introducing the new vehicles to our fleet and look forward to our anticipated positive customer feedback… watch this space!

People Power

As the age old adage goes, there is no ‘I’ in ‘team’. There is, however, in ‘individual’, and in a business our size, it is the power of these individuals who ensure that the overall team is able to function as one successful, effective unit – delivering excellence for both the business and our customers.

Our employees are our most important asset. In the UK, we employ around 26,000 people – three quarters of which are employees of Arriva UK Bus – and we operate over 6,000 buses and almost 400 trains. It is important therefore that each and every person who works for Arriva feels appreciated for their own unique value, as well as understanding how they personally help the business deliver on its objectives as a whole.

But how do you keep your employees motivated and engaged enough to deliver high levels of service whilst maintaining revenue, and driving growth?

The first thing for us is ensuring our people feel included – that their opinions are listened to and acted upon if viable. As such, every two years Arriva runs a group-wide survey to benchmark employee satisfaction across a range of measures. Of course surveys are notoriously hard to engage employees with, but we have worked hard to ensure that there is that engagement.

In 2014, for example, the Arriva participated in a DB-wide survey that aims to ask all 300,000 of the German group’s employees around the world. This was done to ensure the UK teams were able to understand and appreciate their place within DB’s global network. To spread the word about this, and motivate people to participate, in each depot location, survey champions were appointed to extoll the benefits of participation.

Sessions were run in Reading, Birmingham and York where champions around the country were able to test out the survey, and feedback their ideas as to how to better it, and of course engage their colleagues in its completion. It also offered the HR team the chance to dispel some of the myths around where the results of the survey would end up.

It proved to be positive experience – the champions left fired up and able to spread the word that taking part in the survey could actually make things change. It really helped to point out that things can and will progress as long as they are discussed openly. The survey provides a tool that allows that to happen.

But of course, employee engagement isn’t a one way street. And in order for our employees to feedback effectively, we need to ensure they are kept informed too, only then will they be aware of how their actions can affect the wider business.

To tackle this, we developed “The Big Picture” which every employee took part in. This was an interactive session that enabled our people to discuss how our long term business objectives and plans were being delivered, and explained the shorter term challenges facing the business, the financial realities and how we were adjusting to the economic conditions.

It was designed to engage employees with these challenges in a fun, compelling and participative manner, offering the opportunity for conversation in mixed groups helped people make sense of the changes needed in the business and provide shared goals as a focal point for discussions.

This different, innovative and ambitious approach has provided Arriva with a platform for growth to the benefit of our employees and customers. Following the Big Picture sessions our employee survey showed that the percentage of employees who were aware of what the company wanted to achieve in the next 12 months increased to 67%, an increase of 34%. Additionally, employee survey results showed 84% of employees understood how their work contributed to the company’s goals.

Three years on and our strategy has evolved, so to continue to keep our employees informed of our changing goals, we launched our second interactive Big Picture tool. The latest phase aims to emphasise not only the group’s five core values, but the wider scale of the group now that it is part of DB. To help ensure these messages were effectively disseminated, we began in early 2014, rolling-out the programme, where employees work in teams to create Big Picture 2 – a giant jigsaw puzzle designed to make people really think.

Big Picture 2 doesn’t shy away from the harder messages – in essence, it’s the sum of the smaller parts, from finance, through marketing, and into operations, making all of our employees aware of the big part that they play in the success of the business. We created it because our individuals matter to our business, and we need to show them just how much. Together we are Arriva, and together we will continue to grow.

 

 

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Marking a 2 million milestone

On the 9th December the Government announced the 2 millionth person to start an apprenticeship since 2010. Arriva UK Bus has contributed to this total by recruiting 108 engineering apprentices over the same period. Apprentices are an important part of our engineering strategy; they support our succession planning by replacing retiring engineers and help to fill the skills gap by learning sector specific skills and new technology from day one.

At Arriva, our trainees undertake an advanced modern apprenticeship in bus and coach engineering and maintenance lasting 4 years. The first 3 years is a combination of attending college for 2 to 4 weeks and developing practical skills in the work place. In that period they will achieve a level 3 technical certificate and an NVQ. The 4th year is then spent in the depot honing the knowledge and skills gained. At the end of the apprenticeship, we would expect to offer employment to those who have met their developmental goals.

In order to encourage our apprentices to strive for excellence throughout their training, they are each invited to apply for the annual Arriva ‘engineering apprentice of the year’ award, with the winner invited to a ceremony to receive their prize. Over the years, some of these winners have gone on to represent Arriva UK Bus in national apprenticeship awards too, which really does showcase just how important this kind of mentoring is. Our apprentices have also put their developing skills to the test by participating in both our internal skills competition and the national IRTE Skills Challenge. We find it to be really beneficial to set these additional goals to ensure that our apprentices remain focused and engaged with their training, and ultimately their chosen vocation.

In an initiative that will again support attraction and retention, our apprentices are now also able to apply for the Arriva graduate program. The scheme was successfully piloted with one apprentice in September 2013. Another two also successfully Wedding dress ranks first in a wedding preparation. The significance is evident. In wedding dresses shop

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Liverpool city centre bus lanes still in the spotlight

On November 24th, following months of uncertainty, the four Liverpool city centre bus lanes which were still under threat were reinstated with time restrictions from 12pm to 6pm on three of them, along with CCTV cameras, which will help to clamp down on indiscriminate parking following the Merseyside bus lanes trial. But what does this all mean for Merseyside’s transport network, and how will it affect operators and passengers alike?

Throughout the process we have made it clear that we could never support any measures that removed bus priorities, however, we did accept that a number of the bus lanes were not giving us bus priority, so it was the right decision to review those.

The trials found that average journey times taken by buses and cars were slower by one per cent and 1.5 per cent respectively, meaning that the bus lanes were not the cause of the congestion. Thankfully, the council agreed to introduce camera enforcement against indiscriminate parking, which is excellent news for the company.

This is a big win-win for us, parking like this causes major delays and when it comes into effect it will be there all day, which will improve journey times throughout our operation. We also made it clear that the city centre bus lanes should not have been part of the review and it has been proven that the city centre has been subjected to severe congestion during the trial particularly in the afternoons and on Saturdays.

One of the biggest things that came to light during the trial was that average bus journey times increased by up to 20 per cent, clearly this is not acceptable to either operators or our customers.

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Welcome to our new blog!

Welcome to the first official Arriva bus blog! Whether you are someone who uses our services, helps us to provide them by working for us, or one of our many stakeholders or individuals that comes into contact with us on a regular basis, we hope this will provide an interesting insight into all things Arriva, as well as our views on any number of bus-related topics.

The blog aims to provide a regular stream of open communication. It will cover issues that are topical, or share aspects of our day-to-day work, so we can impart our learning and improve our ability to deliver a great service. You will be hearing from me and others from across the entire Arriva family, describing what we do and offering their individual opinions.

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