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Fleet Profile: Arriva Group

Date: 01 February 2023   |   Author: Rachel Boagey

Faced with challenges from the first day, Arriva's fleet manager tells Rachel Boagey how the company manages while also integrating sustainability practices.

When he joined the Arriva Group in June 2022, Andrew Pace was ready to take on a challenge - managing the UK fleet for the biggest provider of passenger transport services in Europe. Not only would this role be responsible for rebuilding the fleet after the huge impact Covid-19 had on the public transport sector, but it was also brand new, with the intent of creating a holistic focus on the UK market. 

But perhaps Pace wasn't quite so prepared for the several other major challenges that faced him. "With the slowdown on new vehicle supply, the semi-conductor shortage, the increasing price of electricity, to name a few, the last 12 months have been a completely new world for fleet managers," he says. 

Luckily, Pace's extensive 20-year background in leasing working for Alphabet and, later, Lookers Leasing stood him in good stead and, on his hiring, he set out on a mission to transform the growing fleet, figuring out what wasn't working without a dedicated fleet manager, and what a dedicated fleet manager could do to make it better. "My hiring was basically a baptism of fire," he jokes. "Many of the stones I've turned over have had something surprising underneath." 

Getting back on track 

Under Pace's remit is a leased car and an owned LCV fleet totalling around 380, with plans to extend his management assets once he's knocked those two into shape. These consist of pool and ferry vehicles, job need, and perk vehicles. The first thing Pace did was take an extensive look at the portfolio of vehicles to decide if they're all still needed in a bid to get the transport company back on track with its spending and environmental responsibility. 

An example Pace draws of this is Arriva Bus during Covid-19 providing an increasing number of ferry cars to bus drivers to transport them during their shift changeover because people weren't comfortable sharing pool cars during the pandemic. "There was a genuine need for daily rental vehicles back then, and now, it's just a 'nice-to-have', and I'm finding people are reluctant to hand them back." 

A significant challenge Pace's fleet faced is the availability of these cars. "People used to moan if they had to wait three months for a new car. Now, I think they'd be doing cartwheels if they got one within three months," he explains. 

One of his key observations when he took on the role was the deterioration of the vehicle choice list available for both job need and perk users. "Because of the increasing list prices, we're seeing cars falling off the choice list on a weekly basis," says Pace. His response was to drop the fleet's benchmark lease mileage down to 60,000 and four years, due to the transition towards working from home during Covid-19, but he is still on the hunt for how to address the dwindling choice list. "We're working with our lease provider Novuna Vehicle Solutions to find out what other, similar fleets are doing to try and get back on a level playing field. It's important to learn from other fleets as we're all facing the same challenges," he says. 

Other challenges pertaining to increasing prices include servicing and maintenance, tyres, and the lack of availability of spare parts. Pace says, "In my 20 years in the vehicle leasing arena, I've never seen anything like this. We have vehicles going in for maintenance in main dealers and rather than getting fixed, they end up off the road. Manufacturers have slimmed down model offerings and specifications because of the semi-conductor problem. It's a perfect storm in so many ways." 

A responsible business

Despite all of these challenges, sustainability remains an integral part of Arriva's vision to help shape a future where passenger transport is the best choice. Across the Group and the countries in which Arriva operates, they are already investing in zero-emission bus fleets, hybrid trains and alternative fuels.

For the UK market, a new company car policy was written in November 2021, before Pace's hiring. While it pointed the fleet in the right direction when it came to sustainability, Pace explains it was more of a foundation block to build on. 

Although the order books for EVs and PHEVs is even longer than that of combustion vehicles, Pace remains committed to a green fleet. "It's very important for us as a big transport company with buses running around the country all day, every day." 

Pace introduced a reduced CO2 cap for the fleet. Higher mileage job need drivers are capped at 130g, whereas perk drivers are capped at 50g, limiting them to PHEV or EVs.

One of the ways in which Arriva aims to achieve sustainable mobility is through its Zero Emission Institute. "This primarily focuses on the bus fleet where we can make an impact most quickly," he says, "But this will filter down to trains and the car fleet too." 

The Institute aims to develop relationships with external organisations to ensure it can bring the latest thinking and innovation into Arriva. Pace explains the fleet plans to work with green energy providers, academic institutions, technological innovators, industrial designers, engineers and manufacturers. "We will work hand-in-hand with passenger transport authorities towards our shared goals, developing long-term strategic plans to enable the right infrastructure and the right fuel technology for each city and region," he explains. 

Pace isn't committed to a solely electric future for the fleet. Arriva has been working with hydrogen fuel technology on its buses, and Pace believes it will have a role to play in heavier vehicles over the coming years. "Whichever avenue we go down - whether hydrogen or electric - the desire for us is zero emissions," he says. 

As for the decarbonisation of transport in 2030, Pace thinks it's an optimistic goal. "It's really not that far away, and whether it gets pushed back remains to be seen, but there's clearly a lot to do in setting people up to take that leap of faith from ICE to EV."

Pace experiences range anxiety firsthand from his fleet drivers when he asks them if they'd like to switch to an EV. "The vehicles have more range now but there is anxiety about the public charging network. They often express concerns about finding chargers and even if they do, will they work and will it be fast?"

Since joining Arriva, Pace has demonstrated EVs and faces the same anxieties himself. "I truly believe you need to adopt a different mindset. It's no longer a case of popping into the petrol station which you can find on every corner. On a trip from Harrogate to London, I found two chargers at a service station, only one was occupied but they had parked so badly I couldn't fit into the other one. They finally moved so I parked and began charging at 50kW but then another car pulled up and plugged into my charger, effectively halving the power to 20kW."

Practicing what they preach

Pace believes every public charging solution needs to be a supercharger and was pleased to hear Harrogate will soon be having 180 charge points installed. "The reality is, if you're out and about, you need a charge and you need it fast." 

In the coming years, he is planning to install charge points in all depots and office sites, ensuring they meet the requirements for the fleet. "We need to futureproof as much as possible as it's an area that's changing rapidly and needs the right back office management in terms of who's using what and who's paying for it.

"One of things I'll be looking at is our charge point requirements for cars and making sure we have the right charger with the right car and right availability at depots and office sites. As far as possible, we need to future proof as it's an area that's developing and changing rapidly and needs the right back office management if we decide to provide electricity for employees, which will all play a part in convincing staff to convert to EVs." 

Unfortunately, the price of electricity has increased so significantly that Pace explains it's almost in-line with the price of petrol. He says, "The increase in electricity prices beggars belief since the war in Ukraine. We're hanging onto the reduced BIK as an incentive for our drivers. Hopefully the Government doesn't decide to increase that too.

"The drive towards EV and making sure we have the infrastructure the business needs and making it attractive for company car users as well - some are a lot more warm to it than others. The more perceived obstacles we can remove to help drivers take the leap the better." 

Something Pace plans to work on in the coming months is reducing the amount of fleet drivers who take a cash allowance in lieu of a company car. "I think there's things we can do to entice people away from the grey fleet which can make it beneficial to them and us," he says. "Even if people don't want to take a fully fledged company car, we can at least make sure they're driving something that's clean." 

Pace explains that Arriva's vision is to help shape a future where passenger transport is considered the best choice. "The choices and demands that our passengers ultimately make, will be essential to supporting this journey, but this starts from our depots," he explains. 

"We need to be a part of the drive towards electric, making sure we have the infrastructure our business needs, and making it an attractive choice for company car users as well. The more perceived obstacles we can remove to help drivers take the leap, the better. We must work to ensure the public transport sector itself becomes greener, more sustainable and fit for a zero-emission future."