Platinum – First Aberdeen’s new premium brand
What was once simply First Aberdeen’s service 19 was completely transformed last November in a move designed to attract more passengers, particularly from other transport modes such as the car. To achieve this end it was identified that the offering needed to be a little bit more than the norm with attributes that were, in the words of Director and General Manager of First Aberdeen, Duncan Cameron, ‘not so regular.’ First Aberdeen’s network is made up of cross city routes. The 12-mile 19 route links the council estates of Tillydrone to the north with affluent Culter to the south west, taking in Kittybrewster, the Bon Accord Centre, Mannofield and Cults as well as the city centre itself.
Amid a pyrotechnic display and to the strains of the theme music to ‘2001 – A Space Odyssey’, it was relaunched as Platinum, a new premium branded product offering a variety of additional features, though the familiar 19 service number was retained in conjunction with the new brand.
Among the elements added to the standard double deck specification were wi-fi, television screens and E-leather seat trim.
Each of the buses is specifically branded and carries a livery related to but distinctly different from the First standard, with areas of black, light blue and the latest First Group grey. Arguably, the branding inside the bus is even stronger than it is externally, with starry sky ceilings, bright clear route graphics and slogans such as: ‘Every journey is a special journey’ and ‘Platinum – driving excellence.’ On the driver’s door a sign welcomes passengers with the message ‘Thanks for travelling with us today,’ and there are graphics on the saloon side of the staircase as well as up the side of the staircase itself where a colourful route diagram shows the key points served between Tillydrone and Culter.
Some buses also have route diagrams running the length of the coving panels. External vehicle branding was designed by Work Design in Leicester, while all internal vinyls and supporting marketing communications were designed by Abyss Marketing in Leeds, who also produced driver’s badges.
Part of the package developed for Platinum was a dedicated driving force wearing a route specific uniform including a specially designed tie and the previously mentioned badge. The wearing of blue shirts rather than white is required and these are provided by the company. The driving team were all given very detailed training for the route and greater autonomy than other drivers in that they are empowered to offer free journey vouchers to any passenger who is not happy with the travelling experience for any reason. This last point, perhaps more than any other, epitomises the strategy of trying to do something different to attract people to come and use the bus.
Results so far
With only ten weeks experience since the launch, two of which were Christmas and New Year, Duncan was cautious about reading too much into early figures but told me that the performance of the route so far was 4% up year on year, and in some weeks it was higher. ‘So far, numbers are encouraging and broadly in line with targets’, he said. ‘I think the feedback we’ve had overall from staff, from stakeholders, from customers has been very positive, and rightly so because it is something new, something that has excited people.’
A further positive sign Duncan has detected is that when he has been at business dinners, those he has been sitting next to invariably mention the new branding before any other topic, so it is getting buses talked about and what is being said is encouraging.
It was too early for him to say whether the positive reaction to Platinum had had a knock on effect in helping to promote use of other services. Identifying such a trend is made the more difficult because network ridership is already growing year on year, though not by the same amount. In September, the fleet PVR went up by 10% year on year, which was partly because of a University expansion and relocation and the rest was service enhancements which have driven growth as a result. It is quite hard to distinguish. ‘That growth was already there and Platinum has helped it,’ said Duncan.
Prior to the enhancements, the 19 had been carrying an average of 34,000 passengers a week. The Culter leg of the journey serves one of the most affluent areas in Aberdeen and it is on this section that a big proportion of the growth is being generated. Duncan believes this proves that by improving the product you can encourage growth.