Arriva North West was originally formed following the split of Ribble Motor Services in readiness for privatisation in 1986, with the operations in Merseyside, West Lancashire and Wigan operating as North Western. The name was taken from the former North Western operations, which ran between 1923 and 1976. The current North Western operations were taken over by Drawlane (who would later be renamed as British Bus) in 1988, who would also took over the operations of the Bee Line Buzz Company, who ran services in Greater Manchester. In 1996, British Bus was bought by the Cowie Group, which subsequently became Arriva, with services renamed as Arriva North West in 1998.
In February 2000, the company acquired MTL Trust Holdings, which created a larger presence in the Merseyside area and more than doubling the size of the company. In 2002, Arriva North West merged with Arriva Cymru and renamed as Arriva North West and Wales. Three former Arriva Midlands depots in Crewe, Macclesfield and Winsford were transferred into the North West & Wales operation, although the depot at Crewe was closed in December 2005.
Arriva expanded more in July 2005 by taking over Blue Bus of Bolton, which almost doubled their presence in Greater Manchester. In January 2009, the Wales operation was split from Arriva North West as Arriva Buses Wales with the Arriva North West name resurrected for the North West England operations.
Although the company is officially known as Arriva North West, some operations were originally registered under alternative Arriva names. Former Bee Line operations were registered as Arriva Manchester, some Liverpool operations and, slightly confusingly, the former Blue Bus operations were registered as Arriva Liverpool. As of Autumn 2011 a large proportion of services in Merseyside remain registered under the separate Arriva Merseyside Ltd licence all other services are registered to the Arriva North West Ltd
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