Saturday, 22 October 2016

30 Years of Blackpool Transport

332 on a test run prior to return to service (Photos: Mark Penney)
On 20 October 1986 Blackpool Transport Services Ltd started trading on the Monday prior to deregulation. Part of the Transport Act 1985 which led to deregulation, local authorities who ran bus companies needed to set up 'arms length' companies to take over the operation and provide a degree of separation from the council. This led to most being privatised, or closed, but Blackpool Transport survives today as one of small handful still in council ownership. The company is 100% owned by Blackpool Council, and indeed in 1994 bought out Keeltone Ltd - the holding company of the then newly privatised Fylde Transport Ltd and thus brought it into a different council ownership! The previous year a bid for Lancaster City Transport had failed.

To celebrate their birthday, BTS has outshopped Trident 332 in the 1987 double deck livery introduced on Atlantean 316 and Olympians 365-7 in March 1987. This complements Volvo B7RLE in the 1990 Delta livery.

332 has entered service this morning on service 2C.

332 nearing completion in the paint shop

332 nearing completion in the paint shop

Fully lettered including a commemorative logo in the side window

Test run on Clifton Drive

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

November Service Change Update

Full timetables are now on the Blackpool Transport website for the November service changes. It looks like six fewer buses will be required compared to the present network, excluding summer service 20.

  • Service 1 from Starr Gate to Fleetwood is reduced to every 30 minutes all day, daily needing 5 buses daytimes and 4 evenings. This is a reduction of 3 PVR
  • Service 2C - the two empty runs to Knott End in the morning are replaced by an 0520 and 0550 trip from Blackpool to Knott End. An extra round trip is added at 1950 from Blackpool returning from Knott End at 2105 - this is one hour later than the current last bus
  • Services 3, 4 and 5 continue unchanged except for the Saturday service returning to its pre-Illuminations timetables
  • New Service 6 will run Corporation Street to Grange Park via the current 11 route with a 15 minute daytime (4 buses) and 30 minute evening and Sunday service (2 buses)
  • The 7 is reduced to every 20 minutes using 10 buses - a reduction of 2 v the current service. Evening services run every 30 minutes using 5 buses, the Sunday daytime service is also every 30 minutes but will interwork with the 9 sharing ten buses - probably Palladium Citaros and Centros
  • The new service 8 runs 5 trips per day, daily at 0643, 0825, 1215, 1625, 1950 from Cleveleys and 0745, 1315, 1545, 1710 and 2115. 
  • The 9 will run every 12 minutes using nine buses - this reverts to its established resource as the 2 extra buses added to sustain the 10 minute service during the recent roadworks are no longer needed.
  • The 10 and 17 although not serving Victoria Hospital main entrance retain their existing timetables
  • The 11 runs Blackpool to Lytham every 15 minutes with 8 buses, reducing to every 30 minutes with 4 buses
  • The 14 will use 17 buses with an extra one in the peaks to serve Peel Park. It will run every 12 minutes. The evening service remains every 30 minutes using 5 buses, the Sunday daytimes every 20 minutes using 10 buses
  • The 15 and 16 run hourly using four buses, but with extra trips at peak times using an extra 3 buses
These changes mean that for the first time since 1987 there will be no single bus service operating every 10 minutes or better in Blackpool.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Catch 22 Bus Update

A second Alexander bodied Dennis Trident double decker has joined the Catch 22 fleet as LX03BVJ new to Stagecoach London. It has entered service on service 21. The 21 will be continuing on a reduced frequency during the winter, operating every 30 minutes Tuesday to Saturday inclusive. Presently the summer timetable is operating five days per week for October with no service on Mondays and Fridays.

12 December will see services 23 and 24 revised. The 23 will be revised to run every hour and will be extended from Pheasants Wood via Thornton, Norcross, Castle Gardens, Poulton, Carr Head Road, Longhouse Lane and Newton Drive to Victoria Hospital. The 24 will serve School Road in Thornton off peak and no longer extend to The Highcross.

From the Archive: 2 and 15 Since Deregulation

National 2 542 unloads at Bispham Hotel having arrived from Poulton on the extended 2A on 15 August 1987
Deregulation on 26 October 1986 saw several changes to the Blackpool bus network to ensure it ran on a commercial footing. The Poulton and Staining routes 2, 2A, 15, 15A and 15B were revised with most journeys running across Blackpool to Bispham replacing the Bispham circulars 7/7A.

The 15A and 15B variants were discontinued - except for a single Sunday morning 15A from Bispham to Victoria Hospital which managed to last until the Metro era! Along Newton Drive a basic 15 minute frequency was provided from the Town Centre to Staining Road with the 2 running to Poulton via Hardhorn every 30 minutes; the 2A to Poulton via Highcross hourly and the 15 to Staining also hourly.

Between Blackpool and Bispham the 2 ran via Talbot Road, Devonshire Road and Red Bank Road to terminate at Bispham Hotel (though buses ran onto Cavendish Road to turn). The 2A and 15 ran via Dickson Road, Gynn Square, Warbreck Drive and Red Bank Road to Bispham Library where they turned on the roundabout. They made a 15 minute frequency with service 3 (Mereside to Bispham) over this section. The resulting services were:
  • 2 Poulton - Hardhorn - Newton Drive - Town Centre - Devonshire Road - Bispham Hotel every 30 minutes using 3 double deckers
  • 2A Poulton - Highcross Road - Newton Drive - Town Centre - Gynn Square - Bispham Library every 60 minutes sharing 3 single deckers with the 15
  • 15 Staining - Newton Drive - Hospital - Town Centre - Gynn Square - Bispham Library every 60 minutes sharing 3 single deckers with the 2A.
In the evening Blackpool used two buses to provide an hourly service 2A from Poulton to Bispham where buses continued back to Blackpool as service 2, terminating at the Bus Station. Lancashire County Council chose to buy back several services which had dropped below previous levels and awarded contracts to Fylde Borough Transport to run:
  • 2 Bus Station to Poulton every hour Monday to Saturday evenings only
  • 7/7A Blackpool to Bispham Circulars, each every hour Monday to Saturday evenings only
  • 15 Blackpool to Staining every hour Monday to Saturday morning peak, afternoon peak, evenings and on Sundays. 

Fylde RE 37 works a tendered journey on the 15 to Staining in 1989 shortly before a repaint into the new livery, having lost the lettering on its former Blue Bus Rambler allover advert
 This resulted in a 20 minute evening and 30 minute Sunday service along Newton Drive; a near 30 minute peak frequency to/from Staining and a near 30 minute evening service to Bispham via both Warbreck Drive and Devonshire Road.

The service pattern became quite stable with only minor tweaks. Most notable was the re-routing of the 15 to regain its former route via Warbreck Hill Road and Bispham Road to Bispham Library from July 1987. Route 2A was also now interworked with the 180/182 from Poulton to Preston - five single deckers (usually Nationals) were now deployed on a five hour cycle which worked a 15 to Staining and back, a 2A to Poulton, a round trip to Preston and then back to Bispham as a 2A.

In November 1987 Fylde introduced commercial daytime services on the 2 (Blackpool to Poulton) and 15 (Blackpool to Staining) running 3 to 5 minutes in front of a Blackpool 2 and six minutes in front of their 15. Initially they ran from the Bus Station, but from June the terminus moved to Market Street, and in November 1988 again moved to Abingdon Street. The 2s were reduced to school holidays and Saturdays only from May and the commercial services ended on 15th April 1989. Blackpool took over the evening and Sunday 15s in October 1989, with the peak workings and evening 2s withdrawn without replacement. This ended Fylde's presence on the corridor - for now.

The 7/7A evening services was taken over by Blackpool Transport on 4 January and in December 1988 a new daytime minibus service was started on the routes on a 15 minute frequency as a response to competition from Fylde's 11, 11A and 11B and the evening service ended in 1989. Blackpool later improved the 7/7A to replace the 3 and it became apparent that the Bispham end of the 2/2A was no longer necessary.  

Delta 104 heads for Poulton on Abingdon Street in September 1991 (Donald MacRae)
As a result on 10 June 1991, the 2/2A were revised to provide a 20 minute frequency service between Blackpool and Poulton only with one bus per hour via the 2A route. 5 single deckers were now used as the routes remained interworked with the 180/2. Deltas were now the usual allocation. The 15 was extended from Bispham via All Hallows Road, Fleetwood Road, Cleveleys Victoria Square to a new Safeway Store off Victoria Road West in Cleveleys. 2 buses were used - again normally Deltas. The 2A ran hourly evenings/Sundays as did the 15 but only from Staining to Bus Station as before.
30 March 1992 saw a reallocation of the company's minibus fleet and the Poulton service was doubled to every 10 minutes. Five out of the six hourly departures ran via Highcross Road as the 2A and used City Pacers (5 required) while the sixth ran as a 2 via Hardhorn and was linked to the 180/2 to Preston using three Deltas. The evening 2A continued using 1 minibus. The 15 was also converted to minibuses. For the first time the 2/2A now ventured to the Hospital, making the diversion off Newton Drive to get passengers much closer to this obvious traffic objective.

City Pacer 577 heads down Church Street from Devonshire Squire on a Poulton to Bispham 2 working, passing a Dart demonstrator on the 26 in 1998.
The contract for the evening and Sunday services on the 15 passed to Fylde in April 1992 and later in the year Fylde also won a contract for the first 2 from Poulton at 0730 Mondays to Fridays. October 1992 saw the 180/2 end and the 2 workings now became minibus operated. Single deckers took over the 15 in January 1993 but in April the service was curtailed to Gynn Square.

November 1994 saw a major recast of the Blackpool and Fylde networks as Blackpool now owned the latter. Changes saw the 2/2A and 7/7A merged as they had been eight years earlier. A 7/8 minute service was introduced with six buses per hour via Highcross (as 2A or 2B) and two via Hardhorn (as 2). From Blackpool (Odeon Cinema) the 2 and 2B ran every 15 minutes via Claremont, Devonshire Road, Red Bank Road, Warbreck Drive, Gynn Square and Claremont back to the Bus Station and onto Poulton. The 2A ran every 15 minutes in the opposite direction. Evening and Sunday buses ran every 30 minutes alternating between the 2A and 2B. 11 City Pacers were used, though reliability problems saw a 12th soon added.

The 15 continued, though the Gynn to Blackpool section was withdrawn. Fylde retained the evening service and the early morning 0730 trip. However with such a high frequency on Newton Drive, the 15 was becoming less popular and Blackpool withdrew the service in April 1995 with Fylde winning a contract for a replacement daytime service to maintain links to Staining. This was only a temporary measure as independent Town Bus took over in April 1995 using ex London and West Midlands Fleetlines amongst others. This too was short lived as Fylde registered the daytime 15s commercially in April - throughout this episode it retained the contracted evening/Sunday operations.

The 15 was finally withdrawn in August 1996 as services 23/23A were extended from Victoria Hospital to provide a half hourly service to Staining with the same resources as deployed on the hourly 15. April 1998 saw the 2 reduced to every 10 minutes with alternate buses over the 2 and 2A route but the evening/Sunday service was increased to every 15 minutes - this time with alternate 2A and 2B workings as Hardhorn was not served. Nine minibuses were required (six evenings/Sundays) and Metroriders were now common.

The evening/Sunday service dropped back to half hourly in May 2000 but the Metro network saw a complete revision. The Bispham link ended again and the all buses now ran over the former 2A route via Highcross but showed service 2. A 10 minute daytime service and 30 minute evening service ran from Blackpool to Poulton. Metroriders continued to feature, but Double Deckers took over some of the daytime only buses from September as the minibus fleet underwent a major repaint programme into Metro liveries. Hardhorn was served by an off peak tendered service 52/54 (Poulton-Hardhorn-Hospital-Carleton-Poulton) run by an independent.

508 in the Line 2 Metrorider era in 2004 waiting time on a Cleveleys working at Poulton Church
8 April 2002 saw the 2 extended over the 26 route to South Pier and the evening/Sunday service increased to every 20 minutes. Three weeks later, one bus per hour was diverted via Hardhorn Road (ironically as 2A) to replace the 52/54 and was also extended to Cleveleys via Carelton, Thornton and Pheasants Wood. Every hour one bus was extended from South Pier to Mereside alternately as a 2B or 2C via different routes in South Shore, though these were quickly replaced by extending the 2A over a consolidated route.

There then followed a period of expansion by extending the 2 over several legs, often replacing other operators services:
  • 6 January 2003 - 2 buses per hour extended from South Pier to Lytham Square incorporating Blackpool's 77 St. Annes Roamer (16 buses needed)
  • October 2003 - 1 evening bus per hour linked to tendered service 88 (Poulton to Cleveleys
  • November 2003 - Lytham to Poulton workings extended to Thornton (Hillylaid Crossing) to replace Stagecoach 167/8 workings (17 buses needed)
  • November 2004 - Thornton workings extended to Cleveleys but 2A curtailed at Poulton (still 17 buses)
  • 30 October 2005 - two buses per hour (one evenings/Sundays) extended Poulton to Knott End as service 2C replacing Stagecoach 85
  • 5 December 2005 - 2A withdrawn (10 replaces in South Shore) with 2C workings now serving Hardhorn instead
  • 4 September 2006 - Cleveleys-Lytham workings extend to Wesham replacing Kirkham Roamer 70 (20 buses needed)
  • June 2007 - evening 88 incorporated into 2 route (one bus per hour each to Poulton, Cleveleys, Knott End)
  • July 2009 - one Sunday bus per hour extended to Cleveleys as per evening service
Meanwhile on 22 November 2004 service 15 resumed. Funding from Blackpool Council, Lancashire County Council and Tesco saw the new service run from Poulton via Castle Gardens, Norcross, Bispham College, Bispham, Warbreck Drive, Dickson Road, Town Centre, Hospital, Staining and Mythop Road to Mereside Tesco. This reinstated the Bispham to Hospital link, replaced the 5 to Staining (which had itself replaced the 23/23A) and provided new links to the expanded Tesco store. A half hourly service was provided using 4 minibuses, though in the evening and on Sunday this dropped to three as the service terminated at Bispham and the late evening service ran Gynn Square to Staining only.

Excel 226 passing through St John Square on the 2C, while still in Line 7 livery
September 2009 saw the end of the Tesco funding so the 15 was cut back to Staining using the time released to extend running times and improve reliability. The late evening buses now ran Staining to Blackpool only. Daytime trips to Poulton now served Faraday Way and Kincraig Avenue between Norcross and the College. At the same time route 2 was reduced to every 15 minutes over the South Pier to Poulton section and the Cleveleys journeys were withdrawn completely. Buses now ran Wesham to Lytham or South Pier to Knott End and 14 buses were now needed. The Hardhorn section was withdrawn completely in February 2010 and further changes in July 2010 saw the South Pier to Blackpool section withdrawn.

The 15 was diverted via Grange Road and Layton in February 2010 and again via Newton Drive and Devonshire Road in July 2010. February 2010 saw the evening service reduced to hourly (Blackpool to Staining only) It has since lost its evening service completely (May 2011) and its Sunday service has been reduced to hourly (Bispham to Staining)

The 2 had also seen minor reductions in service but October 2011 saw the 2C diverted away from Highcross Road and Newton Drive as it now runs via Blackpool Old Road, Collegiate School and Grange Park between Poulton and Hospital. Seven buses were still required normally five minibuses, one Trident and a single decker (Excel or Volvo) with the bigger buses intended for school time workings - though both stayed out to provide two of the three evening workings. The evening service on the 2 had ceased in May 2011, leaving just the 2C, but it was reinated in October following the diversion of the 2C.
Doomed bus, doomed route. With hours of its service life left, Excel stands at Poulton on route 2 on 31 May a few weeks before the entire service was withdrawn (Paul Turner)

So now the established route via Newton Drive and Hardhorn had just a half hour service once more - having been as frequent as every 7/8 minutes in 1998. In July 2012 the 15 was withdrawn with the 2 diverted to do a double run to Staining and back which it had done in the 1920s. This was no doubt to the detriment of customers making through journeys. By 5 November the 2 and 2C lost their interworking so now needed 3 and 5 buses respectively with full size buses prefered to Solos -though the latter particularly appeared on Sundays.

June 2015 saw the end of service 2 after 88 years with its Blackpool-Staining-Poulton leg incorporated into new Northern Circulars 12/13. This only lasted until the following April when routes 10/17 were extended from Blackpool to Poulton, but omitted Staining which was served by revised southern circulars 15/16 - reinstating the traditional number but via a vastly different route. The 2C continued but lost its evening service whle the Sunday daytime service was curtailed to run Blackpool to Poulton only.  

Metro Buses
When the Metro network was launched the 2 was given a black and yellow identity. Metroriders 505-510 received Line 2 stickers in July 2010, but these were soon removed as up to four Atlanteans would appear from September to release minibuses for repainting in route branded liveries. The merger of the 2 and 26 in April 2002 saw Line 2 adopt the light green colour of the 26, before any buses had received the black route livery. This was later adopted for pool buses. 511-516 were the six buses allocated to the 26 and this immediately received Line 2 branding. Sisters 504-510 were treated between May and August 2002 with 517 following in December making 14 buses for the 16 workings from January 2003.

As the route expanded several more Metroriders were repainted:
  • 518 March 2003
  • 503 December 2003 (for Thornton extension)
  • 502 November 2004 (to replace 511 which was out of use for nearly two years with accident damage)
  • 501 December 2004 (total 17 buses for 17 workings)
  • 595 November 2005 (for Knott End)
  • (511 returned Aug 2006 after repaint in March) 
The Solo era started in June 2006 when 249 was painted out of Line 5 red to provide a larger capacity bus for particular workings and 285 followed in August. This had been the dedicated bus supplied by Lancashire County Council for the Kirkham Roamer which was now merged into the 2.

Solo 281 on Newton Drive during 2008.
Further Solos entered service in June/July 2007 when 279, 281-284 were transferred from the Lifestyle Line. These replaced 514-517 which were repainted into the pink Line 15 colours and replaced 584-587 which had been so attired since the route stated in 2004. 518 had also been painted into Line 10 colours earlier in the year. There were now seven Solos and 14 Metroriders in Line 2 colours. May 2008 saw the first new Solo to arrive in Line 2 colours as 247 and this replaced 595, while 240-246 arrived in May 2009 replacing 501/2/4/5/7 while 513 had moved to Line 15 earlier in the year after 516 had been withdrawn.

585 shortly before withdrawal in 2007 on the rural section of the 15 from Staining towards Tesco
The September 2009 services reduced the requirement to 14 buses and the service now became mainly Solo operated. 240-247 were joined by fellow long Solos 286/7, 294 from Lines 3 and 16 and these allowed 279/81-83 to receive pool livery with 249, 284 and 285 making up the 14 buses as Metroriders 506, 508-512 were withdrawn.

December 2007 and 353 works the regular double deck duty on the 2C to Knott End
From 2006 a double decker was allocated to the 0742 2C from Knott End as this experienced heavy loadings at school times and had outgrown 33 seat Solo 249 which was the regular bus. Initially it was swapped for a Metrorider in the Town Centre or at South Pier but this soon ceased and the bus would stay out all day - a duty which included a return trip on the 88 to Poulton. Atlanteans were commonly used, though Deltas became common as the Atlanteans were withdrawn.

First Trident Departs

318 in happier days entering St. Annes Square on a service 14 working from Fleetwood (Brian Turner)
Trident 318 departed for scrap yesterday (14 October 2006) at the age of just 13. It arrived in May 2003 entering service on 26th. It carried pool black and yellow and mainly ran on the 14, but when spare would also operate on the 11. With the end of the Metro network in 2010 it ran on most double deck routes. 

In June 2012 318 was the pilot for the replacement of the roller blinds with LED displays leading to most of the 2003/4/6 batches being treated. In November 2012 it had its sole repaint into the standard black and yellow livery having run in a rear end advert for a local health initative for much of the year. 

Sadly on 23 January 2016 vandals set fire to seats on the top deck causing roof damage. Its engine was donated to a sister bus and after stripping it has now gone for scrap.

From the Archives: Routes 2 and 15 1920s to the 1980s

Abingdon Street Bus Stop shows services 2, 2A, 15, 15A and 15C - all (with the 15B) part of the complex group of services which ran along Newton Drive
Part of Blackpool's bus network originated in private hands with William Smith running buses to Bispham, Poulton and in Fleetwood and South Shore. The routes started in the 1920s and included a bus from Talbot Mews Bus Station via Newton Drive to the Plough Inn at Staining from October 1923. This was later extended to Hardhorn and Poulton.

Smith sold out to Blackpool Council (as Smith was a Blackpool Councillor, today this move would probably be controversial!) and BCT progressively absorbed his services. The Poulton via Staining route became BCT route 2 from April 1927 but in September was split to provide two basic hourly services along Newton Drive to Staining Road End with route 2 continuing along Normoss Road, Longhouse Lane and Hardhorn Road to Poulton Market Square and the 15 taking Staining Road End to the Plough. 

For about a year in 1933/4 the 2 became a circular, linked across Poulton with route 1 via Castle Gardens and Carleton to Blackpool. A minor route change saw buses leave the Bus Station via Talbot Road, Abingdon Street and Church St rather than the more direct Cookson Street. Route 2 appeared to have the higher profile and surviving accident records show new Leyland Tigers 102-113 as regulars on the 2 in 1935, while the 15 typically used 1928 vintage Lions 55 to 66.

From October 1936 extra short workings ran from Blackpool Bus Station to the brand new Victoria Hospital via Newton Drive displaying route 15A. Neither the 2 or 15 ventured off Newton Drive to the Hospital entrance. This used double deckers from the start and was soon extended from the Bus Station to Layton Station via Dickson Road and Warbreck Hill Road giving a cross town link to the Hospital. From June 1938 a second extra service, the 15B started running as far as Staining Road End and this made a ten minute service over the common sections with the 2 and 15. The 15A evolved as a separate service, though the section to Layton was dropped for the war.

PD2 334 approaches Talbot Road Bus Station to work a 15B working to Staining Road End in 1967
Double deckers were first introduced to the 2 and 15 in 1940 and 1942 saw the reversing point for the 15A at the Hospital gates replaced by a loop via Whinney Heys Road and Whinpark Avenue that is still followed by service buses today. Yet another service variation - the 2A - started in 1947 providing a winter service over route 2 as far as Hardhorn Road corner. With a variety of service numbers and individual timetables which didn't draw attention to the combined headway achieved along Newton Drive - the service pattern was never particularly clear to the casual observer. Analysis of the 1953 timetable reveals the following.

  • A 10 minute frequency from Bus Station to Staining Road End (just beyond the Borough Boundary) as services 2, 15 and 15B.
  • Service 2 continued every 40 minutes to Poulton via Hardhorn (into what is now Wyre Borough)
  • Service 15 turned right every 40 minutes onto Staining Road to Staining Village (in what is now Fylde Borough)
  • Service 15B terminated at Staining Road End every 20 minutes, buses reversing into Dobson Road to turn round.
  • On Summer afternoons and evenings the 2 was increase to every 20 minutes, with the extra trips running in tandem with the 15s over the common section.
  • In the winter an extra 40 minute service ran as the 2A as far as Hardhorn Corner from 1200 to 1900 Monday to Friday and 1000 to 1900 on Saturdays with two extra evening journeys.
On top of all this route 15A ran every 12 minutes from Layton to the Hospital in the winter and every 10 in the summer. The table below shows the afternoon departure pattern from Talbot Road in place in the late 1950s. A basic 5 minute summer service ran formed with either a 2 or 15B between each 15A. The 15 workings ran in tandem with the 2. Winter headways were at least every 10 minutes but with at least 12 per hour but much less even than in the winter.

Winter 58/9Summer 59
13:1115BStaining Rd End13:1115BStaining Rd End
13:3115BStaining Rd End13:3115BStaining Rd End
13:5115BStaining Rd End13:5115BStaining Rd End
Staining Rd End
Staining Rd End
14:3115BStaining Rd End14:3115BStaining Rd End
14:5115BStaining Rd End14:5115BStaining Rd End

Minor changes saw an extension of route 15 from Staining Plough to the new Whalley Estate where the buses reversed into Bibby Drive. 1955 saw the 15A extended from Layton Station to Bispham Tram Depot via Bispham Road and Red Bank Road and it was increased to every 10 minutes for most of the day in the summer but still ran every 12 minutes in the winter.

An unusual operation in Summer 1956 was service 1A which ran from Castle Gardens over the 1 and 14 route to Blackpool and then via route 2 to Poulton running every 40 minutes to make a 20 minute frequency to Poulton with service 2 (which remained every 40 minutes). From 1957 the previous pattern with service 2 running every 20 minutes in the summer resumed.

13 August 1983: An elderly clientele clambers aboard Lancet 599 at Poulton Church
Also by 1956 a summer special service 15C was in operation linking Blackpool with the Newton Hall Holiday Camp on Staining Road. This did not appear in public timetables and is believed to run on a limited basis. 

The winter service 2A ended after 1959 and the 2 was increase to every 20 minutes from 1200 (1000 on Saturdays). Cut backs began in the 1960s with a reduction in evening and Sunday services from 1963. Residential developments in Poulton and Staining encouraged a simplification and enhancements of the 2 and 15. By Winter 1964 the 2 and 15 provided a 20 minute frequency from 1200-1900 (Winter M-F) and 1000-1900 (Sat and summer Mon-Fri) with a 40 minute service at other times. The 15B now provided a handful of morning trips to supplement the lower frequency of the 2 and 15 and by the end of the decade was no longer listed as a separate route but was still displayed on the bus blinds. 5 buses were required. The 15A was cut back in frequency during the late 1960s with a 12 minute summer and 20 minute winter frequency in place.

In February 1982 the 15/15A were revised again. The 15A no longer served the Zoo - its off peak journeys were diverted to Grange Park Estate (giving a link from there to the Hospital) showing 15B while peak journeys were extended to Staining to replace the short 15 journeys. The sole difference between the 15 and 15A was that only the latter served the Hospital.
Route 15B ran from 1982-1986 providing an off peak link from Grange Park to Victoria Hospital and onto Blackpool and Bispham. 353 runs through Grange Park in 1986.
The 2/2A continued on its 20/30 minute frequency, but the enhanced service was cut back to start at 1515 meaning only four round trips along Highcross Avenue.
National 548 leaves Poulton for Blackpool on route 2 in 1986
Deregulation in 1986 saw a simplification of the pattern with the 2 and 15 co-ordinated once more to make a 15 minute service along Newton Drive (2 every 30 minutes, 2A every hour and 15 every hour) with all buses continuing to Bispham via Devonshire Road (2) or Warbreck Drive (2A/15) replacing routes 7/7A (Bispham Circular). Evening/Sunday services ran every hour as 2A Poulton to Bispham and 2 Blackpool to Bispham only). Extra 2 (Poulton to Blackpool) evening services were provided under contract to Lancashire County Council by Fylde who also ran peak and evening/Sunday journeys on the 15.

Swift 580 leaves Talbot Road Bus Station on route 2A one afternoon in April 1980
21 December 1971 saw route 15A converted to OPO AEC Swifts which terminated at Bispham Clinic rather than the former Tram Depot, but were later extended to terminate at Warbreck Drive/Cavendish Road where buses turned in a triangular junction layout. The 15A now ran every 20 minutes (days) and 30 mins evenings but in the summer extra buses ran every 20 minutes from Hospital to Cornwall Place (near Gynn Square) on weekdays to make a 10 minute service while the Sunday service was doubled to every 15 minutes. The Winter 1971 timetable also saw some weekday afternoon journeys on route 2 diverted via Highcross Road instead of Longhouse Lane passing Baines School. These ran every 40 minutes from 1200-1840.  
February 1973 saw the Sunday 2 and 15 reduced to every 48 minutes so they could be operated with one bus each and summer 1973 saw the extra short 15A workings continue to Antrim Road (turning via Warbreck Hill Road/Devonshire Road roundabout). From the winter the 15A dropped to every 24 minutes (3 buses) on weekdays and the even more unusual 36 minute headway evenings and Sundays. 

6 May 1974 saw the 2 and 15 converted to OMO as the 15 could now turn via the Nook near Staining Plough - depriving Whalley Estate of its bus service until c1975 when Fylde council completed the construction of the present turning circle near Bibby Drive. Route 2 now ran every 20 minutes in the morning peak and afternoon (one per hour as 2A); every 30 minutes from 9am to 12 noon and again in the evening with a 60 minute Sunday service. The 15 ran 2-3 times per hour in the morning peak, every hour 0900-1200 and every 30 minutes until 1900 then hourly evenings and Sundays. This meant there was now no co-ordination between the 2 and 15 along Newton Drive.

The 2 was a common test bed for demonstrators - here Ipswich Dennis Falcon loads alongside one of Blackpool's traditional bus shelters on Newton Drive.
1977 saw route 15A reduced to every 30 minutes (45 Sundays and no evening service) and it was extended the short distance from Victoria Hospital to Blackpool Zoo. One way systems affected the services with outbound routes diverted via Caunce Street and Grosvenor Street in Blackpool in 1976 while Poulton Square was pedestrianised in the 1970s.

January 1980 saw a merger of routes 15 and 15A which now provided a standard 30 minute frequency service from Cavendish Road (Bispham) to Newton Drive with one per hour to Staining as service 15 and one per hour to the Hospital and Zoo as 15A. Some extra peak hour Blackpool to Staining runs were provided. Atlanteans were usually used, while the 2 retain its single deckers.
Atlantean 336 at the Cavendish Road terminus of the 15/15A in 1980

20 Years of the Optare Excel

Excel 217 in original livery on layover at Saltcotes Road on Line 7. (Brian Turner)

History has shown Blackpool - bus wise - to favour the tried and tested. For years it standardised on the Leyland Titan - though did wait until its fifth year of production before taking the plunge. The Atlantean neared its 20th birthday before the first were purchased - Leyland Nationals were eschewed until they were almost obsolete and it was only circumstance that saw the first Olympians arrive just six years into production. 1982 had seen a brave venture into the unknown with the Dennis Lancet, an odyssey rewarded with teething troubles, unreliability and passenger complaints. However this was a new supplier to the company brought on by municipal tendering. By 1995 Optare was Blackpool's main supplier when it launched its new Excel 'low floor' single decker at the Bus and Coach show in the autumn.

Blackpool Transport had been in discussions with Lancashire County Council about using the new design on a quality partnership for routes 44A/B (Cleveleys Park to Mereside/Marton Mere) then operated by its subsidiary Fylde Transport Ltd. Eight were duly ordered and the first arrived on Sunday 21 April 1996 moving to Squires Gate Depot quite quickly. It was numbered 201 (N201LCK) and was painted all-over yellow. Seating was for 36 in the 10m body.

Excel 208 framed by the depot doors at Squires Gate in 1998 (Brian Turner)
Three more followed during May (202-4 N202-4LCK) and all four were launched by two characters from Coronation Street at the Sandcastle Centre on 30 May. They entered service on 3 June initially converting the 44A journeys. 205-208 followed during July and progressively entered service to convert the 44B journeys. 208 was the last and hit the road on 12 July - just nine days before Fylde ceased as a separate company. These were body numbers 9024-7 (201-4) and 9031-4 (205-8) - the numbering series starting at 9022, and just a demonstrator and a Thorpes of London example precede 201 in numerical order.
One of the first batch - 202 - returned to the Fylde in 2006 on Cumfybus service X7 Blackpool-Southport (Brian Turner)

8 buses for 8 workings was always asking for trouble and it was clear that 100% low floor operation was unlikely to be guarantee-able. 3 of the 4 trips per hour were designated "operated by Easy Access Handybuses at all times (except for emergencies)" and the others would be so operated where possible. The 44A departures at xx18 from Mereside and xx15 from Cleveleys Park were the designated non compliant workings. During the evening four Excels went onto the 333 and 444 services - the partially subsidised evening/Sunday versions of the 33, 44A and 44B with the 333 running Fleetwood-Marton Mere and the 444 Cleveleys Park to Marton Mere. These also ran on Sundays with 3 Excels though there was no Cleveleys to Fleetwood section on the 333 then. The routes interworked at Marton Mere with no scheduled layover time - drivers had the challenge of changing nine number blinds and two destination blinds with no time to spare!

Despite using established and successful mechanical components, these early Excels proved troublesome. Fylde's mechanics worked miracles to keep them on the road with evening maintenance undertaken. Optare provided support under warranty and took each one back for rectification during 1998. Four demonstrators were used with P446SWX in February/March, N330EUG (the very first) from February to May, P447SWX from June to September and R98HUA briefly in July 1998. Although mostly used on the dedicated routes the Excels did get the wanderlust - occasionally straying from the straight and narrow. An afternoon school working on route 191 (Hodgson School-Great Eccleston) saw the odd Excel and the occasional working on the 154/8 to Preston was recorded.
Demonstrator T790KNW on the 44A in 2011 (Brian Turner)
The problems were exacerbated with the closure of Squires Gate Depot in April 1999. Rigby Road depot was now at capacity and the space was not there for overnight repairs. Availability plummeted - days with just three out of eight serviceable were not unknown. By now Optare had admitted defeat and agreed to replace the batch with 9 new examples - this time to 10.7m length with 40 seats. This matched one of the demonstrators, though some difficulties around Stanley School had resulted from its deployment.

The nine replacements were numbered 210-218 (T210-8HCW) and also arrived in two batches. 210 was first on 15 July 1999 with 211-213 following within the week. 210/1 made their debut on 29 July, 212 the following day and 213 on 3 August. These replaced 201/3/4 which left on 27 August. 214-218 arrived in late August/early September and allowed 202, 205-208 to be withdrawn by 13 September and they joined their sisters at Optare's Rotherham facility at the end of the month. Interestingly 214-218 could have legitimately received V-prefix plates but didn't - though a drawing of 214 as V214HCW hung in the company's offices for some time.

210-218 settled into service on the 44A/B and 333/444 which now enjoyed a spare low floor bus - or did until January 2000 when a ninth was added to the cycle. For the next 18 months the Excels were used virtually exclusively on this group of routes, though 211 did sneak onto the St. Annes Roamer 77 on one occasion! A further demonstrator was used during February/March 2000 with Mercedes (rather than Cummins) engined T790KNW covering for accident damaged 210.
214 on Line 4 in the Metro Era at Tesco. The buses were not repainted into Line 4 livery but carried a small sticker on the dash. (Brian Turner)

The company's network review in 2001 led to the 44A/B being replaced by Metro Line 4 in April 2001 with a reduction to every 20 minutes with seven Excels needed. The 4 also ran in the evening and on Sunday using two buses. The excels were proving too large for the route and in January 2003 moved onto Line 5 (Staining-Hospital-Halfway House) which required all nine - though 217 was missing until April having sustained serious accident damage back in December. This lasted until 21 March 2004 when nine new Solos replaced them on Line 5 and the Excels went into temporary storage - 210 was already off having suffered an electrical fire in February.

The Excels retained Handybus livery when moved to Line 5, but have lost the branding on the side. Indeed 218 has lost its fleet number too. It is seen at Grange Road  on 16 March 2004 (Brian Turner)

211 and 215 immediately went into the paint shop and emerged in Line 7 purple livery replacing two Deltas on 19 April. 210 followed after repairs in May, 214/6/3 in June, 212 in July and 217 in August. 218 was also repainted - carrying the pool Black and yellow livery. 218 regularly ran on the 7 but also appeared on the 14 to cover the guaranteed low floor commitment on this otherwise Trident operated route.

19 April 2015 and 211 makes its debut on Line 7 in purple and yellow (Brian Turner)

Ex Go North East 220 demonstrates pool livery at Lytham Square (Brian Turner)

Although better than 201-208 reliability was still disappointing and it was rare to experience a full low floor output on Line 7. At the time several other operators were disposing of their Excels - mainly to eager buyers in Ireland - though some did travel all the way to New Zealand! Blackpool decided to persevere with the marque and bought three from Go North East - 219-21 (T880/1/4RBR) arriving on 22 December 2004 and entering service in pool livery in late Jan/early Feb.

It was decided to embark on a refurbishment programme in 2007 following a pilot by East Yorkshire where the Cummins ISB engine was proven to be reliable. 210 was the first treated in summer 2007 with 210 following and 212 done during the winter. All three had a body overhaul with improved panel fixings to reduce rattles.
217 undergoing the bodywork aspects of refurbishment - May 2009

Three more were treated in 2008 - 213 was completed in August, 220 in October and 216 in early 2009. The process slowed as other projects took priority and 217/8 became defective in 2008. 218 was selected for refurbishment in June 2009 - after ten months in store with 217 following soon after. Both returned to use in November. 215 and 219 followed with 219 back in use in February 2010 and 215 to follow soon having returned from Cummins on 2 March. 

220 showing off the new light clusters and engine ventilation grills

Line 7 was increased in frequency in January 2009 so five more Excels were purchased form Reading Buses in October 2008 - 222-226 T922-6EAN. All had a minor bodywork overhaul - but not the engine change - and entered service on 26 January. 222/3 carry pool livery 224-226 Line 7 colours. The refurbishment continued during 2011 and 2012 concluding with 225.

The programme, which also involves body work overhaul and, usually a repaint has involved the following vehicles with their completion date and livery.

  • 1  210   September 2007 (Line 7 livery, since into new livery)
  • 2  211   November 2007 (Line 7 livery, since into new livery)
  • 3  212   March 2008 (Line 7 livery)
  • 4  213   August 2008 (Line 7 livery)
  • 5  220   October 2008 (pool livery)
  • 6  216   January 2009 (Line 7 livery)
  • 7  218   November 2009 (no repaint, kept pool livery)
  • 8  217   November 2009 (Line 7 livery)
  • 9  219   February 2010 (pool livery)
  • 10 215  June 2010 (Line 7 livery)
  • 11 212  January 2011 (new livery)
  • 12 224  February 2011 (new livery)
  • 13 221  September 2011 (retained pool livery but soon repainted into new livery)
  • 14 222  December 2011 (new livery)
  • 15 226  January 2012 (for new livery)
  • 16 223  May 2012 (new livery)
  • 17 225  August 2012 (retained Line 7 livery)

One of the Reading Excels on diverted Line 7 at North Pier (Brian Turner)

An 18th Excel -R742BUJ - arrived on 17 February 2010, but only for component recovery having been sold by Choice Travel in 2009 after accident damage. It lasted barely one month, going for scrap on 25 March.

On 26 July 2010 a major network change saw the 7 converted to Solos, with Excels allocated mainly to the 2/2C and 17. The 7 later reverted to big buses with Excels now most common on the 7 and 11, but still appearing on 2C and at times on the 1, 9 and 17.

With the end of the Metro identity a new black and yellow livery was introduced. 214 was the first treated, but was under refurbishment, so 211 was the first to enter service, with 224 also treated during 2010. Further repaints took place in 2011 (210/21/222), 2012 (212/5/6/7 and 223), 2013 (213, 218-220, 225). 225 was the last to carry Line 7 livery in January 2013. 218's repaint in April 2013 was only its second - having received pool livery back in 2004. 219 was the last to be repainted in October 2013.

226 in the post 2010 livery passing the remains of Pontins

The end of 2015 would prevent vehicles which did not confirm to PSVAR regulations (aka DDA complaint) from use in service. BTS decided to convert some Excels so Bus and Coach World were contracted to the work with 216 and 220 first treated in June 2013 with 219, 221, 223 and 226 following by the end of the year. 224 was treated in January 2014 with 225 following. Then the projected ended and with some service reductions it was decided to withdraw Excels.

212, 214 and 215 went into store at the start of 2014, but were later reinstated with 210/2/3 in store by May. 211 did run again but by the end of the year 210-213 had been permanently retired. 214/5 joined them in early 2015. This left 11 in use at the start of May as their new replacement Citaros were in stock. 217 and 226 were stood down during the month leaving nine for a 'last day' on 31 May. 218, 220-4 on 2C and 216/19/25 on 17. 218 last trip 1918 ex Poulton - but 225 came in last 'on tow'.

Typically this last day was not a final farewell as 224 and 225 returned to use on 30 June followed by 216, 219 and 220 in early July. After a period in store in November/December, these continued into use in 2016, but were gradually picked off. 224 first, 216 in August, 219 and 220 in September and October leaving just 225 to fly the flag.

Withdrawals and Disposals.
210May 201412/02/2015 Parton, Carlton Scrap
21113/08/1409/02/2015 Parton, Carlton Scrap
212December 2014 Feb 2015Parton, Carlton Scrap 
213May 201411/02/2015Parton, Carlton Scrap
214February 201525/07/2016Parton, Carlton Scrap 
21519/01/2015Feb 2015Parton, Carlton Scrap 
21605/08/2016in storeLast of 'new' batch to operate
21721/05/201527/07/2016Parton, Carlton Scrap 
21831/05/2015August 2016Parton, Carlton Scrap
21919/09/2016in storein store
22030/09/2016in storein store
22131/05/2015tbcParton, Carlton Scrap 
22231/05/201527/07/2016Parton, Carlton Scrap
22331/05/2015in storein store
224By May 2016in storein store
225Still in ServiceStill in Service Still in Service
22620/05/2016in storein store

The Pioneer Batch afterlife
The pioneer batch has had mixed fortunes with some remaining on Optare's books for well over a year- their reputation clearly preceding them.

  • 201 Jan 2001 - Dukes, Coleford then Jan 2002 to GHA Wrexham to scrap May 2012
  • 202 Feb 2000 - Swanbrook, Cheltenham then 12/04 to Cumfybus, Southport. Sold Oct 2007 and not licensed since, was stored in Northfleet in 2010 but presumed now scrapped
  • 203 Feb 2000 - Reliance, Great Gonnerby, later taken over by Mass then by Centrebus to scrap late 2010
  • 204 Mar 2000 - Ludlows of Halesowen, Jan 2005 - Classic Annfield Plain - sold for spares 2009.
  • 205 Feb 2000 - Swanbrook, Cheltenham then 12/04 to Cumfybus, Southport. Sold Oct 2007 and not licensed since, to Richards, Cardigan 2010 for spares
  • 206 Jan 2001 - Dukes, Coleford then Jan 2002 to GHA Wrexham (and current to scrap May 2012
  • 207 Oct 2000 - Docherty Irvine, Oct 2004 taken over by Stagecoach Western, Jan 2007 to Stagecoach Yorkshire at Chesterfield scrapped 2010
  • 208 Oct 2000 - Docherty Irvine, Oct 2004 taken over by Stagecoach Western, Jan 2007 to Stagecoach Yorkshire at Chesterfield October 2011
Former 208 with Stagecoach in Chesterfield in 2010 (M Crisp)