Wednesday, 7 December 2016

The Solo Story

Solo 265 in original livery but on Metro Line 3 passes Marton windmill in 2001 (Brian Turner)
Leeds based Optare was Blackpool's standard bus supplier from 1987 to 2009, supplying 80% of the fleet's new buses - the other 20% were all double deckers (12 Olympians and 30 Tridents). Optare supplied:
  • 32 City Pacers (plus three ex demonstrators) on Volkswagen LT55 chassis in 1987/8
  • 28 Deltas on DAF SB220LC chassis from 1990 to 1993
  • 17 Excels in 1996 and 1999
  • 31 Metroriders from 1995 to 1998 
  • and 57 Solos from 2000 to 2009
The Solo was the third generation of Optare midibus and the first to feature a low floor. A demonstrator was tried for a week on the 26 in March 1999 as S794XUG which was the second complete vehicle built. An order for 15 resulted, to replace the last City Pacers. These became 261-269 and 271-276 (V261HEC etc) and arrived during November 1999 (except 276 which arrived in December). 261-3 were used for driver training ahead of the launch of the type on route 33 (Cleveleys to Mereside). 261/3/7/8 provided the four bus workings on the first day (4 January) with all of 261-8 in use that week. The last seven (269, 271-6) entered service on 31 January to convert the 23-25 (Mereside to Hospital and Staining) to Solo operation - replacing the last City Pacers. This needed 9 buses with 4 on the 33 and two spare. The spare buses often appeared on the 44A/B (Cleveleys- Mereside) as cover for the Optare Excels.

Mercedes engines were standard in the Solo when launched, rather than the Cummins units in the Metrorider and Excel. The Metro Coastlines network launched in April 2001 replaced both main Solo route groups. New Line 3 (Mereside to Cleveleys) replaced much of the 33 with Line 5 (Staining to Lindale Gardens) succeeding the 23-25 and the Solos duly moved over. The Metro network brought with it route branding and individual liveries. Between March and May 2002 261 to 266 were repainted blue and yellow for Line 3. 267-9/71-4 retained black and yellow Handybus livery, but with stickers for Line 5, leaving 275 and 276 as spare buses. 
262 (r) and 271 (l) show the contrasting Line 3 and 4 liveries at Mereside Tesco in 2005
In January 2003 it was decided to swap the Solos and Excels between routes 4 and 5. 271 was duly repainted into Line 4 'Cadbury Blue' and yellow scheme, followed by 267-9 in December 2003 / January 2004 and 272 in November 2004. 273-6 retained Handybus livery until they we repainted into the black and yellow pool livery in October 2004/January 2005. 265/6 also moved onto Line 4 and gained that livery in March 2004.
Lifestyle Line Solo 279 pauses at temporary stops during the remodelling of the Mereside Tesco car park and bus stops in 2004 (Brian Turner)
The next Solos were an usual venture in that they were purchased by Blackpool Council for use on a new tendered service 'Lifestyle Line L1' which was operated by BTS. Six were ordered using government funding from the 'Urban Bus Challenge'. The L1 (Morrisons to Norcross) started on 8 July and needed four buses. Five of the six Solos duly entered service as 278 to 282 (YG02FVP/R/S/T/U) , with the sixth kept in store as 277 pending a future extension of the service. A second UBC bid extended the L1 to run Manchester Square to Fleetwood and provided funding for two more Solos as 283/4 (PN03UGG/H) - this time owned by Lancashire County Council. They entered service on 1 June alongside 277. This first ran as YG02FWH but as it was realised it could legitimately carry and 03 plate, it was registered PL03BPZ after a few days.

A further Lancashire owned Solo - 285 (YN04XYZ) arrived in May 2004 for Kirkham Roamer service 70.
Kirkham Roamer branded 285 in Newton (Brian Turner)

New Line 5 bus 256 passes original 273 on Talbot Road (Brian Turner)
With Tridents the focus of investment in 2002-2004, it was decided to add a batch of Solos in spring 2004 to aid fleet renewal. It was decided to cascade Excels from Line 5 to 7 to allow Deltas onto the 11 and allow more double deckers to be withdrawn. 12 Solos were ordered, this time to a longer wheelbase (9.5m length v 8.5m before) and with Cummins engines, which were now offered instead. 33 seats were fitted v 28 on the initial batch (277-84 were 29 seaters and 285 27 seat).
Brand new Lines 3 and 5 solos 258 and 256 sandwiched by 276 and Metrorider 503 (Brian Turner)
Nine of the new buses were delivered in red/yellow for Line 5 (249-257) and three for Line 3 (258-60) which allowed 265/6 to move to Line 4. The PVR of the 5 dropped to eight in November 2004 with the withdrawal of the Staining  and uniquely the 5 had more branded buses than it needed - until May 2006 when 249 was modified to Line 2 green livery. Kirkham Roamer 285 was also painted into Line 2 livery in August 2006 as this route had replaced the Roamer. At some point BTS assumed ownership. 
293 in the early evening at Corporation Street terminus of Line 16 (Brian Turner)
The Lifestyle Line funding drew to an end in 2007. The service was revised into a new commercial 'Line 16' and to assist Blackpool Council funded the capital cost of new Solos, while BTS purchased the existing ones from the council. Another eight Solos arrived in a light blue/yellow scheme. They were numbered 286-293. The existing Solos were cascaded onto other services and repainted with 277/8/80 gaining pool livery and 279, 281-4 gaining Line 2 green.

A third batch of 33 seaters followed in May 2008 with 294-297 replacing 261-4 on Line 3 - the older four gained pool livery. 248 provided an extra bus on Line 5 (which again needed nine), while 247 arrived in Line 2 green - which now had eight Solos. 247 was the 50th Solo. 240-246 followed in May 2009 for Line 2.
296 in Line 3 colours, on the 5 after the Metro identities had been abandoned (Brian Turner)

The last batch, 241 and 242 pass through St John's Square on Line 2 (Brian Turner)

With all 57 Solos in the fleet they were split as:
  • Line 2 (green) 240-247, 249, 279, 281-285 (15)
  • Line 3 (blue) 258-260, 294-7 (7)
  • Line 4 (Cadbury Blue) 265-269, 271/2 (7)
  • Line 5 (Red) 248, 250-257 (9)
  • Line 16 (light blue) 286-293 (8)
  • Pool (black/yellow) 261-4, 273-8, 280 (11)
September 2009 saw some network changes which reduced the 3 and 16 to 6 buses each, so 286/7 and 294 moved onto Line 2 and 279, 281-3 gained pool livery. The end of the Metro network in 2010 saw Solos move from route 2 to route 7. The line colours were progressively replaced by the new black/yellow livery with repaints as follows:
  • 2010 - 288-90/3
  • 2011 - 250-255, 284-7, 291/2
  • 2012 - 241/2, 248/9, 256/7, 260, 277/8
  • 2013 - 240, 243-247, 258/9, 280 (stored) 283, 294-7 (258/9, 294-6 with Resort Hopper advertising)
  • 2014 - 279
240/1/7 with Western Greyhound May to November 2013 helping out due to a devastating fire with destroyed over 30 of their buses.
290 was the first bus to operate in the new livery on 28 July 2010, it is seen here a few weeks later in Lytham during the spell of Solo operation on Line 7 which ended in early 2011 (Brian Turner)
Withdrawals
The first Solos were withdrawn during the first half 2011 with 261-266 with 267-274 following in Autumn 2012. 280/1were also withdrawn in November 2012 but 281 was reinstated in May. 275/6 completed withdrawal of the initial batch in March 2013. 261/2/4 were purchased by the Centrebus group with 261 going to Bowers of Chapel-en-le-Frith and 262/4 to the Yorkshire operation. This was later sold and became Yorkshire Tiger for whom 262/4 still operate in Halifax after a period in Leeds.
Solo 264 was one of the first disposals - it latterly carried pool livery and is seen here in January 2011 on short lived service 18 betwen St. Annes and Lytham (Brian Turner)

263/5/6 were sold to Holmeswood Travel, near Ormskirk (266 as R5HWD) but were sold onto Centrebus in early 2012, rejoining its sisters. 263 joined 261 at Bowers with cherished plate B8WER, while 265/6 went to Yorkshire but soon moved to Bowers - which later became High Peak Buses. 266 moved to the main Centrebus fleet in 2015. 261 was sent for scrap in May 2015, while 263 was withdrawn later that year and is also believed scrapped. 265 was withdrawn in August 2015 and 266 survived until the summer. 

Solos on Line 5 were quite commonly seen in pairs as it was prone to bunching - here two, colour coordinated with Pricebusters (Brian Turner) 

Disposals
NoWithdrawnSoldDisposalCurrent
261February 2011May 2011Centrebus GroupScrapped
262February 2011May 2011Centrebus GroupYorkshire Tiger
263March 2011May 2011Holmeswood Travel presumed scrapped
264April 2011May 2011Centrebus GroupYorkshire Tiger
265March 2011May 2011Holmeswood Travel presumed scrapped
266May 2011May 2011Holmeswood Travel presumed scrapped
267October 2012June 2014Blackpool Council Blackpool Council 
268October 2012Oct 2013Private (spares)Scrapped 
269October 2012Jan 2013Halton TransportHalton Transport (withdrawn)
271October 2012Jan 2013Halton TransportHalton Transport
272October 2012Jan 2013Halton TransportHalton Transport
273November 2012July 2013Halton TransportStar Travel, Aylesbury
274November 2012July 2013Halton TransportHalton Transport
275March 2013July 2013Partons, ScrapHalton Transport
276March 2013July 2013Halton TransportHalton Transport
277August 2016August 2016Private for SparesScrapped
278May 2016August 2016Private for SparesScrapped
279August 2016August 2016Private for SparesScrapped
280November 2012March 2015Partons, ScrapScrapped
281March 2014January 2015PrivateThe Eden, West Auckland
282March 2014January 2015PrivateThe Eden, West Auckland
283November 2014March 2015Partons, ScrapScrapped
284May 2016August 2016PrivatePrivate owner, Blackpool
285August 2015? 2016PrivatePrivate owner, Blackpool

Solo 284, one of the Lifestyle Line examples at Mereside (Brian Turner)

Today

With all the Mercedes engined Solos sold, the 33 Cummins engined examples remain (240-260, 284-296). Routes 3, 4, 10, 15, 16 and 17 are the main Solo routes - though they do appear elsewhere. 

Interior of Solo 263 (Brian Turner)

The later interior with revised seating on 296 (Brian Turner)

Friday, 2 December 2016

Third Time Unlucky?

After one reprieve and a false goodbye, it seems that 225 has now finally worked its last duty with a day on the 11 on Tuesday 29th November. It started with the 0615 from Market Street to Lytham working seven round trips finishing with the 1902 Lytham Square to Market Street working.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

The Metrorider Story


Blackpool Metroriders carried a variety of fleet liveries, with 2 Handybus, green, blue, silver and pink Metrolivery, black and mustard/grey pool livery. The latter is shown to effect on 592 operating on Line 10 (Brian Turner)

The ‘minibus revolution’ of the mid 1980s was predicated on replacing big buses with cheaper, smaller, more frequent minibuses. NBC led the process, experimenting with Ford Transit van conversions. Unit costs were much lower – partly because drivers did not require a full psv license at the time (they do now, however) yet some questioned the validity of the economics given that the Transit had a short service life and it took several to replace one big bus. Manufacturers and operators started to stretch the concept and the van conversion era soon moved to the coachbuild era. Northern Counties, in particular, started coach building bodies on Dodge S56 chassis cowls. Optare broke the mould with its stylish City Pacer – on a van chassis but without the cowl. MCW then launched the Metrorider with similar appearance to the City Pacer but as an integral rather than as a van descendant. MCW closed down in 1989 and Optare bought the rights to the Metrorider, redesigning it and re-launching it.

Blackpool chose the City Pacer for its minibus fleet and moved onto Optare’s Delta to replace its single deckers. When the City Pacer replacements became due, Optare – not surprisingly – wanted the business. It had already provided a demonstrator back in May 1991 (H844UUA) but in March 1995 a seed vehicle arrived in full Handybus black and yellow livery as 584 (M924TYG) – built for stock by Optare. It spent six weeks on service 26 from Rigby Road and a month at Squires Gate on Fylde’s 44B before returning to Rigby Road. It was duly taken onto the permanent fleet strength and eight more were ordered. These arrived as 585-592 (N585-92GRN) in October and November 1995. All nine were normally to be found on the 2/2A/2B (Poulton to Bispham) though did appear on other minibus routes on Sundays. 

584-596 and 501-4 arrived in the City Pacer inspired black livery with a yellow skirt - 502 turns onto Longhouse Lane at Hardhorn Corner in 2001 (Brian Turner)

A long wheelbase 29 seat example arrived for demonstration in January 1996 as P507NWU, but the next batch of eight was ordered as 25 seaters again. The first four were 593-6 (N593-6LFV) and arrived in May, with the second four coming in September as 501-504 (P501-504UFR). With 17 now in stock allowing the full 2 route to be covered by Metroriders, 584-587 moved to Squires Gate Depot to work the 33 (Cleveleys-Mereside) inherited from Fylde. Various sisters – including 588/9 – briefly ran from Squires Gate with 589/91 moving there in April 1998 to convert route 193 to minibus operation. The depot closed in April 1999 by which time several Metoriders had spells there.

589, meanwhile, was an unusual example of a minibus that received an all-over advert. It promoted Harvey’s American diner from October 1997 to September 1998 when it emerged in a reversed livery of yellow with black skirt rather than the established black with yellow skirt.


By 1998 the City Pacer fleet was down to 18 and a batch of 14 further Metroriders was expected to see these off. However as they arrived between October and December 1998 an elaborate cascade plan was put into place. The new buses would convert the 12A and 26 back from Delta operation to minibuses (undoing a change made in August 1996), the Deltas eventually moved onto the 11, 11A and 12, releasing Atlanteans for school work, in turn releasing several very old Atlanteans for disposal.

The 14 S-reg Metroriders were originally split between the 12A and 26, here just into the Metro era 513 is waiting at South Pier terminus on 23 May while sister 505 is working the short lived 8A to Mereside (Brian Turner)
The new buses were 505-518 (S505-518LHG) and arrived in the mainly yellow livery pioneered on 589. 505-515 entered service on 7 December (505/6/9/11/13/14 on the 26, 507/8/10/12/15 on the 12A) with the last three following over the next couple of weeks as they arrived. From January 2000 a total of 24 buses were now required in service covering routes 2/2A/2B (9), 12A (5), 26 (7), 77 (1) and 193 (2) with new Solos replacing the City Pacers and operating on the 23, 24, 25 and 33.

In August 2000 BTS withdrew services 77 and 193 which used three minibuses and place its first Metroriders into store, with 586 and 587 being delicensed. During the summer routine repaints into the new livery commenced with 584, 588, 590, 594 and 595 treated. 2001 started with the reinstatement of 586 and 587 but the withdrawal of 585. This returned to use in early April following the sudden demise of Phoenix North West. At the start of the month BTS had resumed the 77 (St. Annes Roamer) and soon after Phoenix ceased trading with BT taking on the emergency contracts for routes 7 (Kirkham Roamer) 10 (Pheasants Wood-Halfway House), 53 (Poulton- Halfway House) and 180/2 (Poulton to Preston) which needed seven minibuses. This resulted in some big bus workings on minibus services however the introduction of the new Metro network from the end of April was intended to reduce the minibus requirement. The new services included a revised Line 2 (Poulton to Blackpool with 7 buses), route 26 (South Pier to Mereside with 7 buses) and routes 8/8A/9 (South Shore to Marton with 2 buses) This 16, plus the 8 required for tendered services occupied the 31 buses nicely. Another surprising addition was tendered service 88 (Fleetwood-Knott End-Lancaster) in July 2001 using 2 more buses. Sundays also saw Metroriders operate tendered service 167 (St. Annes to Preston) between May 2001 and October 2005 and the 158 (Knott End to Preston) from October 2003 to October 2005

In July 2001 the process of dedicating buses to services progressed with 505-10 allocated to Line 2, 511-516 to Line 26 and – surprisingly – 517 to Line 3. The six buses on the 26 were all quickly repainted into its green/yellow livery during September and October and then attention turned to painting spares into the generic yellow, mustard and grey livery. 590-5 and 501/2 had all been treated by February. The 8/8A/9, 10 and 53 were revised into a new 8-10 group in November 2001 but then completely withdrawn in April 2002 along with the 180/2 and the Lancaster service followed in July. This allowed 584-588 to be withdrawn, though 584 was soon reinstated.
Line 2 green was the most common Metro livery on the Metroriders with 501-518 and 595 all treated - 19 out of the 31 (Brian Turner)

Also in April 2002 the 2 and 26 were merged, this also incorporating parts of the 8-10 group with 14 buses required. Line 26 Green was adopted - nothing ever received the intended black/yellow Line 2 livery, though it was later adopted for the pool fleet. Repaints into green restarted with 504-510 all treated between May and August 2002 making 13 buses for 14 duties. 585-8 were briefly reinstated in September but were back in store in November with 584.
Two more buses were required for an extension of Line 2 to Lytham in January 2003 and in February 517 and 518 were repainted in the line livery with 503 following in November for another extension to Thornton. September 2003 saw a further reinstatement of 584-587 surprisingly for use on Promenade service 1 to release double deckers for an emergency school contract. 584-6 had a brief period of storage in November but returned to use from December to April 2004. In May they were joined by 587-9 following the arrival of three new Solos for Line 3 and 590 joined them between July and August.

Autumn 2004 saw the return of the stored buses. First up was 588 which still retained the mainly yellow version of Handybus livery. This was followed by 584-587 which all went through the paint shop to receive pink and yellow livery for new Line 15 (Staining to Poulton) which started on November 22. Other repaints included 596 – from the original black and yellow Handybus livery into the new Black and yellow Pool fleet livery. Sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same. 
518 received this silver grey scheme in 2006 for Line 10, but on 26 May 2007 had escaped onto Line 2 - a rare mis-allocation during Blackpool's 'Joseph' period. (Brian Turner)
December saw 501/2 lose the old pool livery in favour of Line 2 to make up a full route allocation of 17 buses (501-510 and 512-518) as 511 had suffered major accident damage and was out of use from October 2004 to August 2006. More pool repaints during included 588 and 592 in February 591/4 in November and 589 in December. 595 gained Line 2 colours in November reflecting an increased requirement due to the extension of certain journeys to Knott End. 593 was repainted blue and yellow in December for new one bus Line 10 (Town Centre to Midgeland Road). 590 was the last to lose the original pool livery in favour of the new one in January 2006. This meant that 501-18 carried Line 2 green, 584-7 Line 15 pink, 588-592, 594-596 pool black and 593 Line 10 blue.

The vivid pink and yellow of the Line 15 scheme didn't really fit in the bucolic setting of Mythop Road/Chain Lane junction as 517 heads towards Staining on a Mereside to Poulton working  in 2007. 9 Metroriders were so adorned, (584-7, 513-517), though only four at once (Brian Turner)

The Optare Solo fleet had grown progressively with the first 15 replacing City Pacers in 2000, followed by examples for the new Lifestyle Line in 2002/3 and for Lines 3 and 5 in 2004. The next new batch arrived in 2007 for the Lifestyle Line and cascaded older Solos into the pool fleet and for Line 2. This triggered a cascade. First of all 518 moved onto Line 10 receiving a new grey and yellow livery and 593 was repainted into pool colours causing 591 to be withdrawn. 584-587 were withdrawn between May and September as 514-517 were painted into pink for Line 15. 584/5 and 595 went on loan to Arriva in Darlington between June and August 2007, reprising a similar visit by 589/90/6 two years earlier. 588, 589 and 590 were also withdrawn during 2007 once the various Solo repaints had progressed.


Some of these buses continued their charmed life. 590 was reinstated again in January to service a one bus requirement for a shuttle on Line 15 while Mythop Road was closed. 584 also returned to use in January, partially repainted into pool livery but a failure in February saw it withdrawn again. More new Solos arrived in May and caused further cascades of older Solos. 590, 592 and 594, 595 and 596 were withdrawn in May – 593 escaping by virtue of its tachograph. This left 501-513 on Line 2, 514-7 on Line 15, 518 on Line 10 and 593 in the pool fleet. 590 escaped once more, returning to use in late June and surviving until it failed in November 2008. 516 also suffered a failure in summer 2008 and kept slipping further behind in the queue of vehicles to repair. So much so it was officially withdrawn at the end of the year and replaced by 513 which gained Line 15 livery.


The 2009 Solo order was intended as a direct replacement for Line 2 Metoriders. The new buses entered service in May and 501, 502, 504, 505 and 507 were withdrawn. 503 and 506 continued in service and were replaced on the doomed list by 508 and 514 which suffered failures during July. September 7 saw service changes which took out 503, 509, 510 and 593, while 506 was retired at the end of the month. 513 was taken out of use in October, 511/2 in November leaving just three left at the start of 2010.

515 was parked up during the spring, but returned to use in May as 517 failed. 515 remained in use on its dedicated Line 15 until its last duty on Sunday 25 July. A network change took place the following day ending route branding. 515 did appear on route training but was withdrawn after a few days without further service work. 518 last ran on its Line 10 duty on Saturday 24 July with Solos taking over from Monday. 518 then moved onto a contract from St. Annes to Peel Park for the Department of Work and Pensions, escaping to work on Line 3 in August. The contract ended on 20 January 2011, but 518 had a busy week operating its former 10 duty on Monday and Tuesday, then the 15 on Wednesday and Thursday retiring after the 2306 Staining to Blackpool trip. Pictures of 518 on its last day can be seen here and here. 

Three eras of Metrorider livery. 593 is in the original Metro pool livery, 596 retains the original livery and 588 the later yellow scheme. (Brian Turner)

Disposals

Considering the first Metrorider was stored back in 2000, it was not until 2007 that the first permanent withdrawal took place and April 2008 for the first disposal. 586 – withdrawn in May 2007 – was stripped for spares at Rigby Road in spring 2008 and taken for scrap. 584 – finally withdrawn in February 2008 was similarly stripped in April 2008 but the shell hung around until final scrapping in March 2009. 


Two preservation sales took place with 589 passing to Alan Hayward in summer 2008 and 590 to LTT in February 2009, though the latter later went for scrap. Other than that everything remained undisturbed until summer 2009 with most withdrawn examples stored at Jackson’s Coaches. 594 was the next to leave in July 2009 having been used for spares. The process then accelerated with the sale of several examples to Wigley’s Carlton who collected them in pairs. 24 July saw 516 and 596 leave; the following week saw 501/4 go then on 7 August 508 and 591 left, with 514 and 592 a week later and 587/8 on August 28. 591 had been the first withdrawal back in April 2007 and survived over 27 months in store. Its travel companion – 508 was withdrawn and disposed of with almost indecent haste by comparison.

September saw three further sales with 502, 509 and 510 passing into private ownership. 502 ended up with Classic Bus, 509 and 510 in private preservation, but sadly all three have since been scrapped. 585 and 595 went for scrap in October having come back to the depot for component recovery ready for scrapping leaving just 503 and 593 of the 1995/6 purchases still in stock at the end of 2009. 

2010 started with 503, 505-507, 511-513 and 593 in store and 515, 517 and 518 still in service. 512 was retained for use as a mess room by the overhead crew and returned to use in all-over yellow in March. In 2012 it passed to the council for use as a mess bus for the tramway track gangs, but has since been replaced by Solo 267 and is believed scrapped. Metroriders 503, 507, 513 passed to Busworks for spares in 2010 and went for scrap in 2011, they also converted sister 505 to open sided for Island Rover, Scilly where it ran until 2015. 506, 511, 515, 517 and 593 were all sold for scrap in November 2010 and 518 went for scrap in June 2011.
In 2010 512 became a mess vehicle for the overhead line crew while the tramway upgrade was underway -it was painted yellow. It later transfered to Blackpool Council for the track gang becoming their 1064 in 'fleet' purple and white (Brian Turner)

Sadly it seems only one Metrorider survives. Most went for scrap; 502/5/12 the only ones for further use; 509, 510, 590 fell out out preservation leaving just 589 flying the flat in local preservation, thanks to a committed individual.


Blackpool's Metrobuses

The MCW Metrobus was introduced in the 1970s as an integral bus by bodybuilder Metro Cammell Weymann to counteract a reduction in supply to bodybuilders by Leyland. It became popular with London and other operators including many PTEs - but was seemingly not considered by Blackpool with no recorded demonstration - though a West Midlands PTE example POG515Y ran on loan for a while in September 1982 during a Bus and Coach Council event as it carried their promotional livery.

It was thus something of a surprised to find two new operators both using red liveried Metrobuses on Blackpool's Promenade in 2001! Firstly, and briefly, a local minibus operator (ACE Travel) introduced a 'Red Bus' Promenade service between Pleasure Beach and Cleveleys using four of a fleet of six ex London Metrobuses. A half hourly timetable was provided but clearly this failed to attract customers and the service ended after a few months, taking ACE Travel with it. BYX205/80/92V, EYE323V, GYE382W and GYE445W were the six buses used. All passed to Archway at the end of Red Bus and some lasted in use until around 2010/1 on local school services - 280 and 445 succumbing to a role as spares donors sooner.
BYX205V and GYE382W - and a third - reprensted 1/2 the Red Bus fleet - seen here in Pleasure Beach coach park. (Brian Turner)
The longer lived operation was by Ensignbus of Purfleet, Essex which owned the City Sightseeing Brand. The service started in May and was operated in conjunction with Blackpool Transport from Rigby Road. A 15 minute frequency circular ran from Tower via Stanley Park to Zoo, then via Oxford Square a, Waterloo Road and Promenade to Pontins then back to Tower via the Prom. For 2002 Blackpool's Zoo service 21 was merged into the route which now ran out and back via Stanley Park.
One of the initial City Sightseeing Metrobuses BOX72V was Ensign 211 and Blackpool 811. The BTS numbers used the 8xx series for third party owned buses - previously used for Phoenix North West buses when fueled by Squires Gate Depot with the last two digits corresponding to Ensign's numbers which ere in the 2xx series for part open toppers and 3xx for full open toppers. (Brian Turner)

Five Metrobuses were operated on loan from Ensignbus. Unusual for Blackpool, these were standard for Ensign. 810 and 811 (BOK72/5V) were new to West Midlands PTE and were part open toppers, as was 815 (VRG415T) which was new to Tyne and Wear. 821/2 (LAT501/2V) were full open toppers and new to Kingston upon Hull.


2002 saw new to South Yorkshire EWF450V help out for the summer in generic livery, while new to London 864 (A964SYF), a full open topper, joined the fleet in 2003. Two Olympians joined the fleet for 2005, with 810/1, 821/2 returning to Ensign. 815/864 continued, with brief assistance from VRG417T as 817.

In 2006 Blackpool assumed operation of City Sightseeing's Manchester tour and the tour vehicles BXY302V, GYE392W (new to London) and BOX68V (West Midlands) became BTS 802, 892 and 814. At the end of the season 802, 814, 815 and 864 were withdrawn, replaced by more Olympians with 892 lasting into the 2007 season. At least six were exported by Ensign with 802, 821, 822 and 892 leaving for USA and the Washington tour, 864 joining CS Portugal and 850 going to Cyprus.
Fully open top 821 turns onto the Promenade from New Bonny Street (Brian Turner)

Metrobuses returned to the Prom again with A945SUL running for Classic Bus North West in 2012 and two ex Hong Kong examples running for its successor Catch 22 Bus from 2013-2015.


From the Archives: National Service

The original National produced between 1972 and 1980 did not enter the Blackpool fleet until 1986 and lasted just five years. Here is ex Crosville 548 on the Promenade trying to drum up interest in a Morecambe Bay bus/boat excursion. (Brian Turner)
The Leyland National was a landmark design. Leyland had absorbed several chassis makers with a range of vehicles and attempted to replace them with a single integral design developed in a joint venture with the National Bus Company. Introduced in 1972, other chassis such as the Bristol RE and AEC Swift continued alongside for a few years and Blackpool was quite dismissive of the National, reviewing it as 'not suitable in many ways' when justifying the tender award for the 1973 single deckers to Leyland subsidiary AEC. The full results were:
  • Seddon RU - £10,845
  • AEC Swift with Marshall body - £11,038
  • Leyland National - £11,510.50
  • AEC Swift with Willowbrook body - £12,147
  • Metro Scania - £12,774.05
The attractive livery of the Nationals is shown to effect on 544 which is about to turn from Harrowside into Clifton Drive
Several demonstrators were tried with RRM148M in June 1975 - though with 55 Swifts in stock the need for single deckers was not apparent. The Mark 2 type launched in 1980 appeared in November 1980 in the former of demonstrator WRN413V while GCK430W followed in March/April 1981 - both in the Fishwick's fleet. Two Halton examples followed in 1983 EWM630Y in April and CKC929X in May. Finally in January 1984 Blackpool placed an order for four mark 2s.

They arrived between 29 June and 1 July 1984 and after a period of familiarisation, entered service on 7 July, though some may have appeared the previous day. As the previous single deckers had taken the series to 599, they restarted the single deck numbering back at 541-544 (A541-4PCW). They introduced the Gardner engine to the fleet with the turbocharged 6HLXCT. 
542 on the post deregulation 2A at Bispham in August 1987. The front end was now devoid of the Corporation crest. (Brian Turner)
Leyland National production was reaching the end. 541-544 had production numbers 7777-7780 and just 55 more followed - ironically most for municipal operators rather than the NBC which took the majority of production.
Unusually the second hand Nationals all arrived in overall grey primer. Here 545-547 (right to left) show off their Gardner badges (Brian Turner)
A further six were ordered for 1985 delivery, but the council cancelled the order due to the uncertainty of deregulation. The order was taken up by Southdown with two more and they went to their Brighton & Hove division which soon became a separate business. They became their C450-5OAP with several ending up on the Falkland Islands!

The Nationals carried an attractive version of the single deck livery enhanced by a green skirt. 541 was the first to lose this gaining an all-over advert for Agri Electrics in December 1985.
541 was a surprising choice for this Agri Electrics all-over advert. (Brian Turner)
Instead of purchasing new buses, Blackpool entered the second hand market. Crosville Motor Services was implementing a programme of engine changes in its large mark 1 National fleet installing Gardner engines from withdrawn Seddon RUs in place of the unconventional fixed head 510 unit. Blackpool borrowed one (GMB387T) in mid November 1985 for evaluation and Crosville agreed to withdrawn and convert four buses for Blackpool. 
26 May 1986 and 545 poses on Midgeland Road turning circle which shows more than little evidence of oil leaks! (Brian Turner)
February 8 1986 saw LMA413T (to be 548) arrive from Crosville followed by CFM345/7S and KMA399T (545-547) on 17th. 548 was quickly repainted emerging on the 22nd with 547 following. Entry into service was delayed as the Union insisted on moquette seating for the driver, though the passengers had to retain the NBC vinyl! 

547 was first noted in use on 10th March, 548 by the 16th, 546 on the 23rd and 545 in early April. Like the National 2s they were used across the single deck network. Deregulation saw single deckers focus on the 2A (Poulton to Bispham), 3 (Mereside-Bispham), 4 (Wordsworth Avenue to Town Centre), 15 (Staining to Bispham), 23-25 (Hospital to South Shore/Mereside) and 26 (South Pier to Mereside). The Nationals in particular also saw use on tendered services 165 (Preston - Lytham), 180/2 (Fleetwood-Poulton-Preston), 185 (Blackpool-Kirkham-Preston) and the Kirkham Roamer. Later the 173 Blackpool-Lytham-Kirkham was added to the list.
The new fleet livery was somewhat plainer on the Nationals than the first scheme. The first of the Glasgow buses - their LN1 and Blackpool's 156 waits at the evening and Sunday terminus of route 25 on 9 January 1988. (Brian Turner)
The remaining AEC Swifts, while not particularly long in the tooth, were challenging to maintain as they were long obsolete. Strathclyde Buses had purchased 20 mark 1 Nationals in 1979 but they were now largely redundant and 11 remained, at least some by this time in store (Flickr Strathclyde LN1). Blackpool bought all 11 with three arriving in November (GGE156/66/74T), with GGE162/5T at least in stock by the end of the month and GGE161/4/7/70T here by 6th December leaving GGE158/72T outstanding and these arrived in January 1988. As City Pacers had taken over the single deck series, BTS simply adopted the registration number as the fleet number for its new arrivals.
National 167 awaits preparation for service, albeit with Blackpool blinds, in the bus yard on 13 December 1987 (Brian Turner)

165 receives mechanical attention alongside mk 2 542 in the bus compound on 28 November (Brian Turner)

162 sits alongside its new yard mates Atlanteans 311 and 317 and Swift 575 - the latter replaced by the Nationals (Brian Turner)
By this time 541 had been outshopped in the new single deck livery and 156 was the first of the Strathclyde's to leave the paint shop in the same scheme. 174 and 164 then followed. During December at one stage 161, 162, 166 and 170 filled the paint shop together while 165 was in the Body Shop. 156 was the first to enter service in mid December followed by 164/74 later in the month. Repaints continued with 165/7 outshopped in mid January, 172 towards the end of the month and finally 158 in early February.
161 on its first day in service, fully equipped for a duty on service 4, save for the Glasgow blind! It returned to depot with some minor faults in the early afternoon as seen here. (Brian Turner)
The buses were drip fed into service with 166/70 certainly used in January but the rest debuted in February. April saw 541-8 renumbered to 141-8 to group the Nationals together - indeed with the end of the Swifts in February and premature disposal of the Lancets in March the 19 Nationals now formed the entire single deck fleet. 148 did not make an appearance for some time as in March it was badly damaged when hit by a car and its rebuilt took until September to be completed when it returned to use in the new livery. 

Routine repaints followed with 142 the last National 2 painted in July and 145 the last mark 1 in August. This meant that the entire fleet was now in the new livery, except for the special Routemaster and Handybus liveries.
Single deck generations. April 1990 and Nationals 156 and 165 sandwich brand new Deltas 104 and 106 while Mark 2 144 looks on. (Brian Turner)
The decision to buy new Optare Deltas for 1990 spelled the beginning of the end of the mark 1 Nationals which were something of a stop gap. The first batch of eight saw 145-148 laid up after service on 11 March. With the Deltas rostered for the 23-25 and 53, the 15 surviving Nationals were rostered for seven all day duties on the 2A, 15, 180/2 plus the more recent tendered services 190-192 to Great Eccleston and Kirkham. They also provided back up to the Deltas (especially when private hires took them away from their service route) and minibus services. 145/6/8 passed to Norfolks of Nayland and 147 to A1 Service, Ardrossan.
145 and 146 sit withdrawn in the bus yard with still active 166 in April 1990
A second batch of Deltas arrived over the winter 1990/1 and these replaced the Strathclyde Nationals with 162, 164/6/7 and 172 withdrawn in December and the rest lasting until February. All eleven were purchased by Southend Transport. 

With just 141-144 left, it was something of a surprise that these were destined for a short life, replaced by Deltas 118-120/2 and withdrawn on 6 May 1991, leaving for Caldaire North East (United and Tees & District) later in the month bringing the Leyland National era to an end after just seven years.

Afterlife
145/6/8, along with Atlanteans 305-309, revitalised the fleet of long established Norfolk's of Nayland operating services into Colchester. In April 1991 Nofolks were absorbed by the growing Hedingham Omnibus fleet and gained the red and cream livery (flickr link). The three Nationals passed to Northern Bus of Dinnington in May 1996. Two years later Mainline - the former South Yorkshire PTE fleet took over Northern and the Nationals, though all were withdrawn soon after. 146 saw further use with the Appelby group mainly in Hull registered LJI8027 and by 2004 it was to be found in Lowestoft and was still there, for sale, in August 2016. It is not thought that 145/8 saw further use.
Former 148 and 146 with Atlantean 309 in the attractive two tone green and cream Norfolks livery in June 1991 when in the ownership of Hedingham Omnibuses.

147 spent its next life with a member of the A1 Services Consortium in Ardrossan but in January 1995 joined the Stagecoach Group with the A1 business. Now part of Western Buses, it was written off in an accident in April 2000. (Flickr 147 with A1)

The Scottish buses moved to Southend Transport as their 716-726 in numerical order. Some had short lives with 164 used for spares in 1992; 165 transferred to sister British Bus fleet London & Country in 1993 (flickr); 166 used for spares from January 1995 (flickr); 158 accident damaged in October 1996 and sold for scrap (Flickr 158 damaged). 172 and 174 were also sent for scrap in 1995/6. (Flickr 156 with Southend)

The survivors lasted until 1997 with the final bus (ex 167) withdrawn in June. 167 went straight for scrap but some had new lives. 156 went to the London &; Country group fleets which became part of Arriva with the absorption of British Bus. It was used as a driver trainer and on withdrawal passed via a dealer to JSM Driver Training in Edmonton in January 1999 before being preserved by Michael Roulston back in Scotland from November 2001. Sadly it is now understood to have been sold for scrap from the Beith Transport Museum.

161 returned to the North West running with Border of Burnley from November 1997 before being scrapped in June 1999. 162 ran with McKindless of Wishaw from July 1997 and was scrapped in 2000. 165 ran with London & Country until February 1998 and later ran as part of dealer Wealden of Kent's hire fleet until accident damage saw it sent for scrap later in the year.

Former 170 was the exception as during 1992 it was refurbished with a DAF engine (flickr). It entered service as 745 (PJI3745) in December 1992 and outlasted the main National fleet until withdrawal in 1998. It then ran with Supreme of Hadleigh but was last licensed in 2002 (Flickr with Supreme).

The National 2s fitted in well with the United and Tees fleets but two reached a premature end with accident damage, 141 going for scrap in July 1994 and 144 written off in October 1995. 142/3 survived into the Arriva era - interesting Blackpool's Nationals ran with each of the three big groups, Stagecoach (147), First (145/6/8) and Arriva (142/3, 156/65). They were withdrawn in December 1999 but it is believed 142 saw a brief period of use with sister firm Northumbria. Flickr link 541 Tees

143 was exported to Ireland on 12 July 2000 joining the fleet of O's Coaches of Hospital, Co Limerick (flickr link). After withdrawal it passed to the Kells Museum in November 2008 where it remains in store, approaching dereliction. Sister 142 was purchased by Cleveland Police (flickr link) as a mobile display unit in May 2000. By 2003 it was in store in Redcar and was taken on by the Redcar Youth Improvement Programme in March 2004. It was bought for preservation in 2009, but sadly was in too poor condition and was used for parts eventually. 

542 in Redcar in March 2004 after withdrawal by Cleveland Police and prior to its adoption by Redcar Youth Improvement Project