Monday, 27 April 2009

Fylde legacy

preserved Fylde 71 at Little Marton Mill

15 years ago in May 1994 Blackpool Transport acquired Fylde Transport Ltd, t/a Blue Buses. Their long established neighbour had grown after deregulation carving out a niche with services to Cleveleys and Mereside alongside its traditional Lytham to Blackpool market. Many school services were operated, most originating with either Ribble or Blackpool prior to deregulation.

The fleet was elderly, with just three Optare Deltas of 1991 representing the new full size bus investment since deregulation. Other than a DAF coach, the only other new purchases were 22 Renault-Dodge minibuses. In its latter years Fylde had undertaken major refurbishments of several Leyland Atlanteans, culminating in the rebodying of four as single deckers.

BT inherited a fleet of 89 buses with an average age of 13years- most were Leyland Atlanteans 29 with Northern Counties bodies (most new to Fylde, 9 new to Greater Manchester and 1 new to AA Motors) 18 were new to Kingston-upon-Hull with Roe bodywork and four were single deckers, rebodied in 1993 having been new as trolleybus replacements. 21 Renault minibuses and 12 coaches made up the fleet.

November 1994 saw a revision to the network to co-ordinate the two operator's services - ending the joint 11C (Blackpool-St. Annes in favour of an extended 14/14A) and also witnessing the end of Routemaster operation on BT's Promenade service - Fylde's 11 remained. A 'corporate' livery of green or blue and cream in Fylde's style was adopted - Squires Gate Depot based buses using "Blackpool & Fylde Blue Buses" fleetnames.

BT absorbed the Fylde operation in July 1996 including eight newly delivered but very troublesome Optare Excels. Squires Gate depot remained until April 1999 when services once again centred solely on Rigby Road.

Prior to 1994 Blackpool was renewing its fleet regularly - with 35 Optare City Pacers, 28 Optare Deltas and 6 Olympians purchases since deregulation. 21 Atlanteans had left the fleet and - Routemaster aside - the oldest bus was 322 - a 1979 Atlantean. This and several others cascaded to Fylde to replace their oldest Atlanteans. The average age was 10 years - though this dropped to 7.5 if the Routemasters were excluded.

With the combined minibus fleet to replace, new purchases focused on Optare Metroriders from 1994 to 1998 - with just six Volvo Olympians and ten secondhand Leyland Olympians to show for the DD fleet and the 8 Excels of 1996 as the only single deckers. 2000 saw the debut of the Optare Solo, replacing the last City Pacers however it was not until 2002 that East Lancs bodied Atlantean withdrawals recommended (except for 322/3 which became driver trainers back in 1999). By 2002 only a handful of ex Fylde Atlanteans remained - the oldest dating from 1975 and withdrawn during the spring. However how the fleet had changed the average age was now 12 yrs and 4 months - almost as bad as Fylde's when it was taken over. Atlanteans of both origins were gradually withdrawn by by May 2004 all that was left of the Fylde fleet was the three Deltas - though the first of these was burnt out that month.

132/3 (H2/3FBT) continue today fittingly branded for Line 11 - the successor to their initial operation for Fylde and retaining the cherished plates fitted from new standing for Fylde Borough Transport. The company's performance has improved in recent years, but its fleet investment has never caught up to the pre purhcase rates. Having grown from 130 to 208 with the take-over the fleet dropped to 159 by 2004 but is now up to 188 again at an average age of over 11.5 years - well above the government target of eight years.

former Fylde Delta 133 (H3FBT) runs empty to Lytham on Easter Monday

Route-wise - Lines 3, 4 and 11 bear strong links to Fylde routes 33, 44 and 11/11A though to a much simplified matter. Line 11 fittingly retains the traditional number of the first Lytham to Blackpool bus route of 1935 and retains a hint of blue in its turquoise.