Sunday, 26 July 2009

In Profile - Line 4

Back in 1996 Lancashire's first Quality Bus Corridor was launched between Cleveleys and Mereside covering services 44A/44B forerunners of today's Line 4. Although bus priority was not featured, the route was adorned with new shelters, raised kerbs and clearway orders while eight new, but troublesome, 36 seat Excels were provided for the combined 15 minute frequency service. Today Line 4 uses the oldest Solos - now nearly ten years old and now receiving a long overdue repaint - with seats for 25 on a 20 minute headway.

Despite the decline in standards, Line 4 is actually a success story considering what went before. Its direct ancestry is actually traced back to the 1987 introduction of Fylde's 'Baby Blues' minibuses on Blackpool Prom. The summer Pontins to Gynn service 5 became a winter Starr Gate to Little Bispham service in November 1987 and then finally a Blackpool to Cleveleys Park service from January 1988. This served Holmfield Road, Norbreck and Little Bispham within the residential areas close to the Promenade. It also competed with Ribble's Cleveleys minilink service offering a direct link from within Cleveleys Park estate to Blackpool. Previously the other option was a walk to the tramway. This became a year round service - numbered 5A/5B (later 55A/55B) with the Promenade service restarting each summer as a separate service.

August 1988 saw the introduction of a futher minibus service from Blackpool to Mereside via Whitegate Drive and Great Marton as service F4 - later the 44 then the 44A/B. This had different termini throughout its life including the Hypermarket (now Asda), Mereside turning circle, Tesco and Marton Mere Park. Apart from a spell with Bristol REs and Atlanteans in 1992/3 both the 44s and 55s ran with Renault minibuses.

Both corridors served had declined under Blackpool Transport. The 55 corridor had been served by route 3 every 30 minutes from Cleveleys via Norbreck, Bispham, Promenade, Claremont and Blackpool and onto Mereside, but this was revised at deregulation leaving Norbreck to be served by tendered route 33 also every 30 minutes, which ended once the 55A/B had become established. Great Marton on the 44 route had been served by route 16 (Wordsworth Avenue) which ran via Stanley Park missing the district centre near Marton Tram depot (a success for the Fylde route). From deregulation this became route 4 and served Pakr Road (again missing the district centre!) and declined to an hourly service 3A and then ended all together with Fylde securing the market for itself.

In February 1994 the 44 and 55 routes merged as follows:
44A Cleveleys Park (clockwise) Cleveleys, Norbreck, Bispham, Warbreck Drive, Gynn, Blackpool, Whitegate Drive, Oxford Square, Great Marton, Paddock Drive, Mereside Shops, Tesco
44B Cleveleys Park (anti-clockwise) Cleveleys, Norbreck, Bispham, Holmfield Road, Gynn, Blackpool, Whitegate Drive, Oxford Square, Great Marton, Paddock Drive, Marton Mere Park
Each ran every 30 minutes, combining to every 15 minutes using eight buses in total. In the evenings and on Sundays routes 333/444 covered much of the corridor but served Park Road not Whitegate Drive and also included parts of route 33. A half - hourly service was provided with 3 buses (four following an hourly extenstion to Fleetwood).

The co-ordinated network of November 1994 saw the 44B re-routed to serve Stanley Park while the 44A was upgraded to big buses - normally using Optare Deltas, the 'Paladin' single deck Atlanteans or occasionally the solitary Tiger bus 13. The low floor revolution began on 3 June 1996 when the 44A was converted to Optare Excel operation using new buses 201-204, with 205-208 following over the next few weeks to convert the 44B. Reliability was horrific so that the single deckers and occasionally minibuses continued to deputise. Eventually 201-208 were traded in for new buses (210-218) which arrived during 1999.

The Metro network saw the introduction of Line 4 to replace the 44A/B with all journeys running:
Cleveleys Park (clockwise) Cleveleys, Norbreck, Bispham, Warbreck Drive, Gynn, Blackpool, Stanley Park, Whitegate Drive, Oxford Square, Great Marton, Paddock Drive, Mereside Shops,
Tesco. Daytime journeys ran every 20 minutes, evening/Sundays every hour. Between Bispham and the Town Centre Line 3 ran alongside to make a 10 minute headway. 7 Excels were used with 210-215 dedicated (with Line 4 stickers applied). In January 2003 the Excels were transferred away to Line 5 - non having received the Cadbury Blue Metro line scheme. This debuted on 271 - one of the Solos moved from Line 5 to replace the Excels. It remained unique until December 2003 when 267/8 were painted, with 269 following in January. 265/6 joined the allocation in February - with their Line 3 blue replaced by Line 4 livery and the seventh bus completed was 272 in December 2004. The Solos allowed the route to be diverted into Claremont Estate to bolster Line 3 which was unable to cope with demand.

Since then little has changed, other than minor route changes in Claremont and a couple of periods of service suspension round Marton that has required a dedicated shuttle bus (Line 4A) to maintain service. The current version is from Stanley School to Tesco as the 4 is terminating at Mereside Shops due to the delays caused by major work in the Town Centre. This should end in August.

265-269, 271 and 272 remain allocated - bolstered by pool Solos when required. Repaints are now underway with 265-267 now treated.