Monday, 19 October 2009

Route 53 The “Easyway” to run a bus service?

Easyway JWU248N at the Royal Oak on its main service 53 towards the Airport

Deregulation provided the opportunity for new bus operators to compete with existing ones. Prior to this, during 1986, licensing was relaxed with Traffic Commissioners taking the view there was little point in objecting to a service that could start at deregulation, unless it was direct competition.

A small coach operator in Blackpool, Easyway Coaches, took advantage and introduced a new service in March 1986. Most bus services in Blackpool ran to the town centre – there was no form of orbital route. Easyway therefore designed a single service, which avoided the town centre and provided several overlapping links. It ran from Squires Gate to Poulton. From the Airport it followed Blackpool’s 12 route along Lytham Road to Royal Oak; then the 26 route via Waterloo Road to Spen Corner, and the 6 via Daggers Hall Lane and Vicarage Lane to Cherry Tree Road, Hypermarket before running via Penrose Avenue, Oxford Square, East Park Drive to Victoria Hospital. Here it took the 23 route via Grange Road to Layton, 5 route to Grange Park then continued via Collegiate School and the 14 route to Castle Gardens and then into Poulton. An hourly service was provided including Sundays. The evening service was restricted to journeys around Hospital visiting times. As its fleet was primarily 53 seaters – Easyway chose this number and provided two of its coaches for the route.

This was a rare innovation – a new operator providing new links and probably the sort of initiative deregulation was supposed to encourage. At deregulation Easyway expanded competing on Blackpool’s 9 and 14 routes.

Easyway kept its buses on Princess Street, here two of the six Leopards from West Yorkshire PTE (JWU244/7N) repose shortly before they and two others returned to the PTE. 244 is now preserved.

It purchased six Leopard Buses from West Yorkshire PTE (JWU244-249N) and two Bristol RE coaches (NCN815L from Northern General and XBW74N from Hampshire Bus) for these routes.. There were regularly press reports of poor behaviour from the company and by the end of 1986 it had been banned from operating the 9 and 14. Four of the Leopards returned from where they came leaving JWU248/9N and the two REs to cover the 53 route. There was a running battle with the traffic commissioner and Easyway ran for a period on a “free” basis with passengers able to make donations! Easyway expanded with a new route 54 (Town Centre to Lindale Gardens via Lytham Rd and Harrowside in summer 1988 and briefly ran this as a circular from Layton to Lindale Gardens via Lytham Road and Marton before giving up at the end of the year. For this two ex Great Yarmouth AEC Swifts joined the fleet. Operating and maintenance problems persisted and the final straw came in November 1989 when the traffic commissioner withdrew Easway’s license and operations ended.

Seeing an opportunity and no doubt being aware of the business generated by the 53, Blackpool Transport took over the service immediately. Within six months new Optare Deltas were provided. In April 1990 a review of the route was undertaken. To reduce competition with its own services, it was re-routed via St. Annes Road and Marton Drive between Waterloo Hotel and Spen Corner and from Hypermarket to Hospital via Mereside Estate, Great Marton, Stanley Park and Newton Drive. The Sunday service was withdrawn with Lancashire County Council procuring a replacement provided by Fylde – oddly this used Highfield Road instead of serving Royal Oak. In June the Marton Drive and Stanley Park diversions were discontinued by BTS, though it still served Mereside and the new Tesco store there.

In the meantime a new operator, set up by a relative of Easyway’s owner, began trading. Town Bus purchased three former Easyway vehicles, including JWU248/9N, and introduced a competing service in August 1990. The original route was followed with buses leaving five minutes earlier than Blackpool’s journeys using number 53A. After three weeks the timetable was, sensibly, revised with Town Bus operating on the opposite half hour. This presumably was not worthwhile as two months later they returned to running 5 minutes ahead!

Blackpool decided to withdraw from the battle in June 1991, though it continued to operate between Poulton and Grange Park by way of an extension to service 6. There was a somewhat odd position where Fylde continued to run the Sunday 53 to a version of Blackpool’s route, but Town Bus ran the original route as a 53A. Town Bus continued unchanged until 1994 when it decided to re-route its buses along Whitegate Drive and Newton Drive instead of via East Park Drive over the 2 and 26 routes. This prompted Blackpool to use a spare minibus five minutes in front of Town Bus from Airport to Victoria Hospital. Town Bus then reverted to its original route and Blackpool ceased its 53 in July. Meanwhile Lancashire County Council withdrew support for the Sunday service and it ceased in April 1994. For a while an early weekday morning journey ran from Airport to Poulton Industrial Estate via the former Blackpool route, operated at times by Carriages and Archway Travel.

Town Bus replaced its Leopards (having bought a third similar bus from West Yorkshire as LUG515P) with a Dodge minibus and a Leyland Cub single decker (C813KBT). It expanded into schools services in 1994 and in September 1995 won a contract to take over Blackpool Transport service 15. Having already cut the Saturday service to every 2 hours, Town Bus withdrew the 53A in September 1995. Fylde, now a Blackpool subsidiary, won a short term contract for its replacement.
Meanwhile a new local independent was being set up. Phoenix North West commenced some contract services and arranged to operate a revised 53/53A on a franchise with Blackpool Transport. From 13 January 1996 a new half hourly service re-routed to penetrate further housing developments en route commenced using minibuses. For a while it was extended to St. Annes but in 2000 was split. The 53 continued to run from Squires Gate to Poulton, but on the alternate half hour service 10 was provided operating from Squires Gate to Cleveleys (Pheasant Wood) on a common route to Victoria Hospital. Meanwhile Town Bus ran the 15 for six months – Fylde providing a commercial replacement for the summer, which was then integrated into the 23 service. Like its predecessor Town Bus was closed down by the traffic commissioner. It seems the 53 may have been a curse. Easyway, Town Bus, Carriages and even Fylde were now defunct and the suddenly in March 2001 Phoenix North West ceased trading. After a day without service, Blackpool Transport provided an emergency contract. This lasted until November when a permanent arrangement was made, including revisions to other services. The 53 was replaced by service 9 which ran from Poulton to Royal Oak then onto Mereside – jointly funded by Blackpool Borough and Lancashire County Councils. Sadly the two councils went their separate ways after six months and the service ceased. Parts were incorporated into a new service 2A but the 53 had finally died. Its spirit lives on, however, as the Lifestyle Line L1 (now 16) was started in July 2002 providing an orbital service centred on Victoria Hospital and links several points once served by the 53 – but via a very different route.