Friday, 23 July 2010

The end of Stability - the 6 bows out after 84 years

Blackpool's service 6 has been the epitome of stability. After the initial flurry of changes took place as the route developed in the 1920s it has only seen two fundamental changes the extensions to Mereside in 1954 and Grange Park in 1986 and had only three main vehicle types since 1934 - Titans, Atlanteans and Deltas - with others providing just a supporting role.

In February 1926 Blackpool Corporation started a new circular service from Adelaide Place via Central Drive, Grasmere Road to Condor Square then via Condor Grove, Whitegate Drive and Palatine Road back to Adelaide Place. The Whitegate Drive half was soon dropped leaving a basic Town Centre to Condor Square service which took service number 6 during the summer. From 1928 it was extended along Grasmere Road, Bloomfield Road, Hawes Side Lane and back to town via Watson Road, St. Annes Road and Central Drive with route 12 used for journeys in the opposite direction. This too lasted only a few months with the 6 now turning off Hawes Side Lane via Daggers Hall Lane to the junction with Vicarage Lane. A 20 minute service was provided off peak and 10 minutes at peak times.

Limited journeys continued along Vicarage Lane to the Welcome Inn from 1931 and by the mid 1930s all journeys terminated there. Double deck operation had been experimented with in 1927 with a Karrier and a Guy double decker but regular double deck operation commenced in 1934. 1939 saw a short extension to Cherry Tree Gardens and the following year saw the town centre terminus relocate to Corporation St. Service 6A was started during the war as a short working and later grew into a stand-alone service operating from Grange Park to Midgeland Road
The 6A and 6B developed from short workings of the 6 and did, prophetically, link Grange Park and Marton following the 5 route to Town then the 6 to Hawes Side in the 1950s and 1960s See this article for more about the 6A and 6B

The post war period saw the development of the large council housing estate at Sandham's Green - better known now as Mereside. Route 4 was introduced via Condor Square, Park Road, Penrose Avenue to Mereside in 1951, with the 6 extended from Cherry Tree Gardens in 1954 initially to Langdale Embayment (Mereside Shops) reaching Branstree Road in the 1960s. The development of the estate caused much friction between the Corporation and Ribble. The latter used Preston New Road for its Preston services and wished to protect this and capture the estate travel. License applications were therefore fraught, not helped by the poor roads initially and a restriction on double deck operations.

Although a simple short route, the 6 had a complicated operating pattern. In 1964 a 12 minute frequency was provided with a 48 minute round trip. At Corporation Street buses interworked with the 4 and 13. The 4 ran every 24 minutes, the 13 every 12 - co-ordinated with the 6 to Spen Corner before heading via Marton Drive to Lindale Gardens. 10 buses were needed, 6 of which worked a 6-4-13 cycle and 4 of which worked a 6-13 cycle. Blackpool for years helpfully arranged its route number blinds with 4, 6 and 13 in order!

Incidentally as if the 6 minute service 6/13 to Condor Square and Spen Corner wasn't enough, the 6A ran every 16 minutes (Fulwood Square-Midgeland Road via Common Edge Road and School Lane) and the 11C (Blackpool to St. Annes) every 20 minutes which was clearly impossible to co-ordinate!

The 6 settled in to stable mediocrity - by 1970 it was down to every 15 minutes but was put back to every 12 minutes in 1976 when the 13 ceased. Crew operated Leyland Titans held sway from 1934 to 1980 - with OPO AEC Swifts on Sundays from 1973 and some crew operated Atlanteans in the late 1970s but in December 1980 it was converted to full OPO operation using Atlanteans. During the 1970s - presumably before 1973 a turning circle was constructed on land adjacent to Clifton Road to replace the previous reversing manoeuvre.

The 1980s saw transport operators begin to consider different ways to promote their services. Fares promotions started on route 6 in January 1985 with a maximum fare of 40p between 9am and 3pm and after 6pm, with a 30p maximum Sunday fare - this compared to the then 53p maximum from Mereside to Town Centre.

February 1985 saw the introduction of the "SHUTTLE SIX" identity and the a new a "Saverstrip" ticket. These multi journey tickets were similar to the well known Manchester 'Clipper Card' scheme and allowed users to purchase 12 journeys for the price of 10 provided they travelled between the same two points - this even applied to the off peak 40p maximum. Five Atlanteans were dedicated to the service with their standard fleet livery adorned with a green skirt, two orange and one lemon stripe and large Shuttle Six lettering. 302, 303, 316, 317 and 321 were so treated and these five, plus conventionally painted Atlanteans 301, 351 and 352 were equipped with Saverstrip cancelling machines. The experiment ended after six months - the buses retained their livery but saw general service use before becoming early recipients of the new livery in spring 1987.

Deregulation of local bus services took place on Sunday 26 October and this involved the most significant change to service 6 in its life. The Mereside to Talbot Square service was extended via the route of service 5 to Grange Park (Easington Crescent) via Caunce St, Layton Road, Westcliffe Drive, Poulton Road, Chepstow Road, Gateside Drive and Dinmore Avenue. Buses ran every 15 minutes in the day and every 30 in the evenings and on Sundays. 7 Atlantes were required. This brought back memories of the 6A/6B which shared this route from the edge of Grange Park to Hawes Side Lane until their withdrawal in the 1970s.

Route branding returned to the service in September 1987 when the daytime frequency was increased to every 10 minutes (10 buses) and a Superman inspired "Super 6" identity was coined. Atlanteans 301/5/6 received a blue, white and red based livery and 309,322 and 360 received broadside adverts with the same branding. Matching timetables were produced, though the image ended in April 1989 with the withdrawal of the Atlanteans.

Little Marton Mill provides a suitable backdrop to many a Mereside photo and here Atlantean 317 passes Branstree Road junction in June 1988 as it heads towards the turning circle.

This improvement was not enough to ward off the attentions of Fylde, who were using there growing fleet of double deckers between school duties to irritate Blackpool Transport on its core services. March 1988 saw the introduction of a half hourly service 6 Monday to Friday off peak, Saturday and Sunday daytime which used various vehicles from the ubiquitous Atlantean to the odd Leopard and Bristol RE with minibuses preferred on Sundays. In addition their 11C - which followed the 6 from Hawes Side Lane to Blackpool was extended to Grange Park to compete on this corridor. Fylde's interest on the 6 ended in April 1989 when the two operators scaled back their competing actions.
Fylde's brief incursion on the 6 included the delights of new to Lytham Atlantean 77.

July 1990 saw the opening of a large Tesco superstore across Clifton Road from Mereside and several bus services were duly recast. Surprisingly only one bus per hour on the 6 was extended the short distance to the store - the other five still terminated on the turning circle. June 1991 saw an unusual northern extension. During the day one bus every 30 minutes was extended from Grange Park via Carleton and Castle Gardens to Poulton replacing the recently withdrawn 53 service. This added an 11th bus to the roster and lasted until March 2000

The November 1994 network change left the 6 alone - though the new Volvo Olympians initially saw regular use alongside Atlanteans and sometimes the older Olympians too. 6 February 1995 saw a change to Optare Delta operation  - releasing the double deckers to allow the 22/22A to revert to larger buses. At the same time the evening journeys were extended the short distance to Collegiate High School following regrettable problems caused while laying over at Easington Crescent.

March 2000 saw an increased evening and Sunday service with a bus every 20 minutes and then in April 2001 the Metro network was launched. The 6 became Line 6 but was barely changed, other than the introduction of a single direction loop at Mereside - buses now arriving via Poulton Road and turning onto Dinmore Road to wait at Pilling Crescent, then bypassing Easington Crescent and leaving the estate on Chepstow Road. The evening buses also followed this route and no longer went to Collegiate. All journeys now ran to Tesco. 
Dedicated Delta 114 passes the now rarely used turning circle to turn onto Clifton Road and into the Tesco store behind the photographer

June 2001 saw the allocation of dedicated bus to each Line route and Deltas 108-110, 112-117 were given Line 6 stickers to provide 9 out of the 10 workings. Repaints into the Metro livery of maroon and yellow commenced with 116 entering service so painted on 30 June. 115 then 116 followed. There was then a hiatus as 114 was undergoing refurbishment which saw the high backed seats replaced by bus seats and this did not return to use in Line 6 livery until January 2002. 113 and 112 followed in February and March; 108 in June (without bus seats), 110 in August and finally 109 in October.

A change in policy to brand the full PVR saw 118 transferred from Line 7 in March 2004. A further change saw 115-118 move onto Line 11 in May 2005 and 104-107 were then painted in Line 6 colours between May and August with 108-110/112-114 treated to full repaints in October and November. Finally in February 2009 103 was painted maroon to replace 110 which was withdrawn.

February 2010 saw the evening service reduced to every 30 minutes, however little did people realise that after service on 25 July the service would be withdrawn entirely with Line 11 replacing the Grange Park leg and Line 14 replacing the Mereside leg. The final working is the 2300 from Mereside to Grange Park and the 2341 Grange Park to Market St.