Saturday, 30 June 2012

Going Solo

Blackpool's first Solos arrived in late 1999 and entered service in January 2000. 275 - seen here in Morrisons on the L1 remains in use at 12 years old
Optare's low floor minibus, the Solo, has now ended its production life in its original form, with the upgraded SR style now becoming the standard model. The model was launched in 1998 and has been Optare's most succesful model.

Blackpool is served by no less than six Solo operators, with a seventh active nearby. Blackpool Transport is, naturally, the largest operator with 51 in use from a fleet which reached a maxium of 57. The first 15 entered service in January 1999 on routes 33 (Cleveleys to Mereside) and routes 23-25 (Staining-Hospital-Mereside). The Metro network in 2001 saw the Solos move onto Lines 3 (Cleveleys-Mereside) and 5 (Staining-Hospital-Lindale Gardens). The Line 5 buses later moved onto Line 4 with 267-269/71/2 dedicated (261-6 were branded for the 3 and 273-6 became pool buses).
Solo 248 at the layover point on route 17 on St George's Road in St Annes. This scene has now changed following the demolition of the former Conservative Club and Job Centre as seen (or not) to the right of the photo
2002 saw six more Solos arrive for the Lifestyle Line (277-282, though 277 was stored for a year) and sister 283/4 followed in 2003. 12 more Solos (249-260) arrived for Lines 3 and 5 in 2004 as did 285 for Lancashire County Council's Kirkham Roamer contract. After a three year break 286-293 arrived for Line 16 cascading the Lifestyle Line buses to pool livery or Line 2. Six more arrived in 2008 (247/8 and 294-7) and the final seven (240-6) arrived in 2009.

Today Blackpool's Solos operate the 2 (Blackpool-Poulton), 2C (Blackpool-Knott End), 3 (Cleveleys-Mereside), 4 (Cleveleys Park - Mereside), 5 (Hospital-Lindale Gardens), 10 (Blackpool-Midgeland Road), 15 (Staining-Poulton), 16 (Blackpool-Cleveleys) and 17 (Blackpool-St. Annes).
Service 77 was a short lived Lytham to Clifton service as part of the Fylde Villager network. Stagecoach 47062 was not put off by the threat of a flood nor the unsuitability of the road through Westby for vehicles wider then 6ft. 
Stagecoach North West bought its first Solos in 2001 and several were allocated to Fleetwood for route F4 (Fleetwood to Poulton) which is today's 84 (Fleetwood to Blackpool) which sees a mixed Solo and Optare Versa allocation. Another batch (47055-62) arrived at Fleetwood in 2004 for the Fylde Village services (75-77 and 80/2). The recent end of the 74 and reduction in the 84 has reduced Solo activity considerably. Stagecoach Solos can sometimes also been seen on quieter journeys on routes 61/68 from Blackpool to Preston.
Cumfybus use a batch of 2009 Solos for their Fylde Village routes 75 80/2 but have drafted in various older Solos from its Southport operation to cope with its new 74 route. In the back ground is another Fylde Coast Solo operator - Elite Minibus Service operating route 87 (Poulton to Cleveleys)
The Fylde Villager is now in the hands of Cumfybus (75, 80, 82) which is based in Southport but has a Poulton depot for its Fylde coast routes and uses several 2009 vintage Solos. The 76 (Blackpool-Great Eccleston-Kirkham-St. Annes) is operated by Coastal Coaches which has three 2009 and five 2011 slimline Solos. On 4 June Cumfybus took over route 74 (Blackpool-Larkholme) from Stagecoach.
St George's Road again and Coastal Coaches "Master Luke" on the 76 is about to be overtaken by a sister bus on route 78
Evenings see two further Solo fleets reach Blackpool. Kirkby Londsale Mini Coaches operates several tendered bus services in and around Lancaster and one of these is the evening service on Stagecoach's 42 (Lancaster-Garstang-Great Eccleston-Poulton-Blackpool). It operates three round trips Monday to Saturdays leaving Blackpool Abingdon Street at 2015, 2130 and 2245 using two Optare Solos.

Similarly Rotala owned Preston Bus has the contract for Sunday to Thursday evening workings on otherwise Stagecoach operated service 68 (Preston -Freckleton-Lytham -Blackpool). Preston Bus workings leave Blackpool at 2140 and 2255 Monday to Thursdays and at 2115, 2215, 2305 on Sundays.

All except Preston Bus serve Poulton on their services as does the seventh operator, Elite Minibus Services of Carelton. They use one bus on route 87 between Poulton and Cleveleys every 90 minutes via Carelton, Stanah and Thornton.