Saturday, 23 January 2016

Stagecoach may exit Fleetwood

Further to the recent post about the withdrawal of funding for tendered services, Stagecoach is faced with a reduction of its Fleetwood depot services to just three buses from the current nine. As a result commercial journeys on service 84 have been deregistered and the company is reportedly engaging with staff on the depot future. 

Stagecoach is the successor to Ribble Motor Services who's role as the major operator in Fleetwood commenced in January 1931 when they took over Lawrence Motor Services who had become the main operator having absorbed local competitors. The Lawrence depot at Birch Street was taken over and became Ribble's home in the town for 60 years.

The depot ran a network of town services in Fleetwood and local routes between Cleveleys and Thornton and from Fleetwood to Cleveleys. It contributed to interurban routes into Blackpool and Preston. At times these were linked across Preston with Fleetwood depot participating in long runs to Wigan. By 1959 28 vehicles were based at Birch Street for a peak vehicle requirement of 25. 17 of these were lowbridge double deckers - and 4 highbridge ones. 5 single deckers and 2 coaches completed the allocation.

Despite being one of Ribble's smaller depots, it continued to warrant investment. In the late 1960s it received an allocation of dual door ECW bodied Bristol REs for its town services to introduce one man operation. These were in turn replaced by the first Leyland Nationals of 1972. 1980 saw a network recast with the long established F-series local routes replaced by the 91, 93-95 in Thornton/Cleveleys and the 97/98 in Fleetwood. 

October 1986 - just before deregulation - saw the 1980 network replaced by 'Fleetwood Minilink'. 64 Mercedes Benz minibuses were introduced to Ribble in 1986 starting in Kendal in August. Fleetwood had 12 allocated - 512/3 with 'coach' seating and 541-550 with standard bus seating. A residual fleet of full size buses were retained for the Fleetwood-Blackpool services and schools work.

As well as Fleetwood, Ribble had two bases in Blackpool at Talbot Road and Devonshire Road. The former - traditionally a coach depot - was replaced by space at Coliseum Coach Station in 1986. Both this and Talbot Road closed in August 1988 with the work moving to Fleetwood. No less than 27 buses made the move, with overspill parking on the Pandoro docks compound in the town.

Ribble had contracted since deregulation, losing school and tendered work to Fylde and Blackpool. This continued despite the centralisation on Fleetwood with 34 vehicles left by August 1990. 8 were coaches (Leopards/Tigers), 4 single deckers, 10 double deckers and the 12 Mercedes minibuses from 1986. Fleetwood's work included remote work such as the 85 (Blackpool-Knott End) and 193 (Wesham to St. Annes) - though for some time this was worked out of Fylde's Squires Gate Depot. Some duties on 167/8 (Blackpool-Preston) were also worked.

April 1991 saw a dramatic reduction with all big bus worked moved away - mostly to Lancaster. Garstang allocation would work the 85 as an example. 17 Mercedes minibuses remained for town services which now included the Fleetwood-Blackpool links. This led to the end of Birch Street which closed on 31 August 1991 and the minibuses move to the current base on Sidings Road, Fleetwood.

The position then stabilised. Larger vehicles returned, initially Volvo B6s for the F4 (the current 84) and Stagecoach standard Olympians and Volvo B10Ms would also be based there for interurban work. 

The 1986 Minibuses were replaced in the 1990s with new buses, then later the B6s and these were replaced on the F4 by new Optare Solos in 2001. More Solos came in 2004 for the Fylde Villager Tendered service. By 2006 18 minibuses (mainly Solos) and 2 double deckers were based at Fleetwood.

Progressively the Fleetwood and Cleveleys town services were withdrawn with tendered services generally replacing them - most of which have evolved into just two routes the 74 and 87. The F4 remained and was increased to every 20 minutes, renumbered 84 in 2004 and extended to Blackpool. New Optare Versa buses were procured in 2008 with 8 needed for the 84. Solos remained for the Fylde and Wyre Villager work and 2 double deckers were outbased for the 68.

2009 saw the loss of the Fylde villager work but the gain of new service 74 which replaced various other services including parts of Blackpool's 2 and 16. Decline set in on service 84 with the withdrawal of the Poulton to Blackpool section in March 2012, the frequency was later reduced to half hourly and the Versa's moved away replaced by older Solos. A further reduction to 40 minutes took place at the start of January. 

Allocation had reduced to 12 by April 2012 - 2 Enviro 200s were used on the Wyre Village with Versa and Solos, plus 3 double deckers. A year later it was just with 4 Solos for the 84, 2 new Enviro 200s for Wyre Villager and 3 double deckers for the 68. 

November 2013 saw Stagecoach resume the tendered 74 from Cumfybus (they took it over in June 2012) using 3 Solos and a further bus ran the short lived 82 (Fleetwood to Poulton). The Enviro 200s followed the Versas out of the fleet soon after. The 68 work returned to Preston in summer 2014 leaving just ten Solos for the 74, 84 and 86/9.

The final date for the 74, 84, 86 and 89 is Saturday 2 April. Catch 22 Bus has announced a replacement for the 84 by extending its 22 from Cleveleys to Fleetwood and starting a new service between Cleveleys and Poulton that will also take in Hillylaid Road as served by the 87 presently.