Saturday, 16 April 2016

Ribble on the Fylde Part 4: Fleetwood Minilink

July 1987 and Minilink is in full swing. 512 and 544 stand in Cleveleys Bus Station (Mike Rhodes)
11 October 1986, 15 days before the deregulation of local bus services, Ribble introduced its Minilink brand to Fleetwood. The minibus revolution commenced in 1984 with experiments in Exeter and started to spread through the National Bus Company thereafter. As the new era approached in 1986 Ribble ordered 90 Mercedes L608D minibuses, but 26 were diverted to North Western Road Car - the new operation which tookover Ribble's southern operations in September 1986. The 64 left for Ribble had Reeve Burgess conversions of their van bodies, with the first 21 having 19 high backed seats and the rest 20 bus seats. Kendal was the first network converted in August, with Fleetwood following in October.
Minilink 550 lays over on Pharos Street, Fleetwood (Mike Rhodes)

12 minibuses were allocated, 512/3 with high backed seats and 541-550 with normal seats with several Leyland Nationals replaced. A completely new network was introduced replacing the 91-96 and 196 - though the 92 continued for the two weeks until deregulation. New cross Cleveleys links were introduced, but the Cleveleys to Poulton link was lost.
  • F1 Fleetwood Local: Queens Terrace to Shakespeare Road via Carr Road
  • F2 Fleetwood Local: Queens Terrace to Broadwater via Park Avenue, Hatfield Avenue, Whinfield Avenue
  • F4/F5 Fleetwood Queens Terrace-Cleveleys via Larkholme, Green Drive (F4 to Cleveleys, F5 to Fleetwood) then as:
    • F4 continues Cleveleys-Thornton Centre via Meadows Avenue, Rossendale Avenue
    • F5 commences Cleveleys to Hillylaid Avenue via Victoria Road West, Beechwood Drive and Thornton.
    • Bus ran F4 Fleetwood-Cleveleys-Thornton-Cleveleys and F5 Cleveleys-Thornton-Cleveleys-Fleetwood
  • F6 Cleveleys to Cumberland Avenue via Cleveleys Avenue and Northumberland Avenue
  • F7 Cleveleys to Pheasant Wood via North Drive and West Drive.

A 20 minute frequency service ran on each route. The F4/5/6/7 were interworked - the F1 and F2 stood alone. A half hourly evening services was provided on the F4, plus the F5 Cleveleys-Fleetwood section. Initially a 'summer Sunday' service ran matching the evening service, but from November a 'winter' Sunday service ran over the same basic route, but diverting via Rossall Hospital and extending to Marine Hall always showing F4. . Additionally from deregulation a Fleetwood circular "Leisurelink 150" ran hourly each way evenings and Sundays covering much of the F1, F2 and also serving Larkholme
while local independent Carriages ran an tendered service 151 Fleetwood to Stanah via Cleveleys with three round trips to fill in the gaps in the network. This regularly used an unusual Lex bodied Bedford minibus WNH50W Ribble replaced the 180/2/3 between Fleetwood and Poulton with the 81 (via Little Thornton) and 82 (via Castle Gardens), both of which continued to Blackpool. These ran with conventional buses - usually Nationals - with two each provided by Fleetwood and Blackpool.

Not a wonderful copy, but this shows the revised network at October 1986. Several estate roads were served for the first time as a result - but many were removed at the first revision in January
Operators were required to run their deregulated network until the end of January. From 31 January 1987 Ribble revised its minilink routes, removing many of the estate roads introduced a few months earlier. 

The F1 and F2 were combined into a circular starting at Albert Square Clock Tower rather than Queens Terrace - the F1 via Carr Road, Shakespeare Road, Rossall Grange Road,Eden Avenue, Marine Parade, Larkholme Lane, Broadwater, Whinfield Avenue, Highbury Avenue and Poulton Road - the F2 did the reverse. Park Avenue was no longer served, nor was the short lived terminal loop for the original F1 which took in Macbeth Road. A half hourly service was provided in each direction.

The Cleveleys to Fleetwood link became service F3, still every 20 minutes with minor changes compared to the F4/5. On arrival at Cleveleys the F3 would continue either as an F4, F5 or F6. Buses from the F5/6/7 worked onto the F3.

The F4-F6 were recast, each half hourly making a combined 10 minute service Cleveleys to Thornton. The F4 still terminated at Thornton Centre via Meadows Avenue and Trunnah but with a simpler route missing out some estate roads in Thornton. The F5 still served Stanah and Little Thornton but took the more established route of the former 94/5 around Beechwood Drive. The F6 was completely re-routed now running to Poulton via Cleveleys Avenue, Cumberland Avenue, West Drive, Four Lane Ends, Thornton and Little Thornton. 

The F7 still served Pheasants Wood but via Northumberland Avenue replacing the F6 - both ran every 30 minutes combining to a 15 minute service. The F1/2 worked with two buses, the F3-F7 with eight. Evening and Sunday services were tendered by Lancashire County Council and awarded to other operators:

  • F3 Fleetwood Marine Hall to Cleveleys every 30 minutes to Blackpool Transport
  • F4 and F5 Cleveleys locals each every hour - Blackpool Transport
  • F6 hourly Cleveleys to Poulton every hour - Carriages
  • 150 Fleetwood circular each way hourly - Carriages

Carriages also continued the 151. Blackpool initially used Leyland Nationals but from May 1987 introduced its new City Pacers.

This network formed the basis for several years with some notable changes:

  • February 1988 one journey per hour on F6 renumbered F8 and diverted to run via Arundel Drive, Carleton with F6 still via Little Thornton. Ribble is running Sunday F3/F4/F5 contract
  • October 1988 - F7 now services Burn Naze, 
  • November 1990 - F7 to Pheasants Wood, journeys to Burn Naze now show F17
A network review in April 1991 saw the F1 and F2 circular broken with a new Fleetwood local F1 every 30 minutes Albert Square to Broadwater. The Fleetwood-Cleveleys link increased to every 15 minutes comprising half hourly F3 and F4 - the latter serving Shakespeare Road to replace the F1/2.

The F4 continued from Cleveleys to Thornton with a diversion into the new Safeway Store, then replaced the F8 via Beechwood Drive, Arundel Drive into Poulton. A half hourly service was provided, but one bus per hour then extended into Blackpool. 

The F5 remained as a Cleveleys-Thornton local every 30 minutes but with two variations:
  • either via North Drive, Cumberland Ave, or Safeway, Amounderness, 
  • both West Drive, 4LE, Hillylaid Stanah Lambs, Sunningdale 
  • (Some trips via Burn Naze and not Stanah car park)
The F6 was completely revised to run Fleetwood to Blackpool every hour via via Queens Hotel, Cala Gran, Trunnah, Lawson, Victoria Rd, Little Thornton, Poulton - this allowed the replacement of the 154/8 between Blackpool and Fleetwood - these had replaced the 81/2 in 1987.  The F7 was withdrawn, and the number used for a summer school holiday extra service from Cleveleys to Poulton via Thornton.  A new F2 ran every 30 minutes Cleveleys to Pheasant Wood.

11 buses were now needed, four on the F2/3/5 cycle, five on the F1, F6, F4 cycle and two on the Fleetwood to Poulton F4. Extra Mercedes were drafted in and big bus operation out of Fleetwood ended for now. 
Sunday contrasts at Cleveleys on in May 1987 with brand new Blackpool City Pacers 560 and 562 at work on the F3-F5 group, while Carriages Ford A CUT374T unloads on arrival from Poulton on the F6 (Brian Turner)

Evening and Sunday tenders changed hands periodically:

  • August 1988 150 to Blackpool (at least on Sundays)
  • November 1988 Fylde took over F3/F4/F5 evenings/Sunday
  • January 1989 Evening F6 to Fylde
  • May 1989 - ESU F6 renumbered F9 and runs via Beechwood Drive
  • October 1989 F3 and 150 evening/Sunday service merged into new F11 every hour - operated by Fylde - though BTS ran a Sunday evening service for a few months
  • December 1989 Sunday F9 to Cartford Travel (evenings still Fylde)
  • March 1990 F4/F5 re-routed and renumbered F15/F14 resp
  • August 1990 Sunday F9 to Fylde
  • November 1990 Evening F9 to Ribble
  • February 1994 F11 replaced by extension of Fylde 333 (Cleveleys to Mereside), Evening F9 to RM Coaches
  • by September 1994 evening F9 to Fylde and Sundays to RM Coaches
  • October 1995 F14/15 withdrawn evenings
  • April 1996 F11 restarted on Sunday with Ribble replacing Fylde 333. Sunday F14/F15 to Ribble 
  • July 1996 Fylde workings taken over by Blackpool Transport with their business - Sunday F9 also taken over
  • October 1996 - Sunday F9 to ACE - later taken over by Phoenix North West (date tbc)
  • October 1997 - Evening F9 to Ribble
  • October 2000 evening 333 w/d Cleveleys to Fleetwood without replacement
  • April 2001 - Sunday F9 to Ribble
Fylde later dominated the tendered market - though the F9 (Poulton) had spells with other operators. Here its Renaults 118 and 101 await departure on the F11 to Fleetwood and F14 to Stanah resp (Brian Turner)

In April 1992 minor changes saw the F2 cut back to run hourly Cleveleys to Poulton via Pheasants Wood, Four Lane Ends and Castle Gardens with two trips via Burn Naze. The F3 was supplemented by an extra hourly Fleetwood-Cleveleys working which extended via Bispham to Victoria Hospital in competition with Carriages who had extended their St. Annes to Cleveleys via Hospital service 4 to Fleetwood.

The F4 was withdrawn between Poulton and Blackpool; the F5 increased to every 20 minutes but with three variations F5 to Hillylaid Road, F5A to Hillylaid and Stanah and the F5B via Tarn Road. The F6 was joined by an F7 to make a half hourly Fleetwood to Blackpool service - the F7 differing as it ran via Four Lane Ends not Thornton Centre.
Stagecoach acquired Ribble in 1989 and started to repaint buses into its iconic, if not universally loved white with orange, red and blue stripes. 547 stands in Cleveleys Bus Station  (NDL642M)

A summer service from Cleveleys-Fleetwood via West Drive, Cala Gran and the Marine Hall was  as service F8. 16 buses were now needed from an allocation of 17. 

In August the F8 ended and the F2 was diverted to run Cleveleys to Cala Gran via Phesants Wood. The F3 lost its supplementary service but 3-4 journeys extended to the Hospital. Carriages ended their incursion into Fleetwood and accepted through fares renumbering their 4 to F10. Ribble ran one evening journey through to St. Annes.

By September 1994 the Hospital workings had ended, the F2 had become a half hourly Cleveleys to Pheasant Wood service, F5 had reduced to half hourly with one variant to Stanah Car Park hourly.

In June 1995 the F2 was diverted to run Cleveleys to Cala Gran - Pheasants Wood was now tendered and served by Fylde service 6A - with ACE taking over as service 10 Pheasants Wood to Victoria Hospital via Cleveleys in October 1995. Also in June 1995 one hourly F5 was renumbered 86 and revised to run Cleveleys to Knott End via Thornton and Poulton.
Next generation of Mercedes were coach build with Alexander bodies, 594 and 637 cross on the F4 bound for Fleetwood and Poulton respectively local network (NDL642M)
The fleet had evolved with investment. New minibuses - Alexander bodied Mercedes 709Ds 610-614 arrived in December 1992, 593/4, 601/6/37 in August 1993. These ten were supplemented by 502, 512-4 and 541/7 from the 1986 batch. Bigger vehicles arrived in 1994 with the introduction of new Volvo B6 minibuses to service F4. 
Volvo B6 283 stands at Cleveleys Bus Station working the F4, returning bigger buses to the local network (NDL642M)
Minor changes continued with the F2 going completely in 1998, the F3/4 swapping routes in Fleetwood in April 2000. The network remained stable, until the early years of the 21st century - changes which will be covered in a future post.