Wednesday, 7 December 2016

The Solo Story

Solo 265 in original livery but on Metro Line 3 passes Marton windmill in 2001 (Brian Turner)
Leeds based Optare was Blackpool's standard bus supplier from 1987 to 2009, supplying 80% of the fleet's new buses - the other 20% were all double deckers (12 Olympians and 30 Tridents). Optare supplied:
  • 32 City Pacers (plus three ex demonstrators) on Volkswagen LT55 chassis in 1987/8
  • 28 Deltas on DAF SB220LC chassis from 1990 to 1993
  • 17 Excels in 1996 and 1999
  • 31 Metroriders from 1995 to 1998 
  • and 57 Solos from 2000 to 2009
The Solo was the third generation of Optare midibus and the first to feature a low floor. A demonstrator was tried for a week on the 26 in March 1999 as S794XUG which was the second complete vehicle built. An order for 15 resulted, to replace the last City Pacers. These became 261-269 and 271-276 (V261HEC etc) and arrived during November 1999 (except 276 which arrived in December). 261-3 were used for driver training ahead of the launch of the type on route 33 (Cleveleys to Mereside). 261/3/7/8 provided the four bus workings on the first day (4 January) with all of 261-8 in use that week. The last seven (269, 271-6) entered service on 31 January to convert the 23-25 (Mereside to Hospital and Staining) to Solo operation - replacing the last City Pacers. This needed 9 buses with 4 on the 33 and two spare. The spare buses often appeared on the 44A/B (Cleveleys- Mereside) as cover for the Optare Excels.

Mercedes engines were standard in the Solo when launched, rather than the Cummins units in the Metrorider and Excel. The Metro Coastlines network launched in April 2001 replaced both main Solo route groups. New Line 3 (Mereside to Cleveleys) replaced much of the 33 with Line 5 (Staining to Lindale Gardens) succeeding the 23-25 and the Solos duly moved over. The Metro network brought with it route branding and individual liveries. Between March and May 2002 261 to 266 were repainted blue and yellow for Line 3. 267-9/71-4 retained black and yellow Handybus livery, but with stickers for Line 5, leaving 275 and 276 as spare buses. 
262 (r) and 271 (l) show the contrasting Line 3 and 4 liveries at Mereside Tesco in 2005
In January 2003 it was decided to swap the Solos and Excels between routes 4 and 5. 271 was duly repainted into Line 4 'Cadbury Blue' and yellow scheme, followed by 267-9 in December 2003 / January 2004 and 272 in November 2004. 273-6 retained Handybus livery until they we repainted into the black and yellow pool livery in October 2004/January 2005. 265/6 also moved onto Line 4 and gained that livery in March 2004.
Lifestyle Line Solo 279 pauses at temporary stops during the remodelling of the Mereside Tesco car park and bus stops in 2004 (Brian Turner)
The next Solos were an usual venture in that they were purchased by Blackpool Council for use on a new tendered service 'Lifestyle Line L1' which was operated by BTS. Six were ordered using government funding from the 'Urban Bus Challenge'. The L1 (Morrisons to Norcross) started on 8 July and needed four buses. Five of the six Solos duly entered service as 278 to 282 (YG02FVP/R/S/T/U) , with the sixth kept in store as 277 pending a future extension of the service. A second UBC bid extended the L1 to run Manchester Square to Fleetwood and provided funding for two more Solos as 283/4 (PN03UGG/H) - this time owned by Lancashire County Council. They entered service on 1 June alongside 277. This first ran as YG02FWH but as it was realised it could legitimately carry and 03 plate, it was registered PL03BPZ after a few days.

A further Lancashire owned Solo - 285 (YN04XYZ) arrived in May 2004 for Kirkham Roamer service 70.
Kirkham Roamer branded 285 in Newton (Brian Turner)

New Line 5 bus 256 passes original 273 on Talbot Road (Brian Turner)
With Tridents the focus of investment in 2002-2004, it was decided to add a batch of Solos in spring 2004 to aid fleet renewal. It was decided to cascade Excels from Line 5 to 7 to allow Deltas onto the 11 and allow more double deckers to be withdrawn. 12 Solos were ordered, this time to a longer wheelbase (9.5m length v 8.5m before) and with Cummins engines, which were now offered instead. 33 seats were fitted v 28 on the initial batch (277-84 were 29 seaters and 285 27 seat).
Brand new Lines 3 and 5 solos 258 and 256 sandwiched by 276 and Metrorider 503 (Brian Turner)
Nine of the new buses were delivered in red/yellow for Line 5 (249-257) and three for Line 3 (258-60) which allowed 265/6 to move to Line 4. The PVR of the 5 dropped to eight in November 2004 with the withdrawal of the Staining  and uniquely the 5 had more branded buses than it needed - until May 2006 when 249 was modified to Line 2 green livery. Kirkham Roamer 285 was also painted into Line 2 livery in August 2006 as this route had replaced the Roamer. At some point BTS assumed ownership. 
293 in the early evening at Corporation Street terminus of Line 16 (Brian Turner)
The Lifestyle Line funding drew to an end in 2007. The service was revised into a new commercial 'Line 16' and to assist Blackpool Council funded the capital cost of new Solos, while BTS purchased the existing ones from the council. Another eight Solos arrived in a light blue/yellow scheme. They were numbered 286-293. The existing Solos were cascaded onto other services and repainted with 277/8/80 gaining pool livery and 279, 281-4 gaining Line 2 green.

A third batch of 33 seaters followed in May 2008 with 294-297 replacing 261-4 on Line 3 - the older four gained pool livery. 248 provided an extra bus on Line 5 (which again needed nine), while 247 arrived in Line 2 green - which now had eight Solos. 247 was the 50th Solo. 240-246 followed in May 2009 for Line 2.
296 in Line 3 colours, on the 5 after the Metro identities had been abandoned (Brian Turner)

The last batch, 241 and 242 pass through St John's Square on Line 2 (Brian Turner)

With all 57 Solos in the fleet they were split as:
  • Line 2 (green) 240-247, 249, 279, 281-285 (15)
  • Line 3 (blue) 258-260, 294-7 (7)
  • Line 4 (Cadbury Blue) 265-269, 271/2 (7)
  • Line 5 (Red) 248, 250-257 (9)
  • Line 16 (light blue) 286-293 (8)
  • Pool (black/yellow) 261-4, 273-8, 280 (11)
September 2009 saw some network changes which reduced the 3 and 16 to 6 buses each, so 286/7 and 294 moved onto Line 2 and 279, 281-3 gained pool livery. The end of the Metro network in 2010 saw Solos move from route 2 to route 7. The line colours were progressively replaced by the new black/yellow livery with repaints as follows:
  • 2010 - 288-90/3
  • 2011 - 250-255, 284-7, 291/2
  • 2012 - 241/2, 248/9, 256/7, 260, 277/8
  • 2013 - 240, 243-247, 258/9, 280 (stored) 283, 294-7 (258/9, 294-6 with Resort Hopper advertising)
  • 2014 - 279
240/1/7 with Western Greyhound May to November 2013 helping out due to a devastating fire with destroyed over 30 of their buses.
290 was the first bus to operate in the new livery on 28 July 2010, it is seen here a few weeks later in Lytham during the spell of Solo operation on Line 7 which ended in early 2011 (Brian Turner)
The first Solos were withdrawn during the first half 2011 with 261-266 with 267-274 following in Autumn 2012. 280/1were also withdrawn in November 2012 but 281 was reinstated in May. 275/6 completed withdrawal of the initial batch in March 2013. 261/2/4 were purchased by the Centrebus group with 261 going to Bowers of Chapel-en-le-Frith and 262/4 to the Yorkshire operation. This was later sold and became Yorkshire Tiger for whom 262/4 still operate in Halifax after a period in Leeds.
Solo 264 was one of the first disposals - it latterly carried pool livery and is seen here in January 2011 on short lived service 18 betwen St. Annes and Lytham (Brian Turner)

263/5/6 were sold to Holmeswood Travel, near Ormskirk (266 as R5HWD) but were sold onto Centrebus in early 2012, rejoining its sisters. 263 joined 261 at Bowers with cherished plate B8WER, while 265/6 went to Yorkshire but soon moved to Bowers - which later became High Peak Buses. 266 moved to the main Centrebus fleet in 2015. 261 was sent for scrap in May 2015, while 263 was withdrawn later that year and is also believed scrapped. 265 was withdrawn in August 2015 and 266 survived until the summer. 

Solos on Line 5 were quite commonly seen in pairs as it was prone to bunching - here two, colour coordinated with Pricebusters (Brian Turner) 

261February 2011May 2011Centrebus GroupScrapped
262February 2011May 2011Centrebus GroupYorkshire Tiger
263March 2011May 2011Holmeswood Travel presumed scrapped
264April 2011May 2011Centrebus GroupYorkshire Tiger
265March 2011May 2011Holmeswood Travel presumed scrapped
266May 2011May 2011Holmeswood Travel presumed scrapped
267October 2012June 2014Blackpool Council Blackpool Council 
268October 2012Oct 2013Private (spares)Scrapped 
269October 2012Jan 2013Halton TransportHalton Transport (withdrawn)
271October 2012Jan 2013Halton TransportHalton Transport
272October 2012Jan 2013Halton TransportHalton Transport
273November 2012July 2013Halton TransportStar Travel, Aylesbury
274November 2012July 2013Halton TransportHalton Transport
275March 2013July 2013Partons, ScrapHalton Transport
276March 2013July 2013Halton TransportHalton Transport
277August 2016August 2016Private for SparesScrapped
278May 2016August 2016Private for SparesScrapped
279August 2016August 2016Private for SparesScrapped
280November 2012March 2015Partons, ScrapScrapped
281March 2014January 2015PrivateThe Eden, West Auckland
282March 2014January 2015PrivateThe Eden, West Auckland
283November 2014March 2015Partons, ScrapScrapped
284May 2016August 2016PrivatePrivate owner, Blackpool
285August 2015? 2016PrivatePrivate owner, Blackpool

Solo 284, one of the Lifestyle Line examples at Mereside (Brian Turner)


With all the Mercedes engined Solos sold, the 33 Cummins engined examples remain (240-260, 284-296). Routes 3, 4, 10, 15, 16 and 17 are the main Solo routes - though they do appear elsewhere. 

Interior of Solo 263 (Brian Turner)

The later interior with revised seating on 296 (Brian Turner)