Sunday, 6 August 2017

Promenade Service at 30

Busy times as Fylde 103 operates the new Beachcomber Promenade service at Tower (Brian Turner)
In 1984/5 when local bus deregulation was proposed, there were many objections, often focusing on loss of links at quiet times. On the Fylde, while many bus services were recast, the feared heavy cuts did not happen. One particular local concern was the exposure of the Blackpool Tramway to bus competition. Prior to deregulation, other than between Manchester Square and Talbot Square (5, 11/11A, 12); Gynn Square and Bispham and Little Bispham to Anchorsholme (3/3A) there were no parallel bus routes to the tramway in Blackpool. Ribble did overlap considerably in the Wyre area.

In fact the initial deregulation network reduced overlaps, with the 3/3A cancelled on North Promenade. Competition between Blackpool Transport and Fylde developed in 1987 with the most significant measures being the introduction of the St. Annes Handybus in June 1987. Fylde's response was to introduce its own minibus operation, competing with Blackpool's hitherto un-threatened tramway.
The response - day 1 of the new "Beachroamer 55"and 530 heads for Gynn Square near Harrowside (Brian Turner)
Its six Dodge S56 minibuses, with Northern Counties bodies arrived in June 1987 and entered service on 29th June on new service "Beachcomber 5". This ran from outside Pontins along the Promenade to Gynn Square with a bus every 7/8 minutes and all six needed daily. Fylde's 1965 vintage open top Atlantean also put in appearances, newly branded for new 'service 1' which ran two return trips, Mondays Tuesdays and Fridays from St. Annes to Fleetwood for the market. 

The Dodges seated 22 (101-4) or 20 (105/6), so with around 160 seats per hour the tramway was unlikely to be threatened - given that one double decker tram could take 100 passengers. However the minibuses did dent the shared taxi operations which had become popular.

At the end of the season, the 5 was revised to run a 30 minute Starr Gate to Little Bispham service using 2 buses - with the other six switched to new route 66 Town Centre to Sevenoakes. In January the 5 morphed into a Blackpool to Cleveleys service and the southern end of the Promenade became busless again in the winter, except for the odd positioning journey to/from Fylde's depot.

Fylde's minibuses resumed for Easter on Good Friday 1 April 1988 this time using route number 55. Full season service resumed in May, now starting from Pontin's forecourt. Blackpool Transport responded with its own Promenade service using six Routemasters bought from London Buses - joining six bought in 1986 and used on service 12. The buses had a simplified version of the 'heritage' red and white used on the first batch and were branded "Beachroamer 55" v Fylde's "Beachcomber". The Routemasters started on 28th May.

The 1989 season saw Fylde run at Easter renumbered 40p - reflecting the flat fare which had risen from 35p the prior year. Blackpool resumed their service also renumbered 40, prompting a fare cut by Fylde to 35p meaning their service was renumbered too!
1990 and Beachcomber has become Coastliner 1 with Fylde's ex Hull Atlantean 134 leading Blackpool's now unbranded Routemaster southbound at Manchester Square (Brian Turner)
For the 1990 season, Blackpool Transport secured access to Pontin's forecourt, banishing Fylde. BT provided an all-over advert tram and Routemaster, presumably better value than Fylde's two minibuses. Fylde responded by replacing its minibuses with double deckers. There was no Easter service and some of Fylde's older double deckers  3 open toppers and 4 closed toppers received a branded livery with a yellow front branded Coastliner. The closed toppers had blue sides/rears, the open toppers advert liveries. The route became service 1 ran ran every 10 minutes from St. Annes Square - so it could still pass Pontins - terminating at Market Street, Blackpool Town Centre. 5 buses were needed. Evening services ran Pleasure Beach to Gynn Square.

Blackpool's 40 continued every 10 minutes Pontins to Gynn with a half hourly evening service to Tower only.
Fylde Atlantean 54 displays the 1991 version of the Promenade livery with two tone blue and a yellow front (c NDL642M)

Fylde developed its new service 1, rebranding as "Rollercoaster Route 1" in partnership with Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Liveries became more vivid and more venerable Atlanteans joined the fleet. In 1993 the Fylde Promenade fleet comprised:
10 ex Hull Atlanteans 1969-1971 (48, 49, 52-57, 59/60) 52/3/4/5/7 were open top
2x new to Fylde Atlanteans/Willowbrook 1975 (50, 83)
1x new to Salford Atlantean/Met Cam open top 1965 (51)
1x new to Lytham Atlantean/NCME 1970 (58)
1x new to Clyde Coast Atlantean/NCME 1977 (70)

Blackpool used six 1961-1963 built Routemasters, alternating its fleet each year between the two batches after 1991 when the 12 lost its batch. It also ran a tram fleet of mainly 1930s vehicles. Promenade travel was a vintage affair. 

Routewise, Fylde tended to run to Cabin at the north and extended in St. Annes to Pleasure Island complex serving the town's hotels. Blackpool withdrew between Tower and Gynn in 1992, reducing its PVR to just 4. Fylde ran 8 per hour to Blackpool's six.
The 1994 livery featured light blue orange and yellow - with a dark blue bustle. 19 year old Atlantean shows the rendition of the Big One Rollercoaster on the offside (c NDL642M)

Fylde was taken over by Blackpool in May 1994, but stayed as a separate entity until July 1996. The Promenade services were co-ordinated with each operator providing a 10 minute service. This would be the last year of Routemasters on the Prom as the 1995 season saw Fylde service 1 reign supreme.

Fylde's distinctive Promenade liveries were replaced by the new standard blue and cream fleet livery, with yellow fronts for 1995 but these were dropped for 1996 so fleet liveried buses became standard - ending the dedicated operation of the older Atlanteans. The last open toppers remained dedicated, though these ended in 1998. 1996 saw operation extended from Cabin to Little Bispham, but this was cut back in 1997. 1998 saw a short extension to Bispham and then Cleveleys in 1999. 
1998 was the final season of Fylde's venerable open toppers. Here, in the restrained green and cream livery 453 turns into Pontins (Brian Turner)

The service continued during the 2000s, with various changes. Seasonal timetables saw lower frequencies in the early season and higher frequencies in school holidays. The St. Annes section was reduced, by 2003 it was high season only and by 2006 it had ended. Pontins became the southern terminus, though buses served the Airport southbound from 2006. The holiday camp closed in October 2009 and buses terminated at the Airport for 2010.

The Metro era saw the Atlanteans common on service 1 displaced by Olympians from 2003, with route branding resuming with an orange/yellow livery for service 1 - and also for school services. Olympians 365-7 and 407-10 were dedicated for 2003, 404-6 in 2004, 368/9 in 2006 (with 404 painted for line 20), 2007 saw 401-4 and later Tridents 333-337. Olympians 411-7 also gained the orange livery but tended to be used solely on schools. Tridents 338/9 were the final recipients in 2009/10.

Summer 2006 saw a dalliance with City Sightseeing open toppers. These had provided a tour in 2001 but moved onto Zoo service 21 - which also served the Promenade from 2002 and onto the 1 in 2006. They moved onto revised service 20 from 2007. 
Metrobus 815 represents the short lived City Sightseeing era on service 1 in 2006 (Brian Turner)

Blackpool's tramway was in troubled times - not really caused by bus competition, but declining infrastructure. Major track renewals took place in winters 2003/4 and 2004/5 with tram replacement buses from Thorton Gate to Fleetwood. It was decided for the 2007 winter to make Line 1 a year round service and it ran every 20 minutes Starr Gate to Fleetwood. Major winter works continued on the tramway until it was relaunched in 2012. This included the closure of the Fleetwood street section in 2010, and the closure of the entire line north of Little Bispham in 2011. The 1 therefore performed an important function. It ran every 20 minutes with season extras. 
Centro 527 operating on service 1 during 2011 - it is diverted at Little Bispham onto Cleveleys Promenade due to tram works. (Brian Turner)
September 2010 saw the nine new Volvo/Plaxton Centro single deckers allocated to the 1, but these proved too small at busy times so double deckers soon appeared. The major Promenade road scheme saw the route split into 1 Fleetwood-Blackpool and 1A Blackpool to Airport for winter 2010/1. The through route resumed in June 2011. November 2010 also saw the 1 replace the 14 between Fleetwood and Freeport.
2008 - and the 1 is running Pontins to Fleetwood, with a mixed Trident/Olympian allocation. The two 1989 Olympians painted into orange (368/9) are seen at Pontins terminus (Brian Turner)

Since the reopening of the tramway, the 1 has continued with its base 20 minute frequency service, and half hourly evening timetable which remains today. It complements the trams, especially for older folk whose concessionary passes are not valid on the trams if outside the local area.

So Promenade buses started in 1987 - with 8 minibuses per hour and today, 30 years on use 3 double deckers per hour. The tramway has probably never been fitter with a fleet of 16 new trams in 2012, a planned extension and a vibrant volunteer run heritage operation. 

The ex Blackburn Tridents were allocated to service 1 in 2007 when the service became year round. Here 333 and a sister head south at Norbreck (Brian Turner)