Sunday, 26 April 2020

On the Platform

Around twenty years ago former Blackpool conductor Peter Makinson submitted this article for a book I was drafting that has never seen the light of day. Much of the research has formed posts on this blog and having found the original text, Peter has agreed for me to post it here. It comes in three parts.
PD3 514 early in its journey from Cleveleys to Halfway House on the 22 on 25th September 1967 (Peter Makinson)
Blackpool Corporation made extensive use of student employees during the 1960s. Working on the trams was most popular though there was a small band who also worked on the buses. Mostly they were local lads, with a good knowledge of the geography of the town, whereas most of the visiting students, many from Dublin or Belfast, stayed on the trams. 

I worked four seasons at Blackpool, starting in 1964.  The first two were almost exclusively on the trams, but in 1966 and 1967 I worked as a bus conductor, with only occasional forays back onto the trams, mostly for overtime purposes. One thing quickly learned was that working on the buses could be much harder work than the trams. Noisy many of the trams may be, but the ride is much more certain than a bus, and you needed to know how to cope with the unpredictable motion of life on the back.

When I see the variety of services now being operated, I have to admit that we were quite limited in what we did in the 1960's. In the days before deregulation, we knew our place, so to speak. With the exception of Fleetwood and Lytham St. Annes, we kept to our own manor. Most of the services were quite short, and many were based on Talbot Road Bus Station.

Moving on to the buses meant I had to learn some new tricks pretty rapidly. The fare structure was basically the same as on the trams, and on north to south routes I worked out the equivalent fare stages to the ones I knew on the trams. The big difference on the buses was that for the most part you were carrying local people who knew their fares, and would be only too keen to pick you up if you made a mistake. If your face was unfamiliar, many would ask for an obscure destination, perhaps in the hope of getting a penny or two knocked off if the conductor got it wrong.

The bus duties were grouped together in rotas of about 30 duties. Because of the seasonal nature of transport in Blackpool some of the rotas were summer only. It was no surprise to me to find that service 12 and 26, the most unpopular services with the staff, would be on these summer only rotas, as seasonal staff would go onto these. The rest of the town services were spread throughout the rotas, with the exception of 11, 11A and 11C, which were on a separate Lytham rota, and service 14/14A, which were on a Fleetwood rota. To go on either of these you were supposed to undergo special probation, because of the complex fare structures involving other bus operators. I managed to get myself onto the Fleetwood rota in 1966, and worked as a spare conductor on the same duties in 1967. I had a special interest in the route as I lived on it, and had used it for many years to and from school. Longer routes such as Fleetwood and Lytham were preferred by the staff, as you knew you had 4 trips to do for a shift, and that was your day's work. Short services like the 7 and 7A seemed to make the shift seem very long. On these you were back in the bus station every half hour, and if you weren't careful, you would suffer from an excess of tea drinking. Most crews in those days would leave the bus on the stand to load up and spend the entire layover time in the canteen, only emerging at departure time. With a conductor on board, you could still leave on time and pick up your fares along the road. Most of the experienced conductors on the 14/14A would go out before departure, especially in the evening peak, as the buses were always full, and it could be quite difficult to get all the fares in before the first passengers started alighting. One person operation has changed all these time honoured customs and practices, and it is not uncommon now to see a driver stay with the vehicle during layover time.

Shift patterns then were early turn then late turn weeks about. In the 1960's evening bus services operated much more intensively than now, so that you always knew you would be late turn every other week. If you worked spare, this would be your shift pattern for the entire season, and you rarely got to know anyone working on the opposite shift. Most duties in the rota covered an entire week so that you worked the same services for complete week, apart from your day off. Once you were on the rota, you would have what was known as a changeover week, where you swapped from one shift to another, usually by doing several different duties covering the days off of other staff.
Iconic but well past their best, a group of Centre Entrance PD2s huddle in the bus garage in 1967 (Brian Turner)
Working on the inside meant that you got to know some of the special workings, and in particular how the bus fleet was utilised. In the 1960's, the centre entrance PD2/5's were already on the decline, and were mostly relegated to the less intensive services, such as 1, 2, 6A, 7/7A, 9, 15, 15A, 16/16B and 23/23A. They were not ideal buses to work, as you always seemed to be in the way of passenger flow, wherever you tried to stand. They also rattled very badly, and the bodies were not in the best of condition. The other problem was that from the top deck you had no view of the platform unless you were by the stairhead. If you were collecting fares at the front or back of the top deck, you couldn't see if anyone was on the platform wanting to alight. They either had to ring the bell for themselves (largely frowned upon in Blackpool) or call up the stairs, otherwise they would get taken past their stop.

The rear entrance PD2/21 and PD2/27s, plus the PD3s were the backbone of operations, with the PD3s used on the key trunk services such as 11/11A/11C, 12, 14, 22 and 26, and the PD2s used on the rest. The Burlingham bodied PD2/21's were always regarded as odd men out. You didn't get to work on them very often, so that when you did get them, you found that the bells were all in the wrong place. This is always the problem with non-standard vehicles in a large fleet, as I found much later in my career when I worked at West Midlands P.T.E.

The earlier PD3s seemed to be kept to services 12 and 26, for which they had been initially purchased as tram replacements. The half cab PD3s were always seen as rather superior. For some reason best known to the engineering department the 371-380 batch of full front PD3s always seemed rather sluggish in comparison to the rest of the fleet.

There was a degree of interworking in the 1960's, a process with which I was to become very familiar when I worked as a part-time driver at W.M.P.T.E. Dudley in the 1980's. Services 1, 2 and 15  (Poulton/Staining) were interworked, usually changing over at the bus station but occasionally changing in Poulton Square. Services 4, 6 and 13 (Mereside/Squires Gate Lane via Marton Drive) were also interworked, with the changeover taking place outside British Home Stores.

Blackpool had a relatively small number of peak hour extra workings, but those that did operate were interesting. There was an unadvertised service 6D, which duplicated an evening peak working on the 11C to the borough boundary. It was not uncommon to find a Burlingham PD2/21 on this working. Another odd working was a journey on service 2, which started at Staining in the morning peak and went direct to Poulton. This was balanced by a return working from Poulton to Staining in the evening peak. A whole fleet of vehicles operated in the morning and evening peaks to the Government Offices at Norcross.

Amongst the Fleetwood 14/14A duties was a morning peak hour service from Cleveleys direct to the Premium Bond Centre in St. Annes. After completing this journey, you went to St. Annes Square and ran back to Blackpool as Service 11, then back to garage. I learned later in life that vehicles allocated to this service would most likely be those required for some sort of attention later in the day.

My only involvement with the Lytham services was my one week when this peak hour 11 was included in the Fleetwood rota. I felt very much like a fish out of water down there. I was obviously a new face, and it still rankles me to remember the behaviour of the clientele. Starting out at St. Annes Square you would very quickly pick up a good load. You were duplicating a Lytham blue bus, the driver of which seemed to have a fatal fascination with the tail lights of your vehicle. Now those passengers must have used that bus every day of the week, every month of the year, year in year out, but upon seeing a new face they would ask for all kinds of obscure destinations, protesting that they had no idea what the fare was. By the time we got to Starr Gate I was supposed to have all the fares in, and make up the waybill for accounting purposes, but most mornings I would be only half way through. What was happening of course was that a good number of these worthy folk would eventually alight around Waterloo Road before I had got round to them, and in the process they got a free ride. At this stage the Lytham blue bus driver got a sudden urge to join a formula 1 team, and you would be overtaken, and never see that bus again for the cloud of dust raised. Apart from this one working all the Lytham services together with the 11C were run as a separate rota, involving the more senior crews who rather tended to keep themselves to themselves.

The normal timetable services could be supplemented by extra workings according to traffic demands, and the availability of vehicles and crews. Most days would see specials operating between the Tower and Stanley Park Gates. Less well known were occasional workings as service 15C to Newton Hall Camp, half way between Staining Road End and Staining.
346 is the last surviving rear entrance Blackpool PD2 and is under restoration by FTT. Here it is seen in the 1960s at the reversing area at Thornton Social Club on a 14A working form Talbot Road Bus Station.

I mentioned earlier the different fare structures on some routes. On the Fleetwood 14/14A routes there were two complications. Between Castle Gardens and Fleetwood the route was regarded as lying within the territory of Ribble Motor Services. On this part of the route, the Ribble fare structure operated, quite unlike the Blackpool structure and considerably more expensive. An added complexity was that between Castle Gardens and Broadwater the rural tariff operated, and this was different to the urban fares charged within Fleetwood itself. The second complication concerned the timetable. Again between Castle Gardens and Fleetwood the route duplicated Ribble Service 162 from Preston. Ribble offered a half-hour headway over this part of the route, and Blackpool were only allowed to offer the same. The level of traffic justified a quarter hour headway, but to get round this, the service had to be duplicated to provide the capacity required, with two buses operating together every half hour. This always mystified the customers, and it was very difficult to explain the reason for this arrangement.

When I look back, it is amazing to think how much has changed over the years. In the 1960's we had one basic service to Cleveleys (22/22A), an intensive service on the Bispham circulars (7/7A) and an incredibly tortuous summer service on the 16/16B which ran from Claremont Park, via the town centre, Park Road, the Oxford, Cherry Tree Gardens to Marton, and back via Wordsworth Avenue, Stanley Park, and Hornby Road to terminate outside Woolworths. Service 9 ran from the bus station into the new developments at Bispham, terminating at Fairfax Avenue, long before the new Technical College was built. As some of the new services developed, destination boards were used, slotted into brackets on the front grille. One oddity was service 19 from South Pier to Mereside. One bus, normally a PD3 was allocated, which meant that the headway was a very unclockface 40 minutes. It was all done with full size buses, manual gearboxes and conductors, not a Handybus nor a low-floor Excel in sight.

Thirteen years after completing my last shift at Blackpool as a conductor, I was back on the road again, this time as a driver at W.M.P.T.E. in Dudley. Many of the skills learned at Blackpool came back into use, but that, as they say, is another story.