Sunday, 20 May 2012

Handybus at 25 - Part 1: The Routes 1987 to 1994

City Pacer 562 turns from Waddington Road into Pilling Avenue on the St. Annes Handybus service working the Whalley Place leg in September 1987
May marks the 25th anniversary of the now defunct "Handybus" brand, which introduced minibuses, Optare products and the first black and yellow fleet livery to Blackpool. Later posts will cover the buses (City Pacers, Metroriders, Renaults, Excels and Solos) but this post focuses on the routes.

The introduction of the minibuses was somewhat low key. City Pacers 560-564 had arrived in late March/early April and entered service at the beginning of May on evening and Sunday contracted local services in Cleveleys - the F3 (Cleveleys-Fleetwood), F4 (Cleveleys-Thornton) and F5 (Cleveleys-Little Thornton). Three buses were required. It is believed that the City Pacers also ran on route 33 (Cleveleys-Marton) during May but this is not confirmed.

The main use for the new buses became apparent during May when publicity appeared for a new service in St. Annes. The service started on 1 June with a free travel day and needed four minibuses operating every 10 minutes during the day only. To reach Spring Gardens to start service buses ran out from Blackpool as route 11C and returned as such in the evening, with routes 4 and 14 used to position buses to Thornton and Fleetwood for the evening service.

Route 1 St. Annes Handybus (Whalley Place to Spring Gardens from 1 June 1987 to 27 February 1988
The 1 was not a success, perhaps being somewhat ambitious and was withdrawn in February 1988. A second batch of minibuses arrived during the autumn of 1987, though most were too late for the launch of the second minibus route - a conversion of big bus route 26 (Talbot Square to South Pier via Marton) to a 5 minute frequency.
Handybus Route 26 from 5 September 1987 on which City Pacers ran until August 1996
A batch of Ford Transits was borrowed from Midland Red North and mainly ran on route 1 to release the City Pacers for the 26. The 26 was much more of a success. 9 buses provided the daytime service with three in the evening and on Sundays. The route remain unchanged, save for an unusual evening diversion via Watson Road to serve the Ice Drome which ran from August 1988 to March 1992. The latter date also saw the frequency eased to every 6 minutes (8 minibuses). November 1994 saw the evening service terminus move to Cookson Street and on 5 August 1996 the route was converted to single deck operation. Minibuses - mainly Metroriders resumed on 7 December 1998 and lasted until the end of the 26 on 7 April 2002.

A 5 minute daytime and 15 minute evening/Sunday service was provided - note the promotional maximum fare for the first weekend

The evening Ice Drome extension took service buses through the Watson Road underpass  for the first and only time

Five of the new City Pacers (549-553) had arrived by the end of September and with two demonstrators purchased (as 565/6) there were now 12 buses in stock for the 13 workings, aided by the Transits. 554-559, 567/8 completed the batch of 13 new buses during October and November. They allowed the launch of new routes 17A/17B in Bispham. These provided a 10 minute frequency circular in each direction around estate roads mostly served by Fylde's 5 and 66 introduced in November. Fylde's buses ran through to Blackpool leaving a somewhat restricted market for the Bispham circulars.
Bispham Handybus 17A/B featured a festive addition to the standard leaflet
Four City Pacers were required two on route A and two on route B with a short day from 0800 to 1800
The 17A/B, like the 1, were not particularly successful, in contrast to route 26. It was decided to drop both and they ended at the end of February. The minibuses released were transferred to a new high frequency service on route 12. The 12 used Routemasters running between Blackpool and St. Annes via Lytham Road, but from 29 February were supplemented by a 5 minute minibus service as far as Highfield Road. 8 minibuses were required and a 15 minute evening and Sunday service was provided on the full route to St. Annes. 
Minibuses on route 12 short workings to Highfield Road turned via Scarsdale Avenue and Abbey Road.
The minibuses ran every 5 minutes but also worked some early morning journeys to Squires Gate and the evening/Sunday service to St. Annes.
17 out of 20 buses were needed for the 12 and 26, but only seven on Sundays. Route 33 saw regular Sunday minibus operation at these times. From 1 August the minibus 12s were revised into a stand-alone service 12A which continued from the Farmers Arms up Highfield Road and then in a loop via St. Annes Road to Halfway House and back via Squires Gate Lane and Lindale Gardens to Highfield Road. The frequency was dropped to every 6 minutes so that the longer route could use the same eight buses. The evening/Sunday service continued to use minibuses until April 1989.
The new 12A route from 1 August 1988 with hail and ride operation on the extension to Lindale Gardens
1 August 1988 saw a third batch of new City Pacers (569-578) convert route 9 from crew double deck operation to a 7/8 minute minibus service. 8 buses were required with four for the 15 minute evening/Sunday operation. The route featured a terminal loop in the Town Centre with buses running via Cookson St, Talbot Road, Market St, Church St, Corporation St, back up Talbot Road, Topping Street and into Talbot Road Bus Station. This lasted until April 1990 when the Corporation St route was dropped with buses terminating at the Bus Station. The 9 retained this timetable until it was replaced by extended route 12 in March 1992

Route 9 showing the Town Centre route adopted for this and route 7/7A
A fourth batch of minibuses (579-582) allowed the re-introduction of routes 7/7A on 12 December 1988 which provided a 15 minute service in each direction to Bispham with the 7 out via Devonshire Road and back via Warbreck Drive as a response to competition from Fylde. An hourly weekday evening service was provided, this having started back in January 1988 having been taken over from Fylde who ran it on contract from Lancashire CC. 29 buses were now needed for the 7/7A, 9, 12A and 26

From 2 April 1990 the Town Centre loop ended and the route was increased to every 12 minutes using 5 buses with the route diverted to serve Claremont Park to replace routes 3/3A. The evening service ended sometime in 1989 but was reinstated (with a Sunday equivalent) to replace the 2/2A from 10 June 1991. 
The 2/2A got revenged as they were merged with the 7/7A in 1994 under the 2/2A/2B identity. 

The minibuses released by the conversion of route 9 were redeployed on the 2A and 15 from 30 March 1992. The 2/A were withdrawn between Bispham and Blackpool as the 7/A provided an adequate service. They were doubled to every 10 minutes between Blackpool and Poulton. 5 workings per hour ran as 2A via Highcross Road and used five minibuses; the sixth ran via Hardhorn Road as service 2 using Deltas interworked with the 180/2. One minibuses provided the hourly 2A evenings/Sundays. Another two minibuses ran the 15 from Cleveleys to Staining during the day. From October 1992 the 2 workings also became minibus operated while the 15 was converted to single deck operation from 4 January 1993.

Other Routes
The Fleetwood tendered services ended on Sundays around February 1988 and in the evenings in November. A contract for Fleetwood Sunday circular 150 used 1 minibus from 21 August 1988 until October 1989. Blackpool also ran a Sunday evening F11 between Fleetwood and Cleveleys between November 1989 and May 1990.

Sundays also saw extra workings on route 14 (Blackpool to Fleetwood) to duplicate Fylde's competitive service from 17 May 1988 but these ceased later in the year. Minibuses also worked some early morning and late evening works buses to BNFL at Salwick - a network Blackpool took a large share of in 1988 which promoted Ribble to close its Blackpool depot. They also provided tendered service 173 which ran on Tuesdays and Fridays from Peel Corner at 0945 returning from Lytham Square at 1200 from 2 August 1988.  From November it became route 172 and ran from/to Wrea Green but passed to Redline Coaches the following year.

1993 saw a shortlived service 3 and 4 from January to April competing with Fylde's 33 from Blackpool to Welcome Inn via Park Road. Minibuses also ran service 23A (South Pier to Mereside) won on contract in March 1994. One City Pacer worked service 53 (Airport to Victoria Hospital) from 21 February to 15 July 1994 competing with Town Bus service 53A.

1994 saw a fleet of 35 City Pacers providing services 2/A (6 buses), 7/7A (5 buses), 12A (8 buses), 26 (8 buses) making a total of 27 workings. 1994 also saw the purchase of Fylde Transport and from November 1994 their Renault minibuses and routes joined the Handybus network. 1995 saw the introduction of the first Optare Metrorider and this signalled the beginning of the end of the City Pacers.