Tuesday 27 June 2017

Seen at Totally Models

As part of 'Totally Models' Two preserved buses owned by Martin Gurr and Gary Conn provided a half hourly shuttle from Blundell Street to Starr Gate connecting with the Heritage Tram Tours. Delta 133 of 1991, poses alongside Centenary 648 of 1985 (Paul Turner)

Atlantean 362 of 1983 was the other bus, seen here at Blundell Street with 133 (Paul Turner)

Heritage livery Trident 332 was brought out for photos and was briefly posed alongside 133 (Paul Turner)

The model display was in the Paint and Body Shops at Rigby Road and the entry area allowed a view of the bus yard, and different vehicles were kindly posed during the day. Restored, but not yet operational Atlantean 364 and Heritage Trident 332 pose together (Paul Turner)

Later 332 and 364 moved into the storage rows, alongside ex Fylde Atlantean 45 - 364 and 45 were two of only four Atlanteans to receive B-prefixes - 45 being the last to enter service of maintstream UK production (Paul Turner)

Among the excellent models was Mike Wilson's recreation of Fylde's Squires Gate Depot with his amazing collection of local models, many scratchbuilt. (Paul Turner)

Spot the difference- Mike's model has a removeable front section to allow the original brickwork or later panelled front to be displayed. (Paul Turner)

Sunday 11 June 2017

From the Archives: 30 Years of the City Pacers

Brand new City Pacers 564 and 560 contrast with 20 year old PD3 518 in Rigby Road depot (Brian Turner)
On 24 March 1987 the first of an eventual fleet of 35 Optare City Pacers arrived at Blackpool. Minibuses had become common following experiments by the National Bus Company in Exeter in 1984. Most early minibuses were van conversions or coach built bodies on van/chassis cowl. Optare broke new ground in 1986 with the coach built City Pacer, still based on a van chassis (Volkswagen LT55) but with a stylish body and higher driving position addressing many weaknesses of the van conversions.
The coach built City Pacer body was quite high floored with a narrow door and high driving position. Here the brand new 561 contrasts with the tangled wrecks of a nearly scrapped OMO tram and burnt out Atlantean (Brian Turner)
The pioneer was numbered 560 (D560YCW) and was joined by sisters 561-564 (D561-4YCW) over the next few days. Although the City Pacer could see 25, Blackpool opted for just 19 seats - with higher backed seats on 563/4 for private hire work. They entered service, initially on tendered services, in May before moving onto the St. Annes Handybus route in June.
Demonstrator D898NUA, which became Blackpool 566, among more traditional fleet members (Brian Turner)
The second batch - bought for route 26 - arrived rather fitfully with 549 (E549GFR) first to arrive on 27 August, ten days before the launch of the 26. Earlier in the month Optare provided two demonstrators for driver training and they were soon purchased becoming 565 (D854MUA) and 566 (D898NUA). The latter (uniquely for Blackpool) featured automatic transmission and 25 seats - rather than the normal 5 speed manual gearbox.

The rest of the new batch were 550-559, 567/8 (E550GFR etc). 550-3 arrived between 12 and 20 September, 554-59/67/8 between 18 and 31 October and all were in use by early November. 565/6 were repainted into Handybus colours from their white demonstrator corridor.
560 and 562 pass on St. Thomas Road on the St. Annes Handybus route in 1987 (Brian Turner)
Batch three arrived in the last two weeks of July 1988 ready to launch route 9 on 1 August. These featured 4 speed gearboxes and were 569/70 (E569/70OCW) and 571-8 (F571-8RCW). They were followed by 579-82 (F579-82WCW) on 5 December, a week before the launch of the 7/7A.
The City Pacers settled into a routine life with little out of the ordinary, save for a charity trip from Paris to Blackpool undertaken by 582 on 9 April 1989. Blackpool Transport names and promotional lettering for the trip were applied and retained to its first repaint. In 1990 it was decided to fit an extra double seat in place of  the luggage bin making them 21 seaters.

A 35th solo joined the fleet in December 1989. Optare had provided a demonstrator (F934AWW) for a short period in January 1989 and sold the bus to Blackpool at the end of the year. Numbered 583 it was used initially in Optare's colours  - often as a driver trainer - until repaint into black and yellow during the summer. Routine repaints took place featuring a yellow roof to reduce sun absorption during the early 1990s.
Several City Pacers became caravans, including 573 which remained local to the Fylde as seen here at Fairhaven Lake in 2004 (Brian Turner)
Run Down
The take-over of Fylde Borough in May 1994 saw the Handybus fleet expand with 20 Renaults, though several were withdrawn during the integration of the two networks in November 1994. Soon after the launch of the City Pacer MCW launched the integral Metrorider - with no van influences, but this was not enough to secure MCW's future and it closed down. Optare bought rights to the Metrorider which hastened the end of the City Pacer. A seed vehicle was placed with Blackpool Transport in 1995 (584) and resulted in an order for eight which arrived later in the year. October 1995 saw City Pacers 549, 550, 560 and 561 were withdrawn and were part exchanged for Metroriders 585-588 while in November 551/2, 562-4 went back to Optare in exchange for 589-592 - the ninth effectively replaced by 584.

These initial nine disposals all went for further use. 549 was briefly with Jones Llanfaethlu (flickr)before reaching Zak's of Birmingham and moving onto a brief final career with City Hopper of Portsmouth in 2001. 550's next service career was short, running with Walsh of Middleton before sale as a motor home by August 1996. It has proved long lasting, it is currently taxed and MOT. 551 went to Walsh with 550 but became a non psv with a firm in Eccleston during the summer, lasting until 2002. 552 travelled around running with Bratihwaite in Cumbria, Globe in Barnsley, J&R in Accrington and finally Jowett of Hull in 2001.

560 went to Reading Buses and later Thames Travel and has been with a preservationist as a spares donor since 2001, its understood to be intact pending a future project to restore a sister Reading example. 561 ran with Top Cat of Mirfield before becoming a non psv, while 562 ran for a Northumberland operator. In still survived in 2010 under conversion to a mobile home. 563 is believed to have survived until 2002 but with an unknown owner. 564 joined 549 at Zaks but was withdrawn after a year.

More Metroriders arrived in 1996 (593-6 in May and 501-4 in September). These, and changes to routes in August 1996, saw 553-558 and the two demonstrators (565/6) withdrawn. 553-555 went to Handybus, Warminster (a new firm using Blackpool's name) in January 1997 (555 on flickr). 553/4 moved to Powercrafts of Blackburn in December 1997 for two years service and were scrapped in 2004 after several years gathering dust in their yard. 555 passed to Virgin of Oadby and ended its career in 1999. 556-558, 566 passed to Reading Buses to compete with Reading Mainline (who had ex Blackpool Routemasters!). They lasted until 1998. 566 was exported to Guernsey, 558 ran with Thames Travel who used 557 for spares. 556 was stripped by Reading. 565 was exported to Ireland.

With 17 sold, 18 remained in service at the start of 1997. More Metroriders arrived in late 1998 but through elaborate cascades replaced Atlanteans so 559, 567-583 survived once more. Optare launched the low floor Solo minibus to replace the Metrorider and Blackpool took 15 at the end of 1999 to replace the last City Pacers. 

569 was withdrawn in October having suffered mechanical failure and started to donate spares to its sisters. The first Solos were to convert route 33 from 4 January 2000 and this allowed 559, 567/8, 570-3, 580/1 to be withdrawn on 30 December. 559/67 racked up just over 12 years service - credible for this type. 575 retired on 24 January with 576/7 soon after leaving 574, 578/9 and 582/3 for the final day on 29 January all working routes 23, 24 and 25.

Former 583 with Mac Tours in their attractive red and cream livery (James Millington)
Early disposals saw 572 and 583 pass to Mac Tours of Edinburgh in February where they ran until 2002. 570 followed for spares in October 2000. 583 rematerialised on Ebay in September 2007 as a aborted caravan conversion. 570/2 have been scrapped. 580/1 are believed to have gone to Ireland, 577 remained in Blackpool as a mobile showroom for a local bathroom company who used it until 2003. 573 was purchased privately as a caravan and was seen around the Fylde until 2006. 575 was purchased for preservation by Graham Oliver who painted in green and cream as a what might have been. It has since returned to black/yellow and is now in LTT ownership.

McKindless of Wishaw swept up the remainder - 559, 567/8, 571, 574, 576, 578, 579 and 582 and the remains of 569 (flickr 567). Not all were used, but some received Irish registrations. 559/68 were scrapped locally, several others went to Holts of Bolton dealership. 567 was later used by Craven Arms Taxis in 2001, 574 became a caravan and was still in use in 2011.

Known or probable survivors are:

  • 550 E550GFR - mobile caravan, taxed and MOT'd (photo here 2016)
  • 560 D560YCW - long term store as future spares donor for another bus
  • 562 D562YCW - SORN - static home in Blyth (photo here Feb 2017)
  • 574 F574RCW  - SORN, MOT Expired 2011
  • 575 F575RCW - LTT stored

Market Street Contrasts

Enviro 418 on the 11 (MA5), Stagecoach 15576 on the 68 (MA4) and Trident 302 on the 7 (MA2) on 8 June
23rd May saw the opening of the new bus stops on Market Street. Four bays in chevron format now accommodate the space of the previous three, with a the extra stop in place outside the Town Hall. 

  • Stop MA5 nearest the camera is used by BTS 11, 
  • Stop MA4 by Stagecoach 68, 
  • Stop MA3 by 5, 
  • Stop MA2 by the 7
  • Stop MA1 by the 6 and 17 outside the Town Hall north of West Street
Initially the 11 and 68 were to use MA5, with the 7 on MA4 and 6 on MA2 but this proved unworkable due to clashes between the 11 and 68, both terminating services and the arrangements changed on 23rd.  Corporation Street stops have settled to CO1 6, CO2 2/2C, CO3 14 with CO4 outside the Town Hall used by 15, 16 and Stagecoach 61.

A contrasting Trio. Atlantean 324 leads the line with sister 353 and 349 behind in September 1982. (Brian Turner)

Disposal Updates

342 has now been withdrawn again after its brief reinstatement and it is understood to be leaving imminently. The other five long Tridents, 333-337, are understood to have passed to North West Bus Sales for onward disposal. 333 has been reported in the yard of Tyrers of Adlington but this may just be for storage. 334/337 are currently taxed, 333/5/6 SORN. 337 has been reported in Selby with Stockdale's Coaches. 

Solo 253 has passed to an operator in the Cheltenham area, leaving on 31 May.

Enviro 435 has received a revised version of the 'Love your Bus' graphic on its offside with a larger font and incorporating the rainbow shades of the LGBT community to mark the recent pride event.

Friday 2 June 2017

From the Archives: A Big Hand for Handybus - 30 years ago

A typical light load of three for City Pacer 564 in September heading for Spring Gardens (Brian Turner)
The bus industry in the mid 1980s was fixated on the minibus. Ribble had introduced them to the Fylde coast in 1986 at Fleetwood and it was inevitable that others would follow. Blackpool Transport's chose the new Optare City Pacer and introduced the "Handybus" brand. A distinctive black scheme with yellow skirt was adopted for the new minibus fleet in 1987. 
560 signals left to turn into St Davids Road North as 562 heads up St Thomas Road bridge (Brian Turner)
Five City Pacers arrived at the end of March 1987, numbered 560-4 D560-4YCW and entered service on tendered service 33 (Cleveleys to Marton Hypermarket) and the F3-F5 evening/Sunday contracts in Fleetwood and Cleveleys in May. The 33 was only a temporary arrangement as on June 1st they moved to St. Annes operating a free launch day service on the new Handybus route that started for real the following day. Four buses were required providing a ten minute service starting at Spring Gardens and serving almost entirely previously under served roads to St. Annes Square before continuing to Whalley Place. The northern leg competed with Fylde's 193 which ran half hourly and the southern leg arguably competed with the hourly Roamer but also both Blackpool and Fylde's main services along Church Road.
Handybus leaflet front and back covers showing the two route legs
The high frequency was somewhat ambitious and loadings were not particularly encouraging. The service was daytimes only with buses from St. Annes to Spring Gardens at 0751, 0811, 0831 and every 10 minutes to 1721 then 1741 and from St. Annes to Whalley Place at 0730, 0750, 0810 and every 10 minutes until 1700 and 1720. Buses started their day by operating as service 11C from Blackpool to Spring Gardens where they picked up their first working. Likewise their final journeys from St. Annes to Spring Gardens continued to Blackpool. From there one retired to depot but three ran to Fleetwood to work the evening services and positioning journeys on the 14 (Fleetwood) and 4 (Thornton).
One of the hired in Ford Transits heads to Whalley Place (Brian Turner)
A further 15 City Pacers were obtained to convert service 26 to high frequency operation in September 1987 but only one had arrived by launch day! Two demonstrators were purchased and a third borrowed but Blackpool Transport had to hire some two year old Ford Transit minibuses from Midland Red North. These - amongst the earliest of the first generation minibuses - were normally used in St. Annes to release the five City Pacers for the 26. C39-43WBF arrived in late August and were temporarily Blackpool's 379-383, C37WBF followed in September (385) and C49WBF in October (389). All except 49 arrived in blue, grey and purple livery and as part of the loan deal Blackpool Transport repainted each one into Midland Red North's new red/yellow livery. 39 went back first in early October (replaced by 49) and the rest followed by the end of October.
The Transits were repainted as shown by 43 (new red livery) and 37 (old blue livery) (Brian Turner)
Blackpool covered this hire under the blanket of a research exercise and passengers were given a questionnaire to fill in to compared the Transit and the City Pacer. The results were never published.

The other marketing initiative was to provide through fares to the extended Routemaster operated service 12 (St. Annes to Blackpool). However loadings were still poor and the inevitable notice was issued in February advising that the service would cease on 27 February 1988 - ironically the buses were used to part convert service 12 to minibus operation.

562 demonstrates how the buses penetrated local housing estates in St. Annes (Brian Turner)
This was not the end of minibus experiments in St. Annes for Fylde had a couple of valiant attempts. First was the Shoplink 1 and 2 from 9 December 1989. Each ran hourly with the 1 serving Alexandria Drive, Clifton Hospital Grounds and Kingsway to Ansdell then through South Park to Lytham with the 2 serving Mayfield Road, Shepherd Road, Jubilee Way, Hall Park and joining the 1 route in Ansdell to Lytham. Five journeys ran each way on each route and Renaults 111 and 114 launched the services. Oddly at times Bristol REs stood in - which with 44 seats provided a huge excess of supply over demand. The services were unsuccessful and ceased in February 1990.

Route map for services 1 and 2
The next attempt started on May 10 1993 when service 88 started. This followed much of the route of the Handybus from St. Annes via Oxford Road, Dobson Avenue and Frobisher Drive but terminated at the recent housing development on Appealing Lane known as "The Hamlet" - not a name which screams 'good bus territory'. The 88 ran every half hour from 0945 to 1415 (1645 on Saturdays) and 15 minutes later back from St. Annes with a break for the regular driver's lunch. The leaflet (below) credited the idea to a local councillor and quoted fares from St. Annes:

  • to St Patricks Road North of 25p (20p on the Handybus in 1987); 
  • to Links Hotel of 40p (25p in 1987), 
  • to Rodney Avenue of 50p (v 35p) 
  • and to the Hamlet of 65p compared to the 45p maximum on the Handybus. 
Like the 1 and 2 the service lasted just two months, ceasing at the end of July.