Monday, 23 October 2017

Independents on the Fylde: Route 53 - not always the Easyway

Easyway's ex West Yorkshire Leopard JWU248N turns from Waterloo Road into Lytham Road on service 53 (Brian Turner) 
With two local municipals and three Ribble Motor Services depots covering the local bus market, traditional independents on the Fylde focused on the coach market until deregulation. The new freedoms of the deregulated era from 1986 were to encourage smaller firms to enter the bus market.

One local enterprise so tempted was Easyway. This was formed by a former Blackpool Transport employee and on 11 March 1986 commenced new bus service 53. This was still over six months before deregulation but licensing restrictions were relaxed in the run up to deregulation as it seemed little point in enforcing restrictions which were soon to be abandoned.

Route 53 commenced at Squires Gate Airport and ran along Lytham Road to Royal Oak, up Waterloo Road to Spen Corner then Hawes Side Lane, Daggers Hall Lane, Vicarage Lane, past the Hypermarket then via Penrose Avenue, Oxford Square, South and East Park Drives to Victoria Hospital. It continued via Grange Road to Layton, Westcliffe Drive, through Grange Park Estate, along Blackpool Old Road passing Collegiate School and Sixth Form College, across Carelton Crossing to Castle Gardens and into Poulton Centre. An boardly hourly service was provided, daily with two buses needed. The March timetable comprised:
  • Monday to Saturday 0641NS Royal Oak-Grange Park, 0700NS Royal Oak to Poulton Industrial Estate, 0800 and hourly to 1500, 1610, 1840, 2040NS, 2100SO, 2200SO Airport to Poulton, 1650, 1800, 1940, 2225NS Royal Oak to Poulton and 2300SO Airport to Grange Park
  • Monday to Saturday 0714 Grange Park to Airport then departures from Poulton at 0800 and hourly to 1400, 1515, 1600*, 1710* 1740, 1850*, 1940, 2030NS*, 2100SO, 2135NS*, 2200SO, 2315* (*=to Royal Oak only)
  • Sundays 1300-2200 from each end plus a 2255 from each terminus to Royal Oak only
Initially coaches were used in a white based livery but two former NBC Bristol RE coaches with Plaxton bodywork in a red and cream livery arrived. These were NCN815L new to Northern General and XBW74M new to Oxford. 
XBW74M working 'Free Bus' 53 at the Airport on 20 February 1987 (Brian Turner)
15th September saw a simplifcation of the timetable with some later journeys withdrawn. The 0700 Royal Oak to Poulton IE remained, with 0800-1500, 1615, 1710 Airport to Poulton journeys and 1815, 1910 Airport to Grange Park. From Poutlon to Airport buses ran 0700-1400, 1515, 1605, 1720, 1815 plus two from Grange Park at 1857 to Royal Oak and 1954 to Airport. SUnday buses ran 1300-1900 from Airport and 1300-2000 from Poulton.

Easyway had also registered two competitive services from 27 October - the first weekday of deregulation. These duplicated Blackpool services 9 and 14 and provides two buses at peak times Monday to Friday and two buses during the day on Saturday. The timetable was:
  • 9 Mon - Fri one bus 0730/0845 Blackpool-Cleveleys return, one bus 0750 to College and return then 0830 Blackpool-Cleveleys return. PM buses did two returns to Cleveleys each at 1550, 1610 1710 and 1730. Saturday buses ran every 40 minutes 0830 to 1710
  • 14 Mon-Fri one bus 0700 to Fleetwood and return then 0822 to Thornton Social Club and back the second bus did a 0735 return to Fleetwood. PM saw one bus do 1533/1703 to Fleetwood and back and the other did 1548 to Thornton and 1648 to Fleetwood and back. On Saturdays one bus worked 0810, 0940, 1103, 1233, 1403, 1533 and 1703 trips to Fleetwood with the other working an hour later finishing with the 1633 - leaving an aleranting 30/60 minute gap!
For the 9,14 and 53 six buses were needed and Easyway bought six Plaxton bodied Leyland Leopard buses from West Yorkshire PTE - JWU244-249N. These retained their green and white livery.
The gloomy interior of Talbot Road Bus Station. Easyway JWU249N loads for Cleveleys on service 9 on Saturday 8 November 1986 (Brian Turner)

The company fleetlist for December 1986 showed:

  • 2x AEC Reliances with Plaxton bodies A1 TDK687J new to Yelloway and A2 RHN887R - the latter a 1977 rebody on a 1960s chassis
  • 2x Bristol RE with Plaxton bodies B1 NCN815L and B2 XBW74N
  • 1x Bedford J2S D1 TRN367A of 1961
  • 1x Ford R114 F1 HEA993N
  • 7x Leyland Leopards with Plaxton bodies L1 KCK979H new to Ribble, L44-L49 JWU244-9N new to WYPTE
  • 1x Leyland Atlantean L51 609KD
The Atlantean was new to Liverpool Corporation and was bought by Fylde in 1977 operating until 1983 it then ran for two seasons for the Venetian Glassworks on a shuttle bus and reappeared at Fylde's depot in 1987 with Easyway's red livery on the lower panels. After some work in Fylde's workshops it then moved to Easyway's Princess Street depot but was sadly never used and eventually broken up on site. 
Two of Easway's Leopard buses (244/7) parked up in Princess Street yard shortly after the end of the 9 and 14 in January 1987 and shortly before these returned to West Yorkshire. Also in the background is AEC Reliance TDK687J (Brian Turner)

Easyway's operation on the 9 and 14 was somewhat fraught. With Blackpool Transport keen to maximise its own passengers there were occasional conflicts between staff from both firms. Easyway had received a warning from the traffic commissioner for maintenance reasons just before deregulation. Things came to a head on 20 December when Easyway were banned from services 9 and 14 due to incidents in Talbot Road Bus Station, however permission was given to resume on 23 December but using Abingdon Street as a terminus. However on 2 January Easyway had their right to operate local services withdrawn and the 9 and 14 ended - route 53 continued albeit unlicensed and as a free bus with a donations bucket! Four of the WYPTE Leopards returned to their former owners, leaving JWU248/9N and the two Bristol REs for the 53. 

Eventually the Traffic Commisoner reinstated Easyway's registration for service 53 and it started taking fares once more on the 28 August 1987. Operation was relatively peaceful then onwards until it was decided to expand again. A change to Blackpool Transports 23-25 services in June 1988 had left Bond Street and Clifton Drive unserved, so Easyway started route 54 on an hourly basis running from Town Centre (Market Street) to Lindale Gardens via Bloomfield Road, Bond Street, Clifton Drive and Highfield Road. This needed one bus. It started on 20 June between 830 and 1600 with an expanded service from 0700 to 1900 from 18th July. Betwen 0818 and 1518 buses showed 54A and ran via Bond Street, and before/after and on Sundays they showed 54 and ran via Lytham Road.
Leopard L49 working route 54 no Lytham Road - July 1988 (Brian Turner)
In November the 54 was dramatically expanded. It now ran half hourly as a circular. It started at Booths on Highfield Road then via Lindale Gadens, Highfield Road, Lytham Road to Manchester Square, Promenade, Town Centre, Talbot Road to Layton Square then back via Devonshire Road, Whitegate Drive, Waterloo Road, Marton Drive, Highfield Road, Lindale Gardens, Common Edge Road and back to Booths. The 54A ran the reverse route. One trip per hour served Clifton Drive -showing 54B in both directions! An hourly Sunday service was provided. 

Four buses were now needed, plus the two on route 53 and two AEC Swifts were purchased from Great Yarmouth (PEK168/73K). These retained GY blue and white, contrasting with the red Bristols and green Leopards. The circular was not a success and was cut back to run Layton-Lindale Gardens by Christmas and ended completely in February. The Swifts moved on, with 168 running in Leeds and 173 in Middlesborough. 

Easyway were back to their original 53, but trouble loomed again and in November 1989 the Traffic Commissioner revoked their license. Blackpool Transport immediately stepped in and took over the 53 on 25 November 1989 initially using double deckers but with new Optare Deltas allocated from March which made a change from the eclectic 70s stock of Easyway.

Enter Town Bus
Blackpool Transport's 53 saw a few modifications. In April 1990 it was diverted away from Royal Oak via Highfield Road, St. Annes Road and Marton Drive between the Airport and Spen Corner. It was also diverted via Mereside Estate, Great Marton, Stanley Park and Newton Drive. The Sunday service was withdrawn with Lancashire County Council funding a replacement which was awarded to Fylde. They initially used minibuses, but full sized buses later took over.

In June 1990 the Marton Drive route was dropped, in favour of the original routing (except for the Fylde Sunday service). The service was also diverted via Mereside Tesco and returned to the former route along East Park Drive. 

Meanwhile, some of the Easyway fleet had remained at their Princess Street depot. The two Bristol REs had gone for scrap, but the two ex WY Leopards JWU248/9N and at least one coach remained (RHN887R).  The son of the proprietor succeeded in getting a license and began to trade as Town Bus. On 24 August 1990 Town Bus resumed the former Easyway 53 route, but numbered 53A to reflect the differences with the BT route. It ran Monday to Saturday only initially five minutes in front of the 53, but quickly retimed to run on the opposite half hour. This didn't last and soon the previous times were reintroduced. The two Leopards reappeared, by now with red lower panels. A Willowbrook bodied Leopard (XCK220R) completed the initial fleet. A third, ex WY Leopard LUG515P later joined the fleet by 1992. After a period running from Princess Street, they moved to premises on Poulton Industrial Estate.

With a competitor five minutes in front, BTS decided to pull out and withdrew the 53 in July 1991, but extended service 6 from Grange Park to Poulton every 30 minutes covering what it felt to be the strongest part of the service. The Fylde tendered service carried on until April 1994. For a while one early morning 53 continued Monday to Friday at 0700 from the Airport to Poulton Industrial Estate operated initially by Carriages and later by Archway on behalf of LCC. 

Town Bus re-routed the 53A to run along Whitegate Drive and Newton Drive in 1994 and this prompted Blackpool Transport to run a duplicate service from Airport to Victoria Hospital five minutes in front! This ran from 21 February to 15 July 1994 by which time Town Bus had reverted back to the old route.

Leopards 248 and 516 were withdrawn in 1993, but 248 later reappeared in 1994 with 249 departing instead. Briefly in 1993 Leyland Cub C813KBT operated on the 53A but was soon replaced by new to GM Buses Dodge C829KBU. Town Bus then began to pick up school contracts and decided to pull out of its original route, ending the 53A in September 1995. It had a brief period of operating service 15 Blackpool to Staining on a tender after Blackpool withdrew it in October 1995, but Fylde (by then a Blackpool subsidiary) registered it commercially in April 1996. Town Bus also operated the 89 from Knott End to Lancaster in 1994.

Town Bus continued to focus on schools. In 1996 it was operating several double deckers in a larger fleet:
  • THX566/9S - new to London Fleetlines had arrived from Midland Fox
  • KON366P and NOC450R were more Fleetlines but new to West Midlands
  • OCS114R was a new to A1 service Fleetline 
  • HOR314N was a new to Portsmouth Atlantean
  • NRN404P was an ex Ribble Atlantean bought from Hyndburn
  • VKW999S was a Bedford coach
  • C829CBU the Dodge bought earleir
  • D122NON was a new to Bee Line Buzz Sherpa
In Summer 1996 Atlanteans ONF698R, RJA709/19R and Leopard GLS265N arrived, repalcing the Fleetlines. Various coaches were also owned. Town Bus fell foul of the regulator as they were banned due to maintenance issues following an incident at Preesall where school children had to leave the bus and help push it up a hill.

The Phoenix Era

When Town Bus ended their 53A, Fylde took over on an emergency contract from LCC. By this time the Saturday service had dropped to 2 hourly but the weekday service stayed hourly. Fylde used two minibuses. 
Phoenix 803 working the extended 53A to St. Annes on 19 July 1997 (Brian Turner)
A new operate then entered the scene. Phoenix North West was formed by two industry managers and entered an agreement to use the Blackpool Transport Handybus brand. It bought a handful of Mercedes Minibuses and took over the operating centre of RM Coaches on Squires Gate industrial estate, replacing RM's contract for service 185 (Blackpool to Kirkham). Town Bus also took over the 53 from January 1995 on a commercial basis, increasing to every 30 minutes and revising the route to run via various local roads on the established corridor. Some journeys showed 53A

Fylde providing fueling facilities and the fleet was numbered in an 8xx series which helped BTS identify third party vehicles in the fuelling system. 801-3 (H611-3CGG), 804 (H804SFP) and 808 (J608KGB) carried Handybus livery while brand new 805 (N295DWE) retained plan white.

Phoenix extended the 53/A to St. Annes in September 1996 and later linked it to the 180/2 between Poulton and Preston - making a lengthy interworked service. Various tendered services were also taken on which took them as far as Lancaster and Southport. Sadly Phoenix ceased trading in April 2001. By this time the 53 had been reduced to hourly and withdrawn between Halfway House and St. Annes. Service 10 (Cleveleys to Hospital) had been extended to Halfway House to maintain the half hourly headway on this section. 

Once again BTS picked up the replacement service keeping both the 10 and 53 going until a network review saw the replacement of the 53 with a revised 9 (Poulton to Mereside) in November 2001. The 9 itself ended six months later, partly replaced by service 2. After over 15 years and the 53 had finally ebbed away having seen off three of the Fylde's independents.