Saturday, 31 December 2016

End of Year Review

The attractive new double deckers were launched by the Comedy Carpet. Here is 406 being positioned (Mike Wilson)

Blackpool Transport
Blackpool Transport's year was dominated by the arrival of its first new double deckers since 2006 in the form of 10 Alexander Dennis Enviro 400 City models. These are mainly used on the 9 with Sunday duties on the 14. They entered service on Sunday 24 July.

The previous day had seen a farewell event for the final step entrance buses in the Blackpool fleet with Olympians 374, 375 and 377 used on service 1 - sisters 376/8 having been withdrawn a few weeks earlier. The last to operate was 374 on the 1845 from Fleetwood to Starr Gate.
Olympian 374 returns to depot after the final working of the farewell day. It has since been preserved

Additionally the last Mercedes engined Solos were withdrawn, 278 and 284 were retired in May, 279 in July and 277 in August.

The last Optare Excels were also withdrawn during the year. 224 by May, 216 in August 219 and 220 in September, with 225 hanging on to work its final duty on service 11 on 29 November

The nine 2010 built Plaxton bodied Volvo B7RLEs were refurbished during 2016, with 527 leaving in December 2015 and returning to use in February with 526 completing the programme in November.
Refurbished Volvo B7RLE 527 on service 5 (David Umpleby)

Few other vehicles were repainted this year. Volvo B7RLE 524 and Trident 332 gained heritage green and cream liveries to mark 30 years of BTSL, Trident 328 received fleet livery and 331 a new livery for Blackpool and Fylde College - all four losing existing adverts.


  • Scrap:  214, 217, 218, 222, 223, 224, 318, 376, 378
  • Blackpool Design Associates: 226, 375
  • Preservation: 284, 374, 377
  • Private Owner: 277, 278, 279, 285 (all but 285 since scrapped)

Network changes took place in April to account for the loss of LCC subsidy, the end of Peel Park funding for service 14. The changes comprised:
  • 1 extra bus added for summer timings
  • 2C withdrawn evenings throughout and curtailed at Poulton Sunday days
  • 3 diverted via Faraday Way daytimes and withdrawn from Briarwood Drive. Evening/Sunday omits Kincraig Road
  • 9 - half hourly (daily all day) extension to Victoria Hospital
  • 10 and 17 extended from Blackpool to Poulton replacing 12/13
  • 12/13 withdrawn with 10/17 covering Blackpool to Poulton and 15/16 covering Staining, with 3 covering Faraday Way. Two school day journeys remain.
  • 14 most journeys terminate at Mereside Tesco, 8 daily continue to Peel Park at peak times
  • 15/16 re-routed via Staining, running from Blackpool via Stanley Park, Zoo, Hospital perimeter Road, Newton Drive, Staining, Marton Mere to Tesco and now direct along Whitegate Drive from Oxford Square to Devonshire Square
Later in July the 9 Hospital extension was replaced by diverting alternate journeys via Hospital rather than Layton as service 9A. Further changes in November were linked to the closure of Crossley's Bridge and involved frequency reductions on the 1 (to 30 minutes), 7 (to 20 minutes), 9 and 14 (both 12 mins) and 15/16 (hourly at certain times). The Blackpool to Grange Park section of the 11 was split to become service 6, while a new service 8 provided five daily return trips from Cleveleys to Victoria Hospital replacing the 9A.

Catch 22
A new livery, two new routes. Catch 22 bus is now a familiar site in Cleveleys Bus Station with its new routes replacing Stagecoach services in the area (David Umpleby)

The Catch 22 network evolved significantly during the year. Route 6 ended in August, Route 12 did not reappear for the summer, replaced by route 21 which initially ran Cleveleys to Tower then alternately to Zoo or Pleasure Beach but from July was revised to run St. Annes to Cleveleys via Promenade.

Stagecoach's withdrawal of service 84 saw Catch 22 step into replace the service with route 22 extended from Cleveleys to Fleetwood and new service 24 running from Cleveleys to Poulton. The 22 was later withdrawn between Blackpool and Mereside, but new route 23 - initially Cleveleys to Pheasants Wood but since extended via Poulton to Victoria Hospital started. The year round services 22/23/24 need nine buses, Monday to Friday with up to four more on the summer only 21. Various vintage buses were used on the 21 during the year, including Routemasters RML887, RM1583, PD3s HFR516E, LFR529F, Bristol VR OCK997K and Atlantean AHG334V.
Former Blackpool 334 was used by Catch 22 Bus on service 21 during the year (David Umpleby)

Fleet wise, the standard Darts were joined by ex First Bristol Volvo B6BLEs W812/3PFB, an ex Stagecoach London Volvo B7TL LX03BVJ and three youthful Optare Versas YJ61JHE, YJ61JHH and YJ10MGU. The former China/Big Bus Metrobuses were sold having been last used in 2015. A new all-over teal livery has been adopted and applied to several Darts, the 2 B6BLEs and one of the Versas. Some Darts and the two B7TLs carry all-over red and tend to be used on route 21, other Darts retain the orange/teal livery.

Other Operators
As already noted Stagecoach closed its Fleetwood depot in early April coinciding with the loss of Lancashire County Council tenders for the 74, 86/89 as part of their planned withdrawal of all subsidised services. The 84 was commercial in the daytime, but the depot could not sustain just a 3 PVR operation. Ironically the 74 and 89 were retained after a late policy change by LCC. Catch 22 have replaced the 84 with the 22 and 24, operating half hourly rather than the 40 minute service previously offered.

Preston Bus did well out of the tendered services which LCC did retain, picking up the 74 (Fleetwood-Blackpool) to add to the reduced 75 and existing 80 that continued. Two Solos are based at their Marton outstation for the 74/75, alongside various Tridents for LCC school contracts. Elite Travel withdrew from bus work with the withdrawal of their sole tendered service 87 (Cleveleys-Poulton) and then sold their coach operations to Rotala during the summer. They have moved from their Carelton base to the Preston Bus yard in Marton.

Coastal suffered the loss of the 76, but chose to replace part of it by extending its commercial 78 from Wesham to Poulton every hour. This now needed five buses, and Coastal added a new service 77 from St. Annes to Victoria Hospital to occupy two more. Sadly this did not generate sufficient passengers and was withdrawn in August. Two Solos have left the fleet YJ15AFX/Y passing to Bay Travel Cowdenbeath, with YJ65ETE/F/J/K/O and YJ15AFZ providing six buses for five workings. 

Catch 22 Farewell to Step Entrance Buses

Former Blackpool Routemaster 521 has now reverted to its London guise as RM1583 with its prime use now for wedding hires requesting London buses. It spent several months in Blackpool in this livery, albeit a much more faded version when it was used on trail in 1986. Sadly despite two examples being initially preserved in Blackpool schemes, the 12 survivors of Blackpool's 13 Routemasters all now carry London livery - 11 in red and one in Silver Jubilee silver. (Photo David Umpleby)

From 1 January 2017 Double Deck Buses used on local services will need to comply with Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations 2000 - colloquially known as DDA compliance. This has applied to all new buses since 2001, but existing vehicles at the time were given 15-19 years to comply. Single Deck Buses have had to be compliant since January 2016, Double Deckers now from January 2017 with Coaches from January 2020. 

The PSVAR defines a coach as designed to carry seated passengers only - while buses can carry seated and standing passengers. This has led to some operators to re-certify step entrance buses as coaches by removing authorisation for standees. These operators are continuing to use step entrance buses on school routes. Heritage vehicles (over 20 years old) can be used for no more than 20 days per year (per bus), but this tends to fall foul of concessionary fares regulations which suggest that heritage operated services do not qualify for reimbursement.

Having run heritage buses on service 21 in its various forms - initially a Tower to Zoo service in 2015, then Cleveleys to Zoo or Pleasure Beach from Easter to July and since then a Cleveleys to St. Annes service, Catch 22 Bus decided to provide the entire New Years Eve service 21 with heritage buses. No less than five appeared in service with ex London Routemaster RML887, ex Blackpool Routemaster 521 (now back in London guise as RM1583), ex Blackpool PD3 516 and ex Ribble VR 1997 starting the service, with 516 swapped for sister 529 midway through to allow 516 to work a private hire. Lancastrian Transport Trust also joined the fray, providing ex Ribble Atlantean 1805 as a free bus over the service route for much of the day.

The Catch 22 heritage fleet will now focus on private hires and perhaps the odd enthusiast event, leaving accessible buses for the remainder of their network.

40 years separate these vehicles with 2011 Optare Versa YJ61JHH watching RML887 of 1961 and Bristol VR OCK997K depart for service 21 (David Umpleby)
RML887 heads for the seafront for its last duty

PD3 516 returned to service use in 2015, having been withdrawn in 1984 for use as a driver trainer until 1999, a configuration it retained in preservation until sale to Catch 22 in 2015 - it carries the pre 1933 livery style adopted by Routemasters and sister PD3s 507 and 512 in the 1980s (David Umpleby)

RM1583 leaves depot - this would later operate the final journey - Cabin to Pleasure Beach (David Umpleby)

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Christmas Services

Local Christmas period bus services take their usual form. Blackpool Transport services finish early on Christmas and New Years Eve with most services finishing between 2030 and 2130. They provide the now customary limited service on Boxing Day and New Years Day c0900-1800 which has operated in various forms since at least 1993. This year's network comprises:
  • 1 Starr Gate to Fleetwood every 30 minutes 5 buses
  • 5 Victoria Hospital to Halfway House every hour 2 buses
  • 6 Corporation Street to Grange Park every 30 minutes 2 buses
  • 7 Cleveleys to Lytham Square every hour 3 buses
  • 9 Clifton Street to Cleveleys every 30 minutes 3 buses
  • 11 Market Street to St. Annes Square every 30 minutes 2 buses
  • 14 Mereside to Fleetwood every 30 minutes 7 buses
24 buses are needed this year, twice that of 1993.
Catch 22 Bus will be providing Promeande service 21 daily Boxing Day to New Years Day with a special timetable - though details are not yet available. The 22/23/24 are normal timetables except for Boxing Day and New Years Day when Sunday service runs on the 22 and 24. With the 24 now extended to Knott End, Over Wyre will see its first Boxing Day and New Years Day services for many years - probably since the late 1970s.

In other news Catch 22 Versa YJ61JHH entered service today on route 24 - the first of this trio to enter service. Their unique Blackpool liveried Routemaster, former Blackpool Transport 521 (583CLT) has been repainted in the run of the mill London Red as RM1583. It is expected to operate with other vintage buses on service 21 on New Year's Eve - the final day that step entrance buses can operate on local bus services.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

The Solo Story

Solo 265 in original livery but on Metro Line 3 passes Marton windmill in 2001 (Brian Turner)
Leeds based Optare was Blackpool's standard bus supplier from 1987 to 2009, supplying 80% of the fleet's new buses - the other 20% were all double deckers (12 Olympians and 30 Tridents). Optare supplied:
  • 32 City Pacers (plus three ex demonstrators) on Volkswagen LT55 chassis in 1987/8
  • 28 Deltas on DAF SB220LC chassis from 1990 to 1993
  • 17 Excels in 1996 and 1999
  • 31 Metroriders from 1995 to 1998 
  • and 57 Solos from 2000 to 2009
The Solo was the third generation of Optare midibus and the first to feature a low floor. A demonstrator was tried for a week on the 26 in March 1999 as S794XUG which was the second complete vehicle built. An order for 15 resulted, to replace the last City Pacers. These became 261-269 and 271-276 (V261HEC etc) and arrived during November 1999 (except 276 which arrived in December). 261-3 were used for driver training ahead of the launch of the type on route 33 (Cleveleys to Mereside). 261/3/7/8 provided the four bus workings on the first day (4 January) with all of 261-8 in use that week. The last seven (269, 271-6) entered service on 31 January to convert the 23-25 (Mereside to Hospital and Staining) to Solo operation - replacing the last City Pacers. This needed 9 buses with 4 on the 33 and two spare. The spare buses often appeared on the 44A/B (Cleveleys- Mereside) as cover for the Optare Excels.

Mercedes engines were standard in the Solo when launched, rather than the Cummins units in the Metrorider and Excel. The Metro Coastlines network launched in April 2001 replaced both main Solo route groups. New Line 3 (Mereside to Cleveleys) replaced much of the 33 with Line 5 (Staining to Lindale Gardens) succeeding the 23-25 and the Solos duly moved over. The Metro network brought with it route branding and individual liveries. Between March and May 2002 261 to 266 were repainted blue and yellow for Line 3. 267-9/71-4 retained black and yellow Handybus livery, but with stickers for Line 5, leaving 275 and 276 as spare buses. 
262 (r) and 271 (l) show the contrasting Line 3 and 4 liveries at Mereside Tesco in 2005
In January 2003 it was decided to swap the Solos and Excels between routes 4 and 5. 271 was duly repainted into Line 4 'Cadbury Blue' and yellow scheme, followed by 267-9 in December 2003 / January 2004 and 272 in November 2004. 273-6 retained Handybus livery until they we repainted into the black and yellow pool livery in October 2004/January 2005. 265/6 also moved onto Line 4 and gained that livery in March 2004.
Lifestyle Line Solo 279 pauses at temporary stops during the remodelling of the Mereside Tesco car park and bus stops in 2004 (Brian Turner)
The next Solos were an usual venture in that they were purchased by Blackpool Council for use on a new tendered service 'Lifestyle Line L1' which was operated by BTS. Six were ordered using government funding from the 'Urban Bus Challenge'. The L1 (Morrisons to Norcross) started on 8 July and needed four buses. Five of the six Solos duly entered service as 278 to 282 (YG02FVP/R/S/T/U) , with the sixth kept in store as 277 pending a future extension of the service. A second UBC bid extended the L1 to run Manchester Square to Fleetwood and provided funding for two more Solos as 283/4 (PN03UGG/H) - this time owned by Lancashire County Council. They entered service on 1 June alongside 277. This first ran as YG02FWH but as it was realised it could legitimately carry and 03 plate, it was registered PL03BPZ after a few days.

A further Lancashire owned Solo - 285 (YN04XYZ) arrived in May 2004 for Kirkham Roamer service 70.
Kirkham Roamer branded 285 in Newton (Brian Turner)

New Line 5 bus 256 passes original 273 on Talbot Road (Brian Turner)
With Tridents the focus of investment in 2002-2004, it was decided to add a batch of Solos in spring 2004 to aid fleet renewal. It was decided to cascade Excels from Line 5 to 7 to allow Deltas onto the 11 and allow more double deckers to be withdrawn. 12 Solos were ordered, this time to a longer wheelbase (9.5m length v 8.5m before) and with Cummins engines, which were now offered instead. 33 seats were fitted v 28 on the initial batch (277-84 were 29 seaters and 285 27 seat).
Brand new Lines 3 and 5 solos 258 and 256 sandwiched by 276 and Metrorider 503 (Brian Turner)
Nine of the new buses were delivered in red/yellow for Line 5 (249-257) and three for Line 3 (258-60) which allowed 265/6 to move to Line 4. The PVR of the 5 dropped to eight in November 2004 with the withdrawal of the Staining  and uniquely the 5 had more branded buses than it needed - until May 2006 when 249 was modified to Line 2 green livery. Kirkham Roamer 285 was also painted into Line 2 livery in August 2006 as this route had replaced the Roamer. At some point BTS assumed ownership. 
293 in the early evening at Corporation Street terminus of Line 16 (Brian Turner)
The Lifestyle Line funding drew to an end in 2007. The service was revised into a new commercial 'Line 16' and to assist Blackpool Council funded the capital cost of new Solos, while BTS purchased the existing ones from the council. Another eight Solos arrived in a light blue/yellow scheme. They were numbered 286-293. The existing Solos were cascaded onto other services and repainted with 277/8/80 gaining pool livery and 279, 281-4 gaining Line 2 green.

A third batch of 33 seaters followed in May 2008 with 294-297 replacing 261-4 on Line 3 - the older four gained pool livery. 248 provided an extra bus on Line 5 (which again needed nine), while 247 arrived in Line 2 green - which now had eight Solos. 247 was the 50th Solo. 240-246 followed in May 2009 for Line 2.
296 in Line 3 colours, on the 5 after the Metro identities had been abandoned (Brian Turner)

The last batch, 241 and 242 pass through St John's Square on Line 2 (Brian Turner)

With all 57 Solos in the fleet they were split as:
  • Line 2 (green) 240-247, 249, 279, 281-285 (15)
  • Line 3 (blue) 258-260, 294-7 (7)
  • Line 4 (Cadbury Blue) 265-269, 271/2 (7)
  • Line 5 (Red) 248, 250-257 (9)
  • Line 16 (light blue) 286-293 (8)
  • Pool (black/yellow) 261-4, 273-8, 280 (11)
September 2009 saw some network changes which reduced the 3 and 16 to 6 buses each, so 286/7 and 294 moved onto Line 2 and 279, 281-3 gained pool livery. The end of the Metro network in 2010 saw Solos move from route 2 to route 7. The line colours were progressively replaced by the new black/yellow livery with repaints as follows:
  • 2010 - 288-90/3
  • 2011 - 250-255, 284-7, 291/2
  • 2012 - 241/2, 248/9, 256/7, 260, 277/8
  • 2013 - 240, 243-247, 258/9, 280 (stored) 283, 294-7 (258/9, 294-6 with Resort Hopper advertising)
  • 2014 - 279
240/1/7 with Western Greyhound May to November 2013 helping out due to a devastating fire with destroyed over 30 of their buses.
290 was the first bus to operate in the new livery on 28 July 2010, it is seen here a few weeks later in Lytham during the spell of Solo operation on Line 7 which ended in early 2011 (Brian Turner)
The first Solos were withdrawn during the first half 2011 with 261-266 with 267-274 following in Autumn 2012. 280/1were also withdrawn in November 2012 but 281 was reinstated in May. 275/6 completed withdrawal of the initial batch in March 2013. 261/2/4 were purchased by the Centrebus group with 261 going to Bowers of Chapel-en-le-Frith and 262/4 to the Yorkshire operation. This was later sold and became Yorkshire Tiger for whom 262/4 still operate in Halifax after a period in Leeds.
Solo 264 was one of the first disposals - it latterly carried pool livery and is seen here in January 2011 on short lived service 18 betwen St. Annes and Lytham (Brian Turner)

263/5/6 were sold to Holmeswood Travel, near Ormskirk (266 as R5HWD) but were sold onto Centrebus in early 2012, rejoining its sisters. 263 joined 261 at Bowers with cherished plate B8WER, while 265/6 went to Yorkshire but soon moved to Bowers - which later became High Peak Buses. 266 moved to the main Centrebus fleet in 2015. 261 was sent for scrap in May 2015, while 263 was withdrawn later that year and is also believed scrapped. 265 was withdrawn in August 2015 and 266 survived until the summer. 

Solos on Line 5 were quite commonly seen in pairs as it was prone to bunching - here two, colour coordinated with Pricebusters (Brian Turner) 

261February 2011May 2011Centrebus GroupScrapped
262February 2011May 2011Centrebus GroupYorkshire Tiger
263March 2011May 2011Holmeswood Travel presumed scrapped
264April 2011May 2011Centrebus GroupYorkshire Tiger
265March 2011May 2011Holmeswood Travel presumed scrapped
266May 2011May 2011Holmeswood Travel presumed scrapped
267October 2012June 2014Blackpool Council Blackpool Council 
268October 2012Oct 2013Private (spares)Scrapped 
269October 2012Jan 2013Halton TransportHalton Transport (withdrawn)
271October 2012Jan 2013Halton TransportHalton Transport
272October 2012Jan 2013Halton TransportHalton Transport
273November 2012July 2013Halton TransportStar Travel, Aylesbury
274November 2012July 2013Halton TransportHalton Transport
275March 2013July 2013Partons, ScrapHalton Transport
276March 2013July 2013Halton TransportHalton Transport
277August 2016August 2016Private for SparesScrapped
278May 2016August 2016Private for SparesScrapped
279August 2016August 2016Private for SparesScrapped
280November 2012March 2015Partons, ScrapScrapped
281March 2014January 2015PrivateThe Eden, West Auckland
282March 2014January 2015PrivateThe Eden, West Auckland
283November 2014March 2015Partons, ScrapScrapped
284May 2016August 2016PrivatePrivate owner, Blackpool
285August 2015? 2016PrivatePrivate owner, Blackpool

Solo 284, one of the Lifestyle Line examples at Mereside (Brian Turner)


With all the Mercedes engined Solos sold, the 33 Cummins engined examples remain (240-260, 284-296). Routes 3, 4, 10, 15, 16 and 17 are the main Solo routes - though they do appear elsewhere. 

Interior of Solo 263 (Brian Turner)

The later interior with revised seating on 296 (Brian Turner)

Friday, 2 December 2016

Third Time Unlucky?

After one reprieve and a false goodbye, it seems that 225 has now finally worked its last duty with a day on the 11 on Tuesday 29th November. It started with the 0615 from Market Street to Lytham working seven round trips finishing with the 1902 Lytham Square to Market Street working.