The road to the Flexities started in 1969
By the late 1960s Blackpool's Transport Department had woken up to the fact that crew costs were killing its finances (among other demands). Whilst many, if not most other, municipal transport systems had converted routes to one man operated buses, Blackpool lagged well behind this trend which had started the previous decade. In fact Blackpool peversely kept on ordering double deck rear platform buses from 1957 through to 1968 building up a substantial fleet of obsolete and uneconomic vehicles.
In 1969 the light dawned at Rigby Road and following demonstration of a one man operated single deck bus provided by Leeds City Transport, the Council approved immediate delivery of similar types of vehicle. A total of fifty four examples arrived at Rigby Road in the four years thereafter, displacing many (but not all) of the rear platform Leyland Titans. This dramatic switch brought about similar intention for the year round tram service to Fleetwood. New trams were out of the question, so in time honoured fashion Rigby Road Works were commissioned to modify a single deck tram capable of being operated by one man/person.
Brush car 638 was selected for this brave experiment and in due course presented to the press (but not the public) in a gleaming all cream paint job similar to the standard appearance of Blackpool's new single deck bus fleet. Almost immediately faults were found in the design. The new front entrance was far too narrow, whilst the driver had to turn sharply to his left to collect fares, give change and issue tickets; while at the same time keeping an eye on the centre doors which were used for exiting passengers. Large mirrors had been installed to aid these essential safeguards but standing passengers would inevitably impair the driver's vision.
Critically the Unions forbade BCT Members from operating the new one man tram which brought about an abrupt end to this brave new world for 638. It would revert to crew operation very quickly with front entrances panelled over and retaining some of the interior modifications.
Number 638 caused lessons to be learned (as they say). A second attempt which included consultation with Union representatives on the staff saw a far more improved design which became the OMO class 1 to 13 from 1972 to 1976. These were followed of course by experimental cars 761(1979) and 762 (1982). In 1984 Blackpool commissioned a totally new tram for one man operation. This turned out to be 641, arriving that year as forerunner of a class of eight similar trams which provided year round service to Fleetwood. EU and UK disability access legislation obliged a further rethink that included possibility of modifying the seven remaining trailer units to low floor design but still as control trailers.
This was not to be. Light rail low floor access was the order of the day - and the ensuing 2012 Bombardier Flexities took over the Fleetwood service. Ironically these were designed to avoid the driver being able to take fares - being isolated in the end cabins. The length and peak time usage on these trams means two roving conductors are needed - in similar manner to the Balloon cars and Twin Sets.
Now going back to 1969 we glimpse briefly this brave new world for Blackpool's tramway with 638 on a test run. Image copyright : John Woodman Archive