One of the reassuring aspects surrounding Blackpool Transport's operation of the tram service is the steady increase in ridership over the past year. Still with the base number of sixteen trams in the fleet - the ridership nudged 5 Million riders in the twelve months up to March 2016. An increase of 600,000 over the previous year's figures and a commendable result from the additional frequency added to the base service. BTS are hopeful that passenger numbers will rise further during the current financial year to above the 5 million mark. I'm sure they will.
Understandably this comes at a cost of crowded trams during the peak holiday season, bank holiday weekends and the illuminations period. Difficulties for platform staff (ie conductors) in collecting fares and monitoring the multiple doors at exceptionally busy times is a constant concern. However it must be said that the good natured style of the tram crews does much to enhance the service, especially for visitors encountering Blackpool's trams for the first time.
The North Station extension has provoked considerable attention locally with the likelihood of traffic restrictions along an important town centre roadway and a plethora of criticism from Blackpool hackney cab drivers keen to benefit from the influx of luggage laden visitors at Blackpool North. A noticeable sight on Fridays and at weekends are the stream of visitors trekking up and down Talbot Road trailing luggage and young children - to and from the promenade. A tram service to the station terminus (or in close proximity) will undoubtedly attract many people unwilling to be charged sizeable amounts for short distance travel. BTS would be well advised to ensure a visitors' transport information point is staffed at the new railway station precinct in 2018 - able to sell day tickets, family tickets and more - thus easing demands on the conducting staff before each outbound journey at busy times. A great flurry of armchair/desktop prognosis has appeared on the possible service variants and frequencies which will arise from this new extension. No doubt there will be adjustments to whatever scheduling is launched; with the likelihood of expanding the tram fleet even further from the incremental two new cars. Capital costs and budgets being an ever present constraint on BTS (and Blackpool Council) requiring extreme caution on any new spend.
Fanciful suggestions of acquiring second hand units from the West Midlands have echoes from sixty years ago when Aberdeen's centre entrance trams and the trio of Leeds 'rail cars' were offered to Blackpool. Neither offer was taken up at the time (and with good reason). The availability of the double deck conversions, very much under used, does allow for 'extra' workings on the promenade but their capacity limits still needing a crew of three are forever bedevilling optimal use of this 'reserve' fleet. Equally problematic is the inability of the double deck cars to handle unwieldy and bulky 'buggies' or disability scooters and wheel chairs - a feature now all too familiar on platforms along the route. But interesting times are ahead for Britain's smallest light rail operator.
Above : Low Floor Trailer in prototype Palladium fleet colours - in the works? Well a good try by the FHLT with former trailer T7 getting a makeover. Both Images Copyright : John Woodman