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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Blackpool Transport - Thirty Years on and counting 1986 - 2016

Blackpool is fortunate in retaining Council ie public ownership of its local transport operation. Most former municipal systems have been swept up by a handful of transport conglomerates - and now less than a dozen remain embedded within ownership of their local authorities and communities. 1986 was the year in which the County Borough of Blackpool relinquished administration of its famous bus and tram system - handing it over, so to speak to, an arms length bespoke company whose first Managing Director was Tony Depledge. Changes in Blackpool's long established bus services were not long in coming thereafter. London Routemasters and new yellow and black 'Handibuses' were dramatic innovations that came complete with a new logo for the company. Below : Fresh from the Paint Shop RM 1563 complete with the then innovative BTS Travel Card promotion on its mid deck panels and the company's version of London Transport signage below. A compelling reason for bus enthusiasts to head to the seaside. Photo : Copyright John Woodman Archive

In 2001 Steve Burd took on the position of MD with a radical rebranding of the system and its emergence as 'Metro Coastlines'. Bus services became 'Lines' a bit of an American influence there I think - with each 'Line' having its own distinctive colour scheme on assigned vehicles. This made for a very colourful era. Smart new 'Trident' design double deck buses eventually standardised the previous mixed bus fleet. Even the trams got in on the act with five of the trailer sets sporting individual tones, while several of the double decks were similarly treated to this untraditional makeover. One 'Brush' rail coach (636) was similarly trialled in 'Line 14' colours which it still retains now in private ownership.

Metro Coastlines branded Twin Set - on a dismal day in 2010 obviously on pre-season driver training duties, with a 'Line 11' Delta bus sneaking into the photo on its way to St Annes and beyond. Photo : John Woodman

All of this came to an abrupt end in 2010 following Steve's appointment to a new management post near Rugby and the arrival of Trevor Roberts who took an immediate dislike to the multicoloured buses and 'Metrocoastlines' brand he inherited. This was at a time when the tramway was undergoing its own radical makeover and upgrade to light rail operation with £110 Million capital expenditure on infrastructure and a fleet of new trams which arrived in sombre Blackpool Council black, purple and white branding. A sharp change of tack saw the bus fleet emerge from the Paint Shop in a yellow and black format enhanced with a large silver 'swoop' to enliven the new look which transformed things even further. No doubt substantial economies were gained in standardising the Paint Shop's output. Below : the Trevor Roberts BTS fleet livery is on brilliant display outside Blackpool Council Offices at Bickerstaffe House in July. Not to everyone's taste but it did the job intended at the time.

Trevor's early departure from Rigby Road and search for his successor saw Jane Cole appointed to the MD position. A career with Virgin Trains and a strong interest in Blackpool's heritage trams has seen further remarkable developments in the past two years. Not only have remnants of the former tram fleet reemerged to some acclaim, albeit on tours with prescribed stopping points, but the bus fleet is undergoing an enormous (albeit phased) transformation both in branding and vehicles. First off was the arrival of ten Mercedes 'Citaro' single deck buses in a sharp 'Palladium' colour scheme in 2015 heralding the 'new look' for BTS bus services. This year in an even more impressive unveiling are the Alexander Dennis Enviro double deck buses with superlative (in the author's opinion) features and the 'Palladium' brand colours. A fleet replacement programme (for the buses) will see phased withdrawal of currently familiar yellow and black vehicles - with the new look design and branding becoming the norm. All of this is akin to the mid 1930s when Walter Luff's sweeping fleet renewal of both trams and buses brought with it the classic cream and green styling of that era, together with a comprehensive upgraded image for Blackpool's transport system that was the envy of the industry. Limited copies of 'Municipal Transport in Transition Blackpool's Buses and Trams 1933 - 1939' by the author which cover this era are still available from Blackpool Visitors Centre and by application.

My favourite Blackpool Bus Service - the '9'. Ridden on from Bispham into town from my school days when Luff's pre-war Titans still provided peak hour extras.

BTS will also be finally expanding the tram operation to incorporate services connecting with Blackpool North railway station - and onstreet operation along a part of Talbot Road. This is currently prompting assessment of bus and tram (and rail) connectivity to enhance interchange at Talbot Gateway and the central district.

This weekend marks thirty years of operation by Blackpool Transport Services Ltd. Council owned and on course for rejuvenation of its vital role as the Fylde coast's principal public transport provider. Calls for extension of the light rail service beyond Starr Gate and along Clifton Drive to St Annes are portents of further investment; whilst the emergence of the new Enterprise Zone and Technology Campus at Squires Gate Airport site throw up further tram expansion possibilities in the future. BTS and its team have challenges and opportunities over the next decade or two with no doubt some fascinating insights to comment on.

Well done Rigby Road.

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