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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Rigby Road's Buses - Sixty Years On

1940 Built Leyland TD5 peers out of Rigby Road Garage in 1958 - Awaits a next duty on School Special working towards the end of its life (nothing new there then). Photo taken by a youthful John Woodman on 127 Kodak film.

The transforming nature of the new BTS bus arrivals complete with the new 'Palladium' livery takes the story of Blackpool's buses into a further era. It was 1922 when Blackpool's Corporation Tramways Department entered motor bus operation - quite late for UK municipal transport systems. The first decade saw the buses adopt the colours of the more dominant tram fleet - with red white and teak. In 1933 a new Manager sailed into Blundell Street offices and set about a radical upheaval of the town's conservatively styled transport operation. New trams, new buses and a new livery saw Blackpool's transport system become the envy of UK municipal managers - given the freedom and largesse which Mr Luff was allowed by a willing Council over twenty years.

An immediate change in Blackpool's vehicle contract specifications was insistence on the centre entrance passenger flow design - adopted by Walter Luff's previous employer - West Riding Tramways in Wakefield as it set about replacing traditional trams with new buses - a process completed there by 1932. The centre entrance model was faithfully replicated by Blackpool in successive bus and tram deliveries right up to 1952, together with distinctive bodywork styling and a cream and green 'branding' adorned with much chromework and elaborate paint flourishes.

All this changed in 1954 with the next Manager, Joe Franklin, who immediately set about reducing the flourishes and extravagances of the Paint Shop. Rear platform larger capacity buses gradually replaced the centre entrance fleet, whilst a further change saw one man operating buses adopting to economic realities of the market. One man operated trams soon followed. Fast forward into the 1970s and more green and cream double deck buses - gave the bus fleet a return to conservative all Lancashire styling (Leyland Atlantean chassis with Blackburn based East Lancashire Coachworks bodywork). Deregulation in 1986 maintained more of the same, but further economies came with 'EasyRider' minibus styling by Yorkshire's Optare - and bright yellow and black colours. London Routemasters also arrived to give a gravitas to certain services - including those on Lytham Road; complete with a back to the future red and white lined out fleet livery. Later management change in 2000 saw even greater use of Rigby Road Paint Shop staff. MetroCoastlines adoption of 'Line' branding complete with individual colours created a kaleidescope of vehicles on the Fylde coast. This changed back to yellow and black with the departure of Steve Burd and arrival of Trevor Roberts in 2009 intent on reestablishing a more corporate flavour to the bus system. However even this livery makeover was to have a short shelflife.

Into 2015 and the BTS Management of Jane Cole heralded an equally dramatic change of transport styling for Blackpool. In came the 'Palladium' branding with an initial tranche of new Mercedes single deck buses built in Germany - probably the only time this will occur in Blackpool's transport history. A demure grey, black and silver bodywork highlighted with a pale yellow - certainly turned heads. Even more so when Blackpool's latest double deck buses arrived from Falkirk, Scotland (part of the Union) in 2016 putting the Trident and Volvo double deck fleet in the shade. An initial order for ten quickly extended to twenty five more examples arriving this year, and more apparently in the pipeline. Rebranding of some single deck buses to join the Mercedes Citaros of 2015 in the same 'Palladium' colours has extended the new branding. It won't be long before yellow and black (and swoop) becomes a memory. Having witnessed sixty years of such change all based in the same facilities - makes this latest chapter in Rigby Road's bus operation all the more interesting. Of course the plans for Blackpool Transport's transfer to new build facilities elsewhere in the town means this almost century old story will involve a whole new volume. Blackpool's Municipal Buses 1921 to 2017 is the subject of the next title to be published this year by Rigby Road Publications. Enquiries welcome

Three generations of Blackpool's buses from the 1960s to 1980s in this one photo at Rigby Road Garage. All Photos : John Woodman Archive

London Routemaster in BTS service - fresh from the Paint Shop behind the vehicle.

Former Isle of Man bus in the Trevor Roberts branding of BTS - soon to disappear

EU Import. Ten Mercedes 'Citaro' launched on the Promenade in 2015

And the newest Scottish import - from Alexander Dennis awaiting BTS detailing 2017

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