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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Council Owned and Proud

Blackpool is unique in operating both a tram and bus network. It is one of the few remaining local authorities in Britain to retain ownership of its public transport system. This is thanks to the determination of successive Councils to hold on to this important community infrastructural asset - when most other authorities sold off their bus operations to a few private sector companies seeing sustained profits from control of local transport services.

Long lived municipal liveries gave way to omnipresent acquisition strategies by a handful of sharp companies - with their bland corporate fleet colours dominating many towns and cities. Local identities and community value being trampled on by the surge of mundane branding leaving nothing to chance in reinforcing corporate ownership on every service.

Blackpool's nostalgia for its long held municipal colours of green and cream is still evident with this retro paint scheme on Trident 332 - thankfully retained at Rigby Road. This colour scheme first appeared in 1933 and lasted well into a new century but now restricted to heritage trams and number 332.

One generation gives way to a successor. Cleveleys Bus Station and a clear comparison of design styling and BTS vehicle branding is conveniently at hand.

Blackpool thankfully bucked this trend and continues to do so by ensuring complete controlling ownership of its services and clear evidence of community endorsement 'Love Your Bus' emblazoned on the double deck fleet. Where once green and cream denoted Blackpool's municipal transport territory, nowadays the BTS unique Palladium colours are visible signs of community ownership on the Fylde coast. The tramway gets by on its now tired ten year old purple and white styling once favoured by the Council; not altogether weathering well after a decade of service, but still ensuring public ownership is kept in view.

Ironically calls for return to public ownership or control of local transport (and UK railway system) are high on the agenda of at least one major political Party - finding a groundswell of favour across the country. Running community bus services vital in any town or city - and even more so in rural hinterland is now more than ever apparent to most preferring public transport to private cars for work or daily local travel. The evident outreach of Blackpool's Transport company to promoting even more use of its services - is supported by the influx of smart new buses now dominant on the Fylde coastline.

A pity that the supporting passenger assets could not likewise benefit from similar concern and treatment. The shoddy, tired, dirty and unwelcoming bus stops with faded signage and minimal shelter (if at all) let down the overall impact of a forward looking transport operation. The same goes for the tramway (or is light rail?) line which makes do with ramshackle cobbled together shelters along the exposed coastal service - a line which self-evidently needs more care and attention for its customers, especially year round residents having to endure biting winds and sheeting rain whilst waiting for their next journey. The total absence of real time information electronically provided in most if not all other UK light rail systems, is a continuing sore point conveniently ignored by a cash-strapped Council.

Possibly if the Council were to turn over this fundamental service provision to a private sector firm in partnership with Blackpool Transport - a strategic uplift in approach and rebranding might actually appear to benefit the community, both resident and transient.

Once upon a time Blackpool's transport system did have charge of bus and tram shelters. Whilst in today's world the styling was somewhat dated - in fact the shelters were kept clean and painted regularly in corporation green and cream. Seating allowed waiting passengers to stay protected from wind, rain and even snow - within a neatly cocooned structure. Alas all these classic examples are long gone with little in the way of worthwhile replacement.

But at least this town remains the owner of its public transport network for which we should be thankful. Ten out of ten for the quality of the buses now transporting us - possibly eight out of ten for the trams - and one out of ten for the shelters. Room for improvement in the coming decade.

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