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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Change To Blackpool Transport's Heritage Tram Service - and much more

The multiple changes inflicted on businesses and the community by the continuing Pandemic reached Blackpool Transport's heritage tram tour operation quite early on with withdrawal of the service in its entirety this year. Social distancing rules and spacing of passengers on public transport vehicles of all types have meant a tearing up of pre-virus procedures. Minimising contact between bus and tram staff and passengers being foremost in new procedures and fare handling being a foremost concern.

Like other operators Blackpool's buses now have enhanced screens at vehicle entrances so requirement for physical transactions is eliminated by use of IT devices. Trams with multiple doors and requirement for a roving conductor are now adapting further by new flat fares that no longer reference distances travelled - a change being introduced imminently. The Operator (BTS) is heavily promoting use of electronic payment as precursor to system wide application. A glance at the BTS website and on its vehicles - brings this home.

The Heritage Tram operation has been taken in house and reorganised within the Company's management structure ahead of its reintroduction over the August Bank Holiday Weekend. Advance bookings (online) will be required to secure seat(s) on a restructured heritage offer - given the need for social distancing and seat spacing on the trams pre-assigned each day. Capacity will be reduced and the heritage service will inevitably be far different from the offer of previous years (and months). Blackpool Transport's new tram team will be providing more details of the August Bank Holiday heritage tram service through its website and online media.

Above : The 1930s decade - era of great change in Blackpool and along the Fylde coast. Blackpool's modernisation of its tram fleet (and buses) with an attractive rebranding format and livery - made it an enviable transport system for other operators to study.

So much change is impacting on the Company that it is difficult to keep pace with the plethora of announcements and adjustments to its services. BTS is now operating new bus services from Fleetwood and Thornton all the way to Preston's Bus Station under contract to Lancashire County Council: being just one of many developments this month. Work has commenced on the demolition of the former 'Wilko' property at Talbot Road allowing final completion of the tram extension to its planned terminus and connecting access into Blackpool North railway station. Demolition of the eyesore structure has resulted in road closures and removal of bus stops on Talbot Road, with consequent rerouting of services to Queen Street adjacent to Blackpool Library. Plans for pedestrianising a section of Victoria Road in Cleveleys and the busy commercial centre requires extended (and probably permanent) rerouting of all bus services accessing Cleveleys Bus Station.

Redevelopment of the Company's operating base at Rigby Road, and attendant issues dealing with the tram depot property are very much in the background. No final decisions have been made on the ultimate use of the depot site. The former Blundell Depot site and Foxhall access line are nearing complete elimination. Blackpool Transport's strategic plan to become an all electric bus (and tram) operator within the near term - have their own influence on final reorganisation of the Rigby Road operation. As if this is not enough change - the Council's application for £50 Million from Government as precursor to a half Billion Pound regeneration of the town centre districts includes provision for a wider use of light rail operation and strengthened services across the Fylde coast. We may yet see trams return to Layton enroute to Victoria Hospital's complex (and Stanley Park) - important termini for residents and visitors alike. Not to mention logical extending the seafront service from Starr Gate to St Annes and potentially Lytham.

No doubt Council teams at Bickerstaffe House and the Town Hall have plenty to keep them busy, bearing in mind the consequences of radical restructuring of Lancashire's county government set up now on the table. Simplification of the existing multi layered mosaic of local and unitary authorities, together with the County Council, brings both challenges and opportunities for forward looking public bodies embracing change. We are fortunate that Blackpool retains a grip on transport infrastructure serving an ever wider population. Even more so with the town's unique ownership of an electric tram network boldly set on expansion in the 21st Century. The wheel is actually completing a full circle from 1885.

Bring it on !

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