Our Crowded Buses - Take Your Chances
Just as the busiest time of the year begins to roll round (at least for residents of Blackpool) restrictions and impediments to travel to the town centre gain momentum. Closure of the road access between North Station and what will become the new Talbot Gateway tram terminus with its hotel and promised new restaurant is creating real difficulties for traffic in all directions. At the same time forced adjustment to bus stops on the busy Talbot Road corridor are becoming something of a nightmare for travellers needing Blackpool Transport services. Standing on a crowded pavement outside Home Bargains on Talbot Road bereft of shelter amid noisesome excess from adjoining bars, while beset by pestering beggars - does little in making a town centre shopping experience calming or an enjoyable experience.
Lengthening intervals between buses on busy services adds even further malaise to Blackpool's transport image. What was once a ten minute frequency on the important Cleveleys to Blackpool Town Centre 9 service has become double that, with consequent buildup of waiting passengers along the entire route. This in turn quickly brings about ever more crowded buses in a period when we are being encouraged to leave a certain amount of space between our fellow travellers. Just how the driver can influence or control the number of passengers entering his vehicle other than keeping the front doors shut - has to be an exercise in frustration for BTS staff.
It seems having a licence to drive any kind of commercial vehicle has become a highly desirable commodity with all manner of businesses offering tempting deals to sign on. The consequence is impelling fall off in bus drivers taking on more lucrative delivery or logistics haulage work. Complicating matters still further is the ever present impact of the Covid virus and essential testing of staff. Its no surprise that Blackpool bus schedules have become ever more challenging for the operator; and equally importantly for passengers. The Fylde coast has a high percentage of ageing population with most not inclined to tackle steep stairways, especially on moving vehicles. As someone now disinclined to seek out a seat 'upstairs' and take my chances amid a crowded standing room only lower deck or on a single deck bus - I can personally attest to the problems which have arisen through the lengthening frequency of services, when almost every bus arriving a stop during working hours is nearly full, with the lower deck crammed with seated and standing passengers, not to mention ever present child and mobility hardware.
The tramway also is far from immune to these same issues with winter schedules, seemingly no peak time 'extras', and with just a small number of trams in operation over the eleven mile long urban line. Salt is immediately rubbed into already aggravated queues when the next tram to show up has a frequent 'Sorry Car Full' or similar text on its destination screen. Not that this stops a surge of additional passengers accessing the multiple entry doors on Blackpool's 'Supertrams'. At least Mr Luff's centre entrance models allowed the roving conductor to bar ingress beyond the Union mandated number of 'Standing Passengers' - usually single digits. Not so in our brave new world when standing is the norm for many, whether bus or tram. And of course there is that additional condition of travel - mandatory wearing a face mask: placing ever more pressure on bus drivers. No wonder they are tempted by offers of work free from close encounters with the public.
Almost all of these factors are outwith Blackpool Transport's control. Factors which are undoubtedly common to most public transport operators in the UK this winter. Thankfully the prevalence of almost empty 'heritage trams' trundling up and down Blackpool seafront has tactfully been downsized to a token offer of themed 'tours' The sight of nearly empty double deck 'Balloon' cars serenely cruising past queues along the Promenade is definitely not recommended in harsh winter months = if at all.
The need to complete the new pedestrian underpass tunnel linking a North Station tram terminus with the mainline station concourse is becoming an imperative for both Contractors and Council. Completion will relieve traffic congestion, whilst allowing an early reinstatement of bus stops adjacent to the busy Sainsbury town centre store and Council Office hub, plus other important commercial venues in proximity. Just when trams will commence operation up Talbot Road as far as their new terminus at North Station remains to be seen. An even more ambitious objective for the Council will be to further extend this link directly to Victoria Hospital through Layton - where enormous demand is clearly evident in and around this extremely busy healthcare centre.
Not too much traffic in these images taken in proximity to the North Station 'Talbot Gateway' development - recently.
But looks are deceiving.