The new substation near Fleetwood Ferry has finally been completed and was commissioned ahead of Sunday 1st July, when a new enhanced tram service commenced operation on the Blackpool tramway. Whilst it is pleasing that a more frequent service is now being offered, Blackpool Transport have taken the surprising step of not promoting the scheduled running times of trams at stops, presumably due to fears of late running and trams being turned short to recover lost time.
The first departure of the morning from Starr Gate on weekdays is timed at 5:00am and the first southbound tram from Fleetwood is due off the Ferry stop at 5:55am. Trams then run every half hour until 8:00am, after which time they leave Starr Gate at least every twenty minutes. Soon afterwards things get a bit more confusing as trams are due to set off from the southern terminus at 8:40, 8:45, 9:00, 9:05, 9:20 and so on! These journeys initially alternate between full-length runs and Cleveleys ‘flyers’, designed presumably to help hoover up waiting customers leaving their hotels along the promenade. This is a far cry from last year when even the first trams of the day kept such people waiting as the service started ridiculously late! As the day wears on, the intermediate workings seem to disapear with all service cars generally running along the entire system, permitted by the availability of increased power in Fleetwood and the abandonment of the token system to ensure that only one tram was north of Fisherman’s Walk at any one time. The sight of two Flexities passing on Lord Street is something that local residents have had a long wait for, but it is finally here and should now be a daily occurance.
Unfortunately, notices at tram stops state that during the bulk of the day trams run at ‘frequent intervals’ with no details given regarding departure times. This is a very poor move as it is understandable that would-be passengers would like to know when the next tram is due to arrive, and indeed those who use the tramway as a regular means of transportation may plan their daily routine around the timetable. Thankfully by Monday 2nd July (the second day of the enhanced summer service), more specific information had been published on Blackpool Transport’s website. However, it seems very poor that BTS lack the confidence needed to actually give their customers any assurance of the level of tram service that they are able to provide at the tram stops themselves, as most passengers will not think to research running times on the internet before travelling.
Another disapointment concerns Sundays, when less trams are allocated to service than on any other day of the week. This is fairly standard practice on many public transport systems, but for a town such at Blackpool which relies heavily on the tourist market, it seems rather inappropriate as Sunday is often much busier than midweek. For the record, Sundays see a set timetable in place with trams every fifteen minutes for much of the day, and a reduced morning and late evening service, as per the other six days of the week.
On a more positive note, the last tram of the night is now even later, with the last car leaving Fleetwood well after midnight, and not due back at Starr Gate depot until 1:30am! At last, the proposed ten minute service operates along the entire length of the system from late morning and then until 6:00pm daily except for Sundays, having been hyped up considerably ahead of the new-look tramway’s re-launch. It is also pleasing to see that running time along the whole line has been increased by five minutes to fifty-five minutes, making workings less tight than before whilst also maintaining the promise of a ride from Starr Gate to Fleetwood (or vice versa) in less than an hour.
The current level of service commenced from July 1st and is set to remain in place until the end of August, leading to hopes that a more frequent evening service will be introduced during the illuminations. Currently a mere half-hourly frequency is on offer after 7:00pm on weekdays, after 6:00pm on Saturdays and from 5:00pm on Sundays – which would clearly be insufficient when the lights switch on, especially at weekends.
British Trams Online has generally been very positive about the modernisation of the Blackpool tramway, and hopefully further tweaks will continue to be made throughout the season to ensure that a first class tramway is running for the illuminations season, and to encourage the many people who have returned to the trams to get around this year to carry on using them regularly. 2012 has so far been an excellent year for the tramway with passenger numbers exceeding all expectations, and hopefully, despite some justifiable criticisms now appearing, this has set the tone for the remainder of the season and indeed the system’s long-term future.