Big queues and big disapointments in Blackpool

The start of the 2012 illuminations has been a rather challenging time for the Blackpool tramway. This is of course, the first time that the illuminations have shone in the ‘new’ tramway era with Flexity2 LRVS providing the core service. As expected, crush loadings have been witnessed on the new trams with passenger numbers soaring on the first Saturday evening of the lights season.

As reported previously, the tram service was severed on switch-on night, Friday 31st August due to the switch-on ceremony taking place at the Tower Festival Headland. Once again the tramway was split in two, with some trams working between Starr Gate and Tower, and others managing the North Pier to Fleetwood section, with the usual chaotic results. No vintage or illuminated cars appeared all day which made for an extremely disapointing start to what is supposed to be the peak of the year in Blackpool.

Unfortunately, Saturday 1st September was not a great deal better as the trams struggled to cope with the huge influx of passengers. Thankfully Blackpool Transport have vastly improved the evening service, and the pathetic half-hourly frequency which ran during the summer is now a thing of the past. Trams are scheduled to run to Fleetwood at twenty minute intervals until circa 10:00pm, with additional cars running as far north as Little Bispham to offer a much better evening service for those who want to use the trams to travel through the illuminations display. Unfortunately, on the first illumination Saturday evening of 2012, the timetable was soon forgotten as due to heavy loadings, many trams were turned short to recover lost time, leading to big gaps between trams, which in turn led to massive queues at tram stops of angry tourists. The number of fares lost due to conductors being physically unable to walk from one end of a tram to the other cannot even begin to be estimated. Once again the modified Balloon cars were sorely missed, as all of them remained tucked up in Rigby Road depot.

There was also disapointment for the revised heritage/illumination tours, although it is pleasing to report that a huge number of people appeared at the polo stop sign at Pleasure Beach to wait for a tour. Apparently due to staff shortages, the advertised ten-minute frequency failed to materialise and just the three feature cars were used, which proved to woefully insufficient, with some sizeable gaps between departures leading to yet more complaints. It is to be sincerly hoped that this situation will not occur every week, as this could potentially mean that the vintage trams would not run again in 2012 – and regular patrons are unlikely to support the tours if the same three trams run nightly! Indeed, a few comments have been heard expressing disapointment that no double-deck trams ran that evening, surely a first for a weekend during the illuminations season. It is highly ironic that after running with very few passengers since Easter, the vintage fleet were all confined to depot when there was actually a great number of people in town who were very willing to pay to ride on them!

Hopefully now that Blackpool Transport have some idea of how the modernised tramway can work on such a busy evening, tweaks will be made allowing things to improve as the season progresses. However, more tram crews are desperately needed so that more service and tour trams can be brought into action, otherwise the next nine weeks could be a dire end to the tramway’s year.

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29 Responses to Big queues and big disapointments in Blackpool

  1. freel07 says:

    A question here for those that know how these things have operated previously. Where did the crews for all the additional summer and Illuminations duties come from in previous years? I had always assumed that BTS had a core of drivers for the all year One Man Operated duties and employed part time staff for the peak season. If that is the case have some of the former part time staff gone to make up the team of extra conductors needed now that the core service needs at least 2 staff for every tram? On the one occasion I have been since the system re-opened one of the trams I was on had a crew of 4 and the other a crew of 3. That level of staffing will be hard to justify during the winter.

    My question really is this. Have they just not recruited the extra peak season staff this year or was my assumption about previous years wrong??

    • Andrew Waddington says:

      From what I’ve heard, a big part of the problem seems to be low morale amongst BTS platform staff which has led to a high number of people leaving the company over the course of the season. Whilst I don’t know enough about this situation to go into much detail, it does seem to tally with what is unfolding now, as there has been quite a bit of crew training taking place over the summer yet if anything there seem to less crews available than in the spring! In spite of all this negativity though, I will be visiting Blackpool again in a few weeks and I hope that others will give the tramway the benefit of the doubt. The illuminations have only been on for 2 nights, its a bit early to write them off already…. that said I think enthusiasts should be fully aware of the problems the tramway is facing. Here’s hoping that things will improve, and soon.

      • Herbert Morrision says:

        BTS are still operating driver training program, even at this late stage of the year. Staff Morale is at an all time low. About time the management at BTS woke up and smelt the coffee…. somethings afoot.

  2. Andy Cleaver says:

    With regards to BTS losing revenue, they should adopt the scheme used by NET where at peak loading stops, they have conductors on the platforms issuing tickets and therefore protecting revenue.
    It is obvious that there is no intention whatsoever to use the modified balloons which appear to have become an expensive white elephant.
    the 1st illuminations weekend is traditionally quiet in comparison so i hope they learn very quickly from mistakes of this weekend otherwise October half term could become disastorous

    • David Taylor says:

      During the fleetwood show the repainted modified balloon was on show. I asked the official when they would be in service and he stated ‘ we can’t use them at present due to not being able to get wheelchairs inside” he then showed me the problem. A wheel chair can get on but there is then a step to get off the platform into the saloon. More than one chair would then block the platform.

    • Herbert Morrision says:

      Guards on platforms, now theirs a good idea, sensible and simple. But doubt it will happen as BTS didnt think of the idea…….

  3. Bob Milner says:

    The whole season has seen a disgusting service with over crowding of the trams. Guards at a tram-stop leave by one door then squeeze into another attempting to collect fares! Free riding must be rife. There must be major health and safety issues with these over crowded trams especially if they made an emergency stop when some drunk has decided to wander into the path of the cars. I saw last Thursday at North Pier people attempting to squeeze into the front door of a grossly overloaded car. The crazy thing is that there are all those converted double deckers sitting in the depot. Where are all the bus/tram drivers as in past seasons? How does BTS justify the capital expenditure on these cars and not use them?

  4. Simon says:

    What did people really expect it is Blackpool transport! But must say that the idea of having the conductors on the platform rather than on the trams sounds a great idea, as it will also mean people could get information about when the next tram is as well.

    • David Taylor says:

      Liverpool corporation used to use spare conductors in the City centre durin the evening rush hour. They would issue tickets on pink rolls so the bus conductor new you had paid someone else.

    • Bob Milner says:

      Sorry Simon the usual answer is ‘There’s a tram behind’ – which can mean anything. It appears that after about mid-morning with the present ‘timetable’ all it says is that ‘trams run at regular intervals’. There appears not to be an established times the trams run!

  5. Clifford Stead says:

    This really is the nightmare scenario we all feared and hoped would never happen, what a shame after all that expensive investment. Management heads need to roll!

  6. Howie B says:

    Those of us who live south of Watford are eternally grateful to this website. We now know that any trip to Blackpool will be a monumental waste of time, money and petrol.

  7. Bob Milner says:

    What also doesn’t help the tramway’s problem is Blackpool Council’s hell-bent policy of disrupting the promenade with concert’s/switch-ons on their ‘white-elephant’ Tower Headland (the expensive comedy carpet has also sustained damaged). Where else would a new multi-million pound tramway be cut in half to allow a concert? The queues on Friday for trams at North Pier were huge and people were upset at seeing trams stacked with lights switched off while they waited at the tram-stop! Not a good image. I believe the Illuminated cars were not there and after the switch-on because the prom was shut people couldn’t drive or tram-ride through the lights unless they did it in two halves – crazy! There was traffic chaos on Friday but Blackpool Council wont listen and will say ‘what a success it all was – NOT!’ When the Lights are switched on at Central Car Park more people can be accommodated to see the show and the Illuminated Cars are out – waiting to take people through the lights after the switch-on! But what do you expect here in Blackpool?

    • Herbert Morrision says:

      I think this is slightly unfair. Blackpool Council in its present make up inherited this fiasco, Bonny Street Central Car park was a nightmare for a concert such as this. The lights switch on is one of the biggest events in the Blackpool Calender. To use the headlands site is vital to the success of the event. IT had always been planned too have a split service on occasions such as this due to safety reasons. During past years the prom has been so busy that service has had to be suspended on numerous occasions or run as a split service.
      The main thorn in the side is BTS. They have little or no interest in the Heritage Service, and one wonders if they actually want the new Light Rail. Its interesting to note that the bus service and tram service run as separate business’s. Blackpool is notorious for not being able to run a decent service, staff shortages being cited as the main reason. Blackpool Council as the sole owner of BTS have instructed BTS to sort out the timings, get the 10 minute service up and running.
      However, how is this possible to run a 10 minute service, when at 9pm on Friday evening, 7 out of the available 15 tram cars, were parked up in the Starr Gate dept. Other trams were playing catch up and running short to either tower or bispham, but the bispham one I was on stopped short at North Pier, all off, and join a massive cue, I gave up and made my way back to Starr Gate and the car back home to preston.
      It seems strange but the management at BTS seem hell bent on running the service into the ground, bare minimum service. Ready for a sell off one wonders.
      As for shortage of crews!…. perhaps this is down to the managements mass clear out and redundancy last year of many of the older experienced multi trained crews. A close friend of my being an experienced tram driver, and bus driver applied for a part time post, having moved back from Manchester to Lytham, only wanting part time-semi retired status and was told quite clearly by BTS staff don’t bother, your too experienced, we couldn’t pay the rate your worth. Really. One wonders what is really going on at BTS whats the motive for some of there decisions.
      Personally I think the new Felxabilty trams are faceless mass produced rubbish and will they still be running in 10, 20, 30 years unlike some of the other heritage trams creeping upto 100 yrs old. HOWEVER I do think they are bright modern and functional something that blackpool has needed for years. Lets face it they have only been here a matter of months, out 0f 16, 1 has gone home to germany for modifications, 3/4 have flat wheels, brake problems, door problems, and goodness knows what else we dont know about. Overpriced and over rated…… Lets see what the future brings

  8. freel07 says:

    I guess Andrew has answered the question as to why so few trams are being used. There seems to be a problem with recruiting and keeping staff. Hopefully over the winter something can be done to address this morale issue and improve staff realtions to the point where BTS can keep enough crews to operate both the core service and the promised extras.

    Also this stupid idea of cutting the promenade in 2 every time there is some form of event needs sorting if the trams are to be able to provide a service when they are most needed.

  9. Nigel says:

    This Friday sees the first of the the Fireworks displays which I believe this year are being set off from the new headland, chaos again guaranteed to happen as these nights are incredibly busy.

    Are the illuminated trams still running ? poss daft question.

  10. Bob Milner says:

    I must share this with you!
    I have just been in a local shop and one of the guys who I guess must be a tram driver trainer (or the like) made the following statement about the unused modified double-deck trams when I asked him why there were not enough trams in service. He says that the double-deckers are only for spare in case the Flexity2 cars breakdown! When I challenged him on the over crowding he claimed there were sufficient cars to cope with demand! He then mentioned that a member of staff when telling passengers to wait for the next car because it was full was pinned against a pole in the car and people pushed passed! He was also sworn at by passengers – obviously fed up with the poor service. So I think that statement somewhat negates the comment that there are sufficient cars to cope! It appears that all the money spent on the modifications was an utter waste!

  11. freel07 says:

    I know this is possibly a silly question but I’ll pose it anyway as similar points have been made in relation to service standards on Metrolink Forums.

    We have all commented here justifiably about poor service but has anyone of these correspondents actually raised the complaints formally with BTS and the Council? It’s no use complaining amongst ourselves and expecting things to improve.

  12. Ken walker says:

    Freelo7, I have heard quite a few people saying that they have made written complaints to Metrolink but have had no reply.
    Bob Milner, the council will regard the event as a success, because their actions regularly seem to me to be designed to completely sabotage all forms of transport along the promenade, and in that they have been very successful, and the lack of morale and high staff turnover rate seem to support this view. It would be nice to hear a positive story about the system but that seems highly unlikely

  13. Bob Milner says:

    This morning I waited 30 minutes for a tram to town at Bispham. Ok the tram was about half-full when it turned up. But by the time we left Gynn Square it was full and in the old days on a 3-bell load. We ran non stop to town leaving crowds at two stops! There are also rumours about the Now Cards which cannot be used after 6pm on Fri, Sat and Sun during the Illuminations, have heard that on one journey, one day, I don’t know where, the tram halted at a stop at 6pm and the driver and guards said “everybody with a Now card has to get off now or pay full fare” and people were literally slung off! The story is being investigated further!

  14. Paul says:

    So just as all the doom-mongers predicted then. Those expensive new trams are a waste of money, nobody wants to use them and they’re running around empty all day…

    Or in reality the popularity of the new trams has far exceeded all expectations and BT have been caught short of crews to meet the demand which is several times the number of passengers at this time last year…
    It does take a significant period to train a new tram driver so you can’t magically recruit instant extras off the street and it is notable that BT are still running driving schools which is very unusual for this time of year.

    • Ken Walker says:

      The demand was considerably less last year because half the tramway was closed all year. BTS could reasonably have been expected to work that one out.

      • Herbert Morrision says:

        This is BTS were talking about, they dont appear to have any forward planning abilities. About time the Council, kicked some behinds. Staff Morale is the lowest its ever been in the last 20 years. As for the NOW Cards………we shall see? Investigations are on going, I am told

  15. Mark says:

    I think they should have done the first proposed timetable, with type A trams (flexities), running every 10mins to fleetwood and type B trams ( modernised balloons) every 20 mins between them to cleveleys or little bispham. This will probably shorten ques at stops, and I know the staff are problems and the reliability of the doors in the balloons is bad, but this could work. Then the illumination trams could run in between these!

  16. Nigel Pennick says:

    It seems that Blackpool Transport ordered too few Flexities for the new service and a follow-on order of several more is required to cope with the high loadings.

    • Ken Walker says:

      Metrolink have 8 spare. Different floor height, different voltage but never mind

    • Herbert Morrision says:

      Doubt this will happen, theirs no money in the pot. Reserves at Blackpool are at an all time low, just to keep the Council buoyant. Government cut backs being cited in local press.

  17. Jono says:

    I think they should of ordered 20 a nice round number

  18. Andrew Blood says:

    Where would they ‘of’ got the extra £8 million needed to purchase 4 more Flexities – certianly not from revenue or from the government hand out.