Widened Balloons for half-term comeback?

Trevor Roberts, the Managing Director of Blackpool Transport Services, has announced that it is planned to use the available modified Balloon cars, often referred to as the ‘B Fleet’, over the busy autumn half-term school holiday period towards the end of the 2012 illuminations. This is traditionally the busiest week of the year for the tramway and so it makes good sense to run more trams, especially as passenger numbers have exceeded all expectations so far this year.

At the time of writing, six of the double-deckers which have been modified with widened centre entrances and doors operated from the driver’s cab, are available for service: these being 700, 707, 709, 713, 718 and 724. All of them have seen some use already this year, but in most cases the number of outings they have actually made can be counted on one hand! Indeed, so far none of them have turned a wheel during the illuminations season, despite crush loadings on the Flexity2 trams at many times. It is also hoped that car 719, currently outstationed at Starr Gate where it is expected to be painted in the tramway’s new purple and white fleet livery, may be ready in time for half-term week. Unfortunately work on the conversion of sister car 711 is unlikely to be completed this year whilst 720 is unserviceable after its doors were damaged in an unfortunate shunting accident.

Despite this bold announcement, it is not completely clear when the modified Balloon cars will actually run. For many, the school half-term holidays coincide with the final week of the 2012 illuminations, the week ending with Sunday 4th November. However, some schools have their holidays a week earlier and so there is a possibility that the trams may be used for an extended period – something which would be a very welcome capacity boost at this busy time of year. Hopefully Mr Robert’s promises will be adhered to and the best of the 2012 season is still ahead for the Blackpool tramway!

The widened Balloons have spent most of 2012 sitting in the depot at Rigby Road, and that is where cars 700 and 724 are seen in this typical depot view. Also visible is freshly painted Towing car 272, now respledent in cream livery. (Photo by Andrew Waddington)


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28 Responses to Widened Balloons for half-term comeback?

  1. The Eye says:

    DDA does not apply to existing vehicles until 2020!

    • Ken walker says:

      If the widened balloons are so restricted in their use BTS need to be petitioning for government funding for another 10 Flexity2 trams.Having serviceable trams tucked up in the depot while people are being left behind at stops is not acceptable, and if the current debacle continues BTS might soon find themselves struggling to find passengers rather than struggling to accommodate them. If they think that disappointed passengers will keep coming back for more they need to remember that the travelling public don’t owe them any favours. This DDA business is either a very inept piece of legislation or woeful misinterpretation of it by BTS.

  2. Bob Milner says:

    If these regulations don’t come in until 2020 why have the Blackpool traditional cars been side-lined already? In San Francisco the F line PCC cars have proved so successful with locals and visitors that they have more cars scheduled for restoration and they are looking at the E line to join the present F line. In Melbourne too I believe the listed W class cars have returned to service too why is it here we always get it wrong?

  3. Andrew Blood says:

    The Blackpool traditonal trams were removed from front line services because they were tired, unpopualar with the vast majority of the travelling public, costing a lot to maintain and not bringing in sufficient income. They were no longer fit for purpose, hence the upgrade which has been phenominally successful. So, how is that getting it wrong? Blackpool is not a museum or a preservation group, it is a transport system and is now able to act like one, with the added bonus of retaining a selection of heritage vehicles. I’de say that was getting it right – in all ways

    • Bob Milner says:

      So San Francisco & Melbourne are wrong despite the popularity of the cars? Utter rubbish Mr Blood and have you travelled on one of the packed Flexity2 sardine cans? Have you stood there for 50 minutes on a Summer Season evening waiting for a car? Have you went to catch a car at a designated time and it regularly doesn’t turn up? I have most days! Getting it right – no way!

  4. Andrew Blood says:

    Melbourne has the majority of its services served by modern, low floor trams, with a handful of restored cars operating a designated sevcie,. like Blackpool. So, yes, they’ve got it right. San Franscico has the majority of its streetcar lines operated by modern low floor trams, like Blackpool, with only one specific line operated by vintage trams. So, yes, they’ve got it right. And yes, I’ve regualrly ridden the Flexity trams – almost daily. The fact that they are so packed shows their popuarlity with the travelling public. Not everything was going to be perfect from Day One, but improvments are being made all the time. The Flexity trams and the upgrade have saved the Blackpool tramway – utter rubbish. No – just fact!

  5. Ken walker says:

    In short, in modernising the tramway they have got it right, in the management of the service they have got it abysmally wrong. How they need to learn lessons from 2012 I don’t know, they’ve been operating trams for 127 years, longer than anybody else, and all that has changed is new trams and a new depot. The route is the same, the travelling public is the same, the holiday season is the same. So apart from a different maintenance regime for modern vehicles, why do they reckon they need to bin all their previous 126 years of experience and start learning from scratch? The frequent inadequacies of the service as reported by many frustrated travellers (and not just on this website) indicates that it is more than just a slight misjudgement, and the frequent closure of part of the line for events at the headlands suggest that the council are not overly bothered about providing a reliable service. And as to why enormous sums of money were spent on widened balloons just to leave them in the depot, that beggars belief. I also cannot see how with 126 years of experience they thought they could satisfy the needs of the travelling public with just 16 trams. An indication in the media from BTS about how they intend to resolve the overcrowding might give people some conference, but there is only a deafening silence on the negative aspects. If they really have aspirations for people to commute by tram, needing to get to work on time, they will need to improve considerably

    • Ken walker says:

      For “conference” read “confidence”. Predictive text caught me out there!

    • Andrew Waddington says:

      I think that the upgraded tramway is being criticised a little unfairly here, due to it being a victim of its own success. I don’t think anyone could have predicted how high passenger numbers on the trams would be this year – and I’d be interested to know when the tramway last carried so many people in a year was. It’s always been difficult to get tram output right, a year ago many people were predicting that 16 trams was far too optimistic, yet now it’s not enough. BTS can’t win whatever they do!

  6. Bob Milner says:

    Whilst we stand in the sardine cans expensively converted Double deck cars (part of the unpopular trams) remain locked up – a very expensive exercise indeed! Its pitiful seeing a lot elderly passengers herded on to these cars – one day there will be an emergency stop and I dread to think what will happen. Mr Blood travels ‘almost daily’ then he will see the gross overcrowding, guards unable to collect fares and I too travel ‘almost daily’ – so I am still waiting to see these ‘improvments are being made all the time’. All I see is that time tables being altered – late running trams – passengers giving up – some even travelling from Bispham to Starr Gate to catch a car to Fleetwood – this I have witnessed on several occasions! Come off it Mr Blood!

  7. Joe says:

    Slightly of topic, but I’d love to have seen bombardier design a low floor double deck flexity, as not only would they have solved the problem of overloading they would have been a world first and would have looked impressive ! That said BTS would then have had no reason to retain the widened balloons and some may have ended up being scrapped, I’m sure the widened balloons will see more use next year.

  8. Joe says:

    Ps I’m not sure a double decker flexity could be an articulated design though, it may have to be rigid but still it would have been ideal for Blackpool.

  9. Andrew Blood says:

    Mr. Milner – last year you moaned constantly about the tramway being unable to pick people up. This year your gripe is that they are picking too many people up. It seems, like a grumpy old man, that nothing will please you. The tramway can do no right – as evidenced by your continual whinging on here, Trams magazine and Tramgen. You are entitled to your opinion, even if you express it in a manner which appears rude at times, but you dont appear to respect those of others who are, and always have been , fully supportive of the tramway and recogise the issues being tackled and the problems being overcome – albeit it often slowly at times. No doubt next season you will find something else to whinge about – I await whatever it is with interest.

  10. Jono says:

    Very true about the Timetable aspect, I think we need to give the Flexities some more time to settle in. The passenger loads are fantastic on it and the only was to get a seat is to infact get on at the terminus. As for the Widened Balloons how can the money spent on them be justified? I know they will be used during the half term week but 2 weeks of use a year isn’t enough for the money what was spent on them.

  11. Paul says:

    1: the demand for the new trams has far exceeded even the most optimistic predictions. I’m sure BTS would like to have more trams in service to meet that demand (more frequent timetabled A fleet journeys and a suplementary B fleet service). However…

    2: late delivery of the new trams delayed the start of driver training and limited the numbers of drivers who could be trained on them so there still aren’t as many drivers available as BTS would like, it is very unusual for driver training to still be ongoing this late in the year (and don’t forget new staff need two lots of training for two very different methods of control to drive the B fleet cars).
    It is clear from the regular juggling of the timetables that BTS are trying to maximise revenue from that limited pool of drivers by providing the best service they can at the busiest times e.g. currently a more frequent service to Little Bispham in the evening than there is during the main day.

    3: the reliability of the new cars has been better than expected – breakdowns in service can be counted on one hand, so the B fleet have never been needed at all to cover timtabled services for unavailable Flexities. – If you were BTS, would you send out drivers in 100 capacity balloons and leave 200 capacity flexities standing idle??

    4: this anouncement is itself evidence that BTS ARE trying to do all they can “to resolve the overcrowding” – this is the plan for what is often the busiest week of the year!!

    My personal experience is that the vast majority of journeys have operated very close to scheduled times, certainly a much more predictable and reliable service than any point in the last decade, and I have always been able to fit on board the first tram to arrive (OK not always able to get a seat, but better standing on a tram than at a tram stop)

    No one disputes that this year has been less than perfect, but there is clear evidence of BTS learning and adapting from it, and of a longer term plan being formulated, if you care to look for it…

  12. Bob Milner says:

    Mr Blood open your eyes and see what is going on and may I suggest you check some of your English in your ‘company magazine’. I am stating facts on my daily use of the tramway (which I am glad is being so well used). But ordinary passengers (not enthusiastic magazine editors) are complaining about packed trams. All that is needed is simply use some of the expensively converted Balloons to alleviate the over-crowding in the trams at certain times. However we will never agree and I am not ‘continual whinging on here’ simply want it to be a success! #whingeing

    • Paul says:

      In the ideal world, yes Bob; Balloons would be used “to alleviate the over-crowding in the trams at certain times” but who do you propose drives them? Do you prefer untrained staff driving your tram or do you expect drivers to exceed their legal maximum hours??
      It can’t be argued that BT aren’t trying to increase the available number of drivers: Driver Training has been running continuously since the Flexities were released to BT by Bombardier…

      • Ken walker says:

        If they were so short of tram drivers why didn’t they turn out some buses to support the service, and on which tram tickets were valid. Buses can easily run on the tram route between Starr Gate and Cabin. Even one bus could have mopped up getting on for 100 passengers who would ideally liked to have gone by tram but preferred getting on the move when trams were missing (not all passengers are enthusiasts), and could have accommodated disabled travellers as well. Instead of which fed up passengers have had to go looking for a bus service. The debacle of through tickets being unavailable and passengers having to pay twice (and therefore pay more) on the several occasions when the council have stopped trams running on the short section between Tower and North Pier speaks volumes about their attitude towards the public who have paid for this system through their taxes.
        Perhaps it is time that the tramway was subjected to performance reviews like the railways are, after all £100million of public money has gone into it, but at the moment there is no accountability. BTS being a near monopoly provider of local transport in the area doesn’t help.

        • Andrew Waddington says:

          Do BTS have spare bus drivers though? Don’t forget that the company has to run advertised services on the bus network, and would be fined if they cancelled a less profitable bus service in order to supplement the tramway. I agree about the lack of through ticketing during the dreaded ‘split service’ though – I think that’s really poor and needs to be addressed if this sort of thing is going to happen again (which it presumably will, unfortunately).

          • Ken Walker says:

            Fair point Andrew, but if they are fined for missing buses are they not also fined for missing trams? A lot of the long queues have been formed because there has been a big gap in the service for whatever reason (I have experienced a gap of nearly 2 hours at Fleetwood on one occasion). In a holiday resort you would expect there to be some spare capacity in the peak season to allow for the unexpected: you can’t expect them to have spare Flexities lying around at £2 million a time or whatever their cost is, but surely they must have some contingency. After all a fair number of these passengers who have been waiting a long time must by the law of averages have been quite elderly people who cannot stand around for a long time. And these are the sort of people I’m talking about who would rather a bus turn up than nothing at all, and if they’ve been standing around for a while the last thing they will then want to do is try to find the nearest bus stop. I wouldn’t expect BTS to cancel a scheduled bus service to provide a vehicle, but I just wonder if they have ever considered looking at whether they have a vehicle and driver available when there’s disruption. Up to the end of the 2009 season, with the number of trams on the prom it wouldn’t matter if there were one or two missing, and a special could be commandeered to run to Fleetwood or wherever if a service car was late; now there are no specials, but surely they need to have some sort of plan B, and with the widened balloons restricted, the only option is having one or more buses available. I wonder if they regret sacking so many bus crews last year.

          • Andrew Waddington says:

            As I understand it, BTS would be fined for cancelling any advertised bus service but the trams are not regulated in any way. This is why we’ve had so many cancelled journeys and short runs in past years. It’s a sad situation, but one that the Government can be blamed for – yes, the ones who largely paid for the tramway to be modernised! Bizarre isn’t it?

            As for bus drivers, I suspect there are no more of them spare than there are for the trams, but as I have very little interest in buses I could well be wrong here. The contingency plan is obviously the widened Balloon cars – but without crews they can’t do a great deal! Here’s hoping that BTS will look at the successes and failures of 2012 and learn from their experiences, as already stated a lot has changed this year and I still feel that the company has done pretty well under some very challenging circumstances.

  13. Andrew Blood says:

    As I said before, your comments Mr. Milner, come across as rude and slightly offensive, and the trend has continued with this latest post which is slightly incoherent. Paul makes some excellent points but those who simply want to knock the tramway will find an excuse regardless. The Balloons will be used, but I wont bother repeating Paul’s post as to the reasons why they have not yet appeared regularly this season. Incidentally, re your comments about use of English, shouldn’t you have put continually whinging’ rather than ‘continual whinging’? Your snytax doesnt appear quite right!

  14. Jono says:

    The Balloons are waste of time,how long until one breaks down?

  15. May I simply request that everyone should calm down and also extend basic courtesy and politeness to other contributors, even those with whose ideas one does not agree?

  16. Ken walker says:

    AnDrew Waddington,
    If the buses are regulated but the trams aren’t, obviously any shortage where there is a choice the trams get cancelled first. Fair enough this is BTS working any shortage so as to cost them the least. This is obviously common sense as any fine just means less money for running the service. At the end of the day we enthusiasts like the public in general will probably never know the truth. We can only hope for better next year. You and I may have direr ring views on some aspects but we have concern for the future of the tramway in common!

  17. Mark says:

    Why are BTS using an every 20 minute timetable through the busiest time of the year, they could have easily carried on the summer timetable.

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