There is currently intense speculation regarding the future of the offer of free travel on the Blackpool tramway for all holders of the UK concessionary passes issued to senior citizens. Before the opening of the modernised tramway, this offer was extended to cover ALL UK residents eligible for the pass under a national scheme, whereas previously it had only been available to local residents. Now however, this decision is likely to be reversed as Blackpool Council strive to save money.
Although OAPs will still be allowed to use Blackpool Transport’s bus services at no cost, it is expected that the offer of free travel on the tramway will only apply to Blackpool residents from April 2014. Not only would this be a significant blow to holidaymakers, but will also affect people who live on the outskirts of town, including people based in Fleetwood who will no longer be able to use their concessionary travel pass to ride to Blackpool by tram. There is already a grave concern that this could lead to many elderly passengers and their families transferring their custom to the parallel Line 1 bus service, somewhat undermining the massive investment in the tramway made in recent years – much of which came, oddly, from Blackpool Council! This could also negatively impact on other bus routes, as a major increase in passenger numbers on the Line 1 buses may pressure BTS to increase this service, at a time when cutbacks are being made in all departments across the company. However on the flip side of the coin, if the buses used on the promenade service cannot cope with the demand, there is the risk that a rival company may jump in to fill the void and take away passengers from Blackpool Transport.
A petition has already been launched to try and put pressure onto Blackpool Council to keep accepting the passes on trams. At present, the Council must pay Blackpool Transport a percentage of the normal fare for every passenger who travels free of charge, and it has been estimated that the suggested changes could save the Council a hefty £700,000. However, Fleetwood folk are understandably unhappy, having suffered considerable disruption whilst the tramway was upgraded, and many now feel that this will not have been worthwhile if the concessionary travel is axed. Fleetwood Councillor Dave Shaw described the proposal as “an insult” to the people who suffered most when sections of the line were closed in 2010 and 2011. The fact that people who live a few miles away will still travel free is also likely be a bugbear, although some Blackpool residents have already argued that they do not feel that their taxes should be spent on free tram rides for non-residents.
It remains to be seen what final decision is taken on this controversial topic, although whatever happens Blackpool Council are almost certain to attract a large amount of criticism. It is also worth noting that the Council reportedly wasted a six figure sum of money on last year’s illumination switch-on event, which was very poorly attended and resulted in what has been claimed to be the quietest switch-on weekend in decades. The one possible silver lining, is that Lancashire County Council have expressed willingness to review their stance on the matter if changes are implemented, and could potentially restore free travel for senior citizens of Fleetwood. Hopefully whatever happens, the upgraded Blackpool tram system will not be too badly affected, after being one of the major success stories in the transport world over the last couple of years.