With visitor numbers seeing unprecedented growth levels at the world-famous resort, Blackpool Transport has implemented a successful development plan to continue driving value into the local economy
With the oldest electric street tramway in the world, trams have been a major part of Blackpool’s transportation network since 1885. It’s an accolade that befits the international fame of Blackpool as an iconic resort with a wealth of heritage and commercial success. Despite a decline in visitors to the resort over part of the twentieth century, its recent regeneration has been key to Blackpool’s gradual return to its former glory with visitor numbers remaining higher than any other resort nationally and continuing to climb every year. Critically, underpinning Blackpool’s early popularity as well as this modern resurgence is a robust and well-managed public transport network.
“Today Blackpool Transport is the main transport provider for Blackpool, Wyre and the Fylde Coast,” explains Managing Director for the company, Jane Cole. “We run a regular tram service between Starr Gate and Fleetwood with our fleet of 16 Flexi Trams supplemented by our Balloon and Heritage Trams. We also currently run a network of 114 buses, which serve all the key destinations and local requirements for the 300,000 local residents and 20 million visitors.”
With demand increasing to such high volumes over recent years it has been key for the region’s transport network to develop in order to accommodate these numbers. As such, in 2012 the Tramway upgraded from a traditional network to a modern Light Rail System (LRT). This followed an extensive four-year project, which saw 11 miles of track replaced, the creation of a new depot and the introduction of the 16 new state-of-the-art Flexi Trams. “While it is acknowledged that the modern system was perfect for local transport needs, in tourism terms, Blackpool’s uniquely rich tramway history was such an integral part of the resort’s attractiveness, that some of the old tram’s are retained and operated entirely for tourism purposes,” Jane adds.
However, the ongoing development of Blackpool’s transport system does not stop there and upon joining the company a year ago following a successful career in the UK rail industry, Jane has set out an exciting five year plan to increase the brand’s profile in the region. “This includes delivering passenger and revenue growth on the trams and buses, investing further in our assets including the introduction of a new bus fleet, developing our people to deliver amazing customer experiences and continuing to preserve our heritage fleet,” she outlines.
Operating in such a popular tourist region as well as one that experiences demanding weather conditions, ensuring as effectively as possible that a reliable and well maintained service is delivered is a major challenge for Blackpool Transport. However, a long history of developing the network and understanding the local demands has been critical to the business’s ongoing success. A large network, high labour competence and robust vehicle efficiencies mean that Blackpool Transport can now offer low fares to all residents in Blackpool. A heritage of operating the network has also enabled the company to develop an unrivalled ability to co-ordinate assets and staff to meet the challenge of large visitor numbers and spikes in demand caused by events. A regular and thorough maintenance programme is also carried out to ensure salt egress from the coastline does not affect tram performance.
These strengths have been particularly demonstrated over the past 12 months as passenger numbers continue to rise. “Over this time we have been reviewing running times on all services, paying particular attention to peak times. For us, unlike a normal town, our peaks in relation to traffic congestion are Saturdays, Sundays and evenings during the illuminations,” says Jane. “As a result, we have increased running times on these days and have seen significant improvement in both reliability and punctuality. With regards to service revisions, we had a very poorly performing service that operated all over Blackpool and into Wyre and due to the nature of the route it was difficult to operate reliably. To overcome this we have split the service and introduced a northern and southern circular line, which has really improved performance.”
The success of such developments can be seen clearly in the results from the past year. In 2015, Blackpool Transport saw a passenger and revenue growth of 30 per cent on the tramway, which significantly was accompanied by very little over crowding. The introduction of a new ten-unit fleet of Citaro Mercedes buses on route five has also resulted in passenger and revenue growth of eight per cent for the route, in line with a seven per cent increase across all other bus routes. Even more importantly, highlighting the success of the heritage offering, this division has seen a 300 per cent increase in revenue over the last 12 months.
“Continuing this growth plan will be our major focus over the coming years,” concludes Jane. “In the long term, the vision is to be safe, profitable and to have a high value brand by delivering an amazing customer experience through a committed and engaged work force.”