As tourist attractions across the UK and many parts of Europe prepare for what experts believe will be a challenging year in terms of visitor numbers, Blackpool is planning for a further season of unprecedented growth.
Bucking the trend, the iconic British resort has in recent years seen a steady resurgence in tourism, welcoming 20 million people annually. Visitor numbers have remained higher than any other resort nationally and continue to climb, while economic development and transport strategies seem aligned as never before.
Two new enterprise zones have been created in the area and Jane Cole, Managing Director of Blackpool Transport for the past 18 months is rapidly emerging as a visionary with the ability to build teams and create powerful new partnerships with multiple stakeholders. She has not only revitalised and brought a new approach to her own organisation but strengthened relationships significantly with Blackpool Transport’s solitary shareholder, the local council, and with key suppliers such as Alexander Dennis Limited (ADL). Such is her determination and drive to succeed that she has just secured £7.7m of funding from Blackpool Council as part of an £18m investment programme to completely revamp the resort’s bus fleet. Her aim is to replace the entire 140 vehicles in the next four years and to ensure that beyond 2020 there is no bus more than five years old.
Coming from a career background with British Rail and more recently Virgin Rail, Jane Cole has been quick to realise the significance of plans to electrify the Preston-Blackpool line by 2018-’19. She commented: “In short, there are many implications but from our perspective the most significant one is that those travelling by rail to Blackpool, particularly families on holiday, will not have to change trains at Preston, which can be an arduous task during a long journey. “From 2018-’19 visitors will be able to travel direct from Scotland, Birmingham and London, into Blackpool North Station. I believe this will push up visitor numbers and as a consequence we need to be ready, hence we have extended our world famous, electric tramway to North Station, while also refurbishing heritage trams and introducing 16 modern Flexi Trams.”
Jane continued: “A vital part of our broader transport strategy is also the modernisation of our bus fleet and the introduction of next-generation, low emission vehicles. That journey will take another significant step with the launch of 10 ADL Enviro400 City buses on our high profile Palladium route, which will be followed progressively over the coming years with further vehicle replacements.”
Reflecting on the ADL deal, Jane added: “I have to say that working with ADL has been a pleasure and has epitomised everything we are trying to achieve as a business, both internally and in terms of supplier and partnership relationships. “From a product perspective we were ‘knocked out’ when we first saw the Enviro400 City bus at the NEC. It was modern, stylish, trendy, sophisticated and portrayed everything we are trying to achieve – but it was a red, two-door, London bus and we wanted something with our own identity. “We also wanted to do more than buy a bus. We wanted a partner willing to become intrinsically linked to us, joined at the hip, if you like, a partner that understands our ethos and our objective of genuinely bringing a team approach to the whole task of providing tailor-made public transport solutions.”
Bob Mason, Service Delivery Director, and his colleague Chris Pannell, Service Manager Engineering at Blackpool Transport, take up the story: Chris explained: “The first thing we did was ‘hi-jack’ the Enviro400 City show bus en route from the NEC back to ADL’s headquarters and to pull together our whole team …. senior management , supervisors, fitters, electricians, trade union representatives, Board members and drivers. Everyone played a part and the latter had a big influence on the ergonomic cab area that ultimately transpired, right down to the positioning of the peg for drivers’ jackets. “As a team, we crawled all over the demo bus and the universal opinion was that we liked the aesthetics, the design, the engineering, the unique features – but could ADL redesign it as a one-door vehicle and incorporate Euro6 stop-start technology, the complete ‘smart pack’ and guarantee Low Carbon Certification in time to meet tender and delivery deadlines?”
Bob added: “The next step was to set up a team approach, which James Carney, our Finance and Commercial Director, led from our perspective. We had a whole host of financial and commercial arrangements that had to explored and nailed down. Our aim was to know and understand our long-range commitment, including absolute warranty packages and parts and service costs, while specifying a vehicle second to none in terms of comfort and passenger appeal. We wanted total transparency and a class-leading vehicle. “To their credit, ADL never lost sight of our principal objective – to improve the customer experience – and they had a team of people all over the project, including Keith Watson, Marie Connell, Stuart Mitchell, Richard Jackson, Arthur Whiteside, Richard Matthews, Charlie Miller, and many others. “The net result is a vehicle bristling with technology and mod cons, including ADL’s unique Quick Release Glazing, wood effect floors, e-leather seating, WiFi and USB charging points, audio and visual stop announcements, plus Low Carbon Certification which enables us to claw back a considerable amount of our investment through BSOG. “Throughout the various stages of vehicle build – from laying down the chassis to finished bodywork – we also had Blackpool Transport technicians and fitters visit ADL facilities to know and understand the intricacies of the vehicle, which is another demonstration of the level to which we have taken this terrific partnership.”
Commenting on the unique approach that has developed between manufacturer and operator in the course of this project, Colin Robertson, CEO of Alexander Dennis Limited, said: “This is a superb example of what can be achieved by two like-minded organisations committed to a philosophy of inclusive management and progressive partnerships THAT CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE. “As many will know, when ADL first brought the new generation Enviro400 to market in 2014 it was the result of a three-year customer engagement project that involved participants from all walks of life in the bus sector, hence we promoted it as the bus DESIGNED BY THE INDUSTRY …. FOR THE INDUSTRY. “This latest venture with Jane Cole and her team takes that approach to a new level and may well become a model for the industry.”
Blackpool Fact File
- Over 20 million passenger journeys are made on Blackpool buses and trams every year.
- Buses operated by Blackpool Transport provide links to Lytham, St. Annes, Bispham, Cleveleys, Poulton Le Fylde and Fleetwood – and cover over 4.4 million miles per year, a distance equivalent to the moon and back 18 times.
- In 1995 a weekly ticket to travel on Blackpool’s trams and buses was £13. Today, 21 years later, it is an inflation-defying £13.50.
- Blackpool currently has a fleet of almost 140 buses.
- Jane Cole, Managing Director of Blackpool Transport, is determined that by 2020 all 140 buses serving Blackpool, Wyre and the Fylde Coast will be modern, fuel efficient, low emission vehicles. She has just secured £7.7m of funding from Blackpool Council, the transport authority’s sole shareholder, as part of an £18m programme to revitalise the whole bus fleet during the course of the next four years.
- The first significant step in this process is the introduction of a fleet of class-leading Enviro400 City buses, built by Alexander Dennis Limited, Britain’s biggest bus and coach builder. They will operate on the high density Palladium route.