Blackpool has hit back at a new report on tram usage which criticised the resort over falling passenger numbers.
The Tram Forward group, which is pressing for a national concessions scheme, has applauded an increase in tram and light rail usage nationwide in 2014 – with Government statistics showing record numbers of tram passengers.
But Blackpool was singled out as disappointing because of a decline in passengers, which it blames on the fact concessionary passes from outside Blackpool can no longer be used on the trams.
However, Bob Mason, of Blackpool Transport, hit back saying that allowing pensioners from all over the country to travel free on the trams was not sustainable.
He also said that with extra buses running on the Prom, Service 1, the total number of people using public transport there including the trams had risen.
Tram Forward said in 2014/15, 239.8 million passenger journeys were made on the eight light rail and tram systems in England, a 5.6 per cent increase on the previous year.
Andrew Braddock, chairman of the Light Rail Transit Association
And despite Sheffield Supertram, Midland Metro and the Blackpool Tramway seeing a reduction in passenger journeys (due to disruptive engineering works relating to extensions to the first two, and to changes in rules relating to travel by holders of concessionary travel passes in the case of Blackpool) they all scored well in journey satisfaction, according to data from Transport Focus.
Blackpool had a satisfaction rate of 95 per cent.
Andrew Braddock, chairman of the Light Rail Transit Association, said: “The system improvements that are being undertaken will ensure a transport network that people can rely on and will have the added benefit of creating jobs, economic growth and equality of opportunity.
“However, it is a great disappointment that the decline in usage of the trams in Blackpool is the direct result of concessionary passes held by visitors from outside Blackpool no longer being accepted on the service.
“It makes absolutely no sense for Blackpool Transport to have to run more diesel buses along the route of the tramway to cater for demand from visiting pensioners and disabled people, for whom the new trams are significantly more accessible than buses.
“It is time for the government to require the availability on trams as well as buses of the welcome free travel opportunity the pass provides on a national basis – not least because the resultant contribution to cleaner air would directly benefit vulnerable older people in the areas concerned”.
Bob Mason said: “It is true that our tram passengers numbers went down because of the concessionary pass issue, but overall our numbers were up. We saw a fall of 265,000 tram passengers, but bus passengers rose by 472,000. And counting service 1 and the tram service there was an overall increase of 119,000 passengers travelling on the Promenade
“Blackpool has far more visitors from outside than almost anywhere else and clearly the concessions scheme penalised Blackpool which had to pay for the travel of people from all over the country. If people from, say, Manchester use the trams here, then Manchester’s transport authority should pay. We must also remember that Blackpool residents cannot have free concessionary travel on the Manchester Metrolink system but Greater Manchester residents can.
“Our new buses are highly efficient in green terms. The NOX emissions they put out are actually cleaner than the air they draw in.
“Overall our passenger numbers are growing. Last year the trams took a bit of a hit but this year we are now seeing a rise. In period’s one and two of the new financial year , we have seen a 21 per cent rise in tram passenger numbers versus the same period last year.
“The fact that customer satisfaction is 95% is great news and a testament to the hard work we have put in on improving the quality of the service and the hard work of our staff who all undergo the World Host training.”
Coun Gillian Campbell, Blackpool Council’s deputy leader, said: “Ending concessionary tram travel for non-Blackpool residents was not something we were happy about having to do. I know many pensioners from outside the area were disappointed.
“However, we hope people will understand the difficult position we are in because of the Government’s cuts.
“The way the concessionary bus travel system is set-up means that we were already financially disadvantaged in having to subsidise free bus travel for visitors. ”