Blackpool 575

Deregulation of local bus services in 1986 not only resulted in Routemasters being used as a competitive tool by privatised bus operators, but high frequency minibus services were developed instead of high capacity buses on low frequency services that had become the norm. Hundreds of van conversions appeared throughout the UK to create 16-20 seat minibuses. By 1987, Optare produced the first purpose built and very stylish minibus on Volkswagen van chassis.

No. 575 is one of 35 Optare ‘City Pacers’ (including three ex demonstrators) acquired by Blackpool after deregulation – the majority in 1987/8. A distinctive identity was adopted using the "Handybus" name and a livery of black with yellow skirt. Several major urban routes were converted to use these minibuses, 575’s batch of ten converting service 9 (Blackpool to Cleveleys) in 1988, replacing PD3s and precipitating their final withdrawal at the end of the summer season.

Interestingly, service 9 had been a haunt for the unique Blackpool centre loaders in their latter years. Single deck AEC Swifts were used from 1970 until 1977 when double deck Atlanteans took over. A brief return to conductor operation after deregulation saw PD3s making regular appearances. This is probably the only service where each type of Blackpool vehicle in the LTT collection would have operated at one time or other.

Optare later developed a replacement minibus – the Metrorider – and Blackpool evaluated an example in 1995 as a replacement for the early City Pacers. This led to several small orders which replaced 17 City Pacers during 1995/6. The remainder survived an influx of 14 Metroriders (used for further minibus conversions) in 1998 but were finally replaced by low floor Optare Solos in January 2000.

No. 575 survived until the last week of operation of the type in Blackpool – its last duty being on 25 January 2000. It initially joined the Thames Valley Training fleet in Eastbourne before returning north in March 2003 for preservation and was restored to original Handybus livery early in 2004. It was acquired as part of the core LTT collection in June 2005.