BLACKPOOL’S £100m new tram service has already seen more than 1.4 million passengers jump on board.
Between the beginning of April this year, when new tramway was launched, and the middle of August, 1,417,603 passengers have taken a ride on the service.
Delighted transport chiefs today told The Gazette that was about a fifth more journeys than anticipated and had contributed to a huge success story.
It is an increase of more than a million passengers on the same time last year, although in 2011 there was only a truncated service between the Pleasure Beach and Little Bispham because of work being done to revamp the track.
The last time the system ran for a full year, it carried a total of 2.3 million passengers over a 12 month period in 2008/09.
Coun Fred Jackson, cabinet member for transport on Blackpool Council, said: “The number of people using the trams is exceptionally high and is far higher than we anticipated it would be.
“It appears there are a lot of people who are wanting to experience the ride on the new trams and there is evidence to suggest people are going out for a ride from one end to the other in order to enjoy the experience.
“What we are hoping is people will also use it as a commuter link.
“We want residents in Fleetwood and Cleveleys to use the tram for their journeys to work into Blackpool, and vice-versa for people in the resort going the other way. This will also help to relieve congestion on the roads.”
In recent years the tramway has been closed during the winter as the upgrade was carried out.
The revamped service welcomed its first fare-paying passengers on April 4 this year with 11 trams, with the service increasing in frequency in July when the full 16-strong fleet of Flexity trams was delivered.
Trevor Roberts, managing director of Blackpool Transport, said passenger numbers were exceptional for the first few months of the new system.
He said: “It is fantastic to see many people making the tram their first choice of travel up and down the Fylde coast. The new trams have proved very popular but the high volumes of usage, along with new customers getting used to how to access the trams, has caused some delays in the timetable.
“As we said at the beginning of the service, we have a lot to learn about operating this new light rail transit system and the operating staff have done a fantastic job so far.
“The flexibility and good value of our tickets has encouraged greater use of the tramway and of course the opening up of travel to holders of the English national concessionary scheme passes has also encouraged excellent support from this group.
“As we have always stated, in conjunction with the council, we will be reviewing the first period of operation of the new trams during the winter to see what lessons have been learned and what adjustments need to and can be made for the future.”
Bosses said the target will be to achieve annual passenger numbers totalling 10 million over the next 10 years.
Stephen Brookes, chairman of the Blackpool Passenger Focus Panel, said the tramway is “exceptional”
He said: “Blackpool’s tram service is one of the most accessible anywhere. It is great for tourism but there are also more local people using them because it is a dependable, more comfortable service.
“They are exceptional. For disabled people, you can get more than one wheelchair on and the staff are very helpful.”
Some Gazette readers have complained during peak times the trams have been so busy they could not get on.
Mr Roberts said the Flexity trams were running at full capacity, but during the October half-term, when services are expected to be even busier, converted balloon trams from the old fleet will be used to supplement the existing service.