Tram boss pledges: ‘We’ll get this right’ after week of hell

Cramped trams during October half-term in Blackpool
Cramped trams during October half-term in Blackpool
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Next year we will get it right.

That was the bold pledge today from the new boss of Blackpool Transport after the town’s trams were overwhelmed with demand for services during one of the busiest half-terms in recent years.

The Gazette reported yesterday how trams had been massively overcrowded and subject to serious delays with guards suffering abuse from disgruntled passengers during what staff labelled a “week of hell”.

And today Jane Cole, who took over as managing director of Blackpool Transport this week, admitted the company had failed to predict the huge level of demand.

But she said lessons had been learned and she was committed to ensure mistakes were not repeated next year.

She said: “It was probably the busiest week Blackpool has seen for many years and we were overwhelmed.

“We have to be able to predict our peaks and troughs, and we have to start planning now about how many frontline people are needed to deliver the customer experience.

“What we have to take into consideration is that we have a very successful visitor resort.

“And we have to be very proactive in how we approach the phenomenal rise in visitor numbers we have seen, and that starts from today.”

Ms Cole, who has joined Blackpool Transport from 
Virgin Trains, said the tramway had been “a victim” of Blackpool’s success.

She added: “We are the victim of a success story here.

“That’s why come Christmas, Easter, next summer and the Illuminations next year, we have to be proactive, not reactive.

“Blackpool Transport is part of the visitor offer, and we need to make it an amazing customer experience.

“By looking ahead we will have more time to recruit really good people to be in the right place at the right time to meet customer demand.

“And we will make sure that next year everyone travelling on Blackpool Transport will have a really good experience.

“We have some great people that work for this company and with their skills and resources being pooled we can roll out an incredible product from today onwards.”

She added: “We have to take a pro-active approach to make sure people are able to get on the trams.

“There are lessons to be learned from last week and there are things we can do differently to make sure people’s experience is amazing next year and very different from this year.”

Tram guards and passengers reported angry scenes last week as people battled to board overcrowded trams.

There were also complaints about trams not running on time due to the pressure on staff.

One tram guard, who asked not to be named, told The Gazette: “We don’t get paid enough for the levels of abuse.

“I have worked here for several years and I have never seen it like that. We must have left more people at the stops than we took and the guards could not get anywhere near the customers.”

Stephen Brookes, chairman of the Blackpool Transport Passenger User Panel, said they were also concerned about overcrowding.

He said: “We do agree that staff had worked well in exceptionally difficult circumstances, and we were deeply disturbed to read of staff abuse by passengers which is just not acceptable in any circumstance.

“I experienced amazing overcrowding and frustration on the local Blackpool North to Preston rail service last week, which emphasised the mass of people who descended on our town was the largest numbers for years.

“So I am not surprised at the amount of people who tried to use the tram system.

“It is clear Blackpool Transport, the council, the rail companies and all the tourism groups really need to work more closely to have strong plans in place to look at the welcome increase in numbers of visitors to our town.”

Bob Mason, director of delivery at Blackpool Transport, told The Gazette yesterday that staff had done a “very good job in what were very difficult circumstances” and he would take any concerns raised by staff seriously.

He added: “It is very difficult with a tram. It is like the Tube in London, it pulls up at a station and the doors open.

“You can imagine what would happen if you try to stop people getting on.

“We will review every different period of the tram operation and try to learn from it for next year.

“From our perspective, yes it has been a very very busy week. It was probably 20 per cent busier than the same week last year.”