On the Orbital (1)

Launched in the early 2000s as a response (partially) to concerns that the Royal Preston Hospital was too difficult to visit for people in the outer suburbs, the Preston Bus’ “Orbital” is formed by buses travelling either clockwise or anti-clockwise through the city and into the outposts.and fringes. It is popular, although specific passenger numbers are not easy to confirm.

Whilst succeeding in linking some parts of Preston with some other parts; I don’t think the “Orbital” has quite mastered  convincing people of the benefits of a journey which could last over 40 or 50 minutes (the entire loop can take ninety) and cost £3.30 if buying an all-day ticket, as Hospital visitors may find necessary to do. Logic dictates that people living on the anti-clockwise route can get to the Hospital far quicker, and far less expensively, by taking the dedicated Hospital service. Nonetheless, the “Orbital” has patched over gaps in the original services to the northern communities, particularly the new-build estates encroaching into the rurals and greenbelt, turning into a regular commuter service for some.

Taking my lead from such blogs as Diamond Geezer and London Buses:One At A Time, I chose to spend an early Friday afternoon taking the “Orbital” on its clockwise route. Unlike those blogs however, I broke up the journey in three places – I trust that one of these being for the purchase of a Morrison’s salad bar selection is considered both valid and not an “accidental Partridge.”

I don’t think anything else has to be said about THAT BUILDING other than to confirm that, yes, it has been awarded Grade II Listed Status, and that beauty is 20131011_144528in the eye of the geek (or, to quote the Leader of Preston Council, the nerdy sociopath).

Preston Bus Station is the start and end of the “Orbit”, for both clockwise and anti-clockwise services. They run very regularly, and one follows the other, to allow for the limited number of actual buses to maintain the service even when rush hour and Preston’s notoriously cramped roads conspire against them. One complete loop probably could cost less than £3.30, but my decision to break up the journeys into chunks meant there was little choice but to pay the full amount for what is a “hop on, hop off” ticket.
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From the building of which I will no longer speak (….for now) the clockwise 88C makes its way into the city centre towards the Docks.

This first jaunt should give an adequate indication of the myriad problems of travelling through Preston – stop/start, juddery, slow, plagued by congestion, traffic lights and inadequate road layout. Praise be to the heavens, mind, for something is in place to be done! Whether this will work is a point most moot, however, and critics and cynics alike consider the proposals to be inherently flawed. Shared space can work, it has been proven to do so. Not perhaps as Lancs CC envisage, particularly as they foresee each and every existing bus stop congregated outside the railway station, which I see as being just asking for trouble. But what, as so many people are wont to ask, do I know.

Two Mormons(es?) on this bus, incidentally, chose not to use their audience for rapid-fire conversion techniques. One actually fell asleep, his head slowly, slowly dropping down as the rest of us (teenage girl texting her driving instructor, two Cissie and Ada types gossiping, two others keeping themselves to themselves) bobbed about. The Mormons left only five or so minutes later (the fast asleep one waking up as a puppy might, head flicking from window to window in momentary confusion) and by the entrance to the Docks, every seat was taken.

Preston Docks was not future-proofed when it was regenerated for what was, in the 1980s at least, the brave new future of shopping and living. The only road into the Docks sucks everything onto it, cars often  backed up for a mile or longer. There are no passing points along the entire site and no public crossings, for that matter, which forces anyone from child to pensioner to play chicken at day and night. Solutions for either problem? Nothing.

One Morrisions salad later (too few slices of beetroot, too much potato) I wander to Ashton Park, where many of the trees stand taller, prouder and fatter than they were when I was a lad, throwing conkers into the road and whatever else passed for high jinks in my day. The “Orbital” from here takes in the first of the major residential parts, that of Ashton and then Larches, the latter showing all the signs of typical post-war sprawl. This 88c is standing-room only, school children and families at the back, elderly couples up front, and love’s young dream somewhere in the middle.

We pass under the Blackpool railway, one-time site of Lea Road train station. Beeching would say, I assume, that this specific example of bustitution proves his theory right, although, of course, he was not blame for that particular station closing.

Cottam’s well to do and getting by home-owners left for their chocolate box houses with earphones and page-turners close to hand. The change at Cottam has been rapid and remarkable – from grass to garages, from fields to crunchy-gravel driveways, and all within the most boom of all boom times in the British economy. From here the service runs through the comfort of Cadley, all bungalows and two-ups and the church of St Anthony of Padua. This is Fulwood, which strangers can get to by travelling up the A6 and turning left when they feel house prices shooting up. By now I was travelling almost alone, with three gossips and a headphone-guy for company. We passed Fulwood Academy, newly renamed and entirely rebuilt, looking like an office for call-centres and companies that offer ‘solutions’, all curved walls, spot lighting and silver-grey tinted windows.

From here the journey reaches, by and large, its half way point. And so, I suppose, should this post.

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