NEW bus wars have broken out after confusion surrounding the future of a Hampshire bus company that went bust.
Velvet and Bluestar are currently both operating the same routes in Southampton after the former announced it was back on the road thanks to a new owner just 36 hours after going into administration.
Now the rival companies face a wait to see who will be awarded sole responsibility for the route as the city council and Traffic Commissioners investigate.
It is the latest conflict in a long-running saga between Velvet and Bluestar.
They previously clashed in 2008 and 2009 when they battled for routes and passengers across the Eastleigh borough.
Claims emerged of passenger poaching and timing buses to arrive on identical routes minutes before the rival firm was due to stop.
The dispute went all the way to Parliament when then Eastleigh MP Chris Huhne submitted a dossier of evidence over the alleged tactics to the Office of Fair Trading.
Velvet – trading as Black Velvet Travel – went into administration on Wednesday and its routes, including Southampton, Eastleigh and Hedge End, were picked up by Bluestar, Xelabus and Wheelers, as revealed by the Daily Echo.
But the distinctive purple buses are now back on the roads thanks to an “interim agreement” with a “significant independent company”
which is in talks to take over the company. Administrator Chantrey Vellacott is refusing to name the new owners or reveal the status of Velvet’s debts, claiming the information could jeopardise the buyout process.
Matthew Fox, of Chantrey Vellacott, said: “We are in regular dialogue with all parties concerned around the talks and will provide a further update when it is possible to do so.”
Velvet managing director Phil Stockley has been unavailable for comment despite repeated attempts by the Daily Echo to contact him.
Meanwhile the city council, which is responsible for hiring bus companies to provide routes in Southampton, said it would not be able to comment until Monday.
Bluestar also refused to comment on the situation other than to confirm they will continue to operate the S1 (Lordshill to Shirley/city centre), S2 (city centre to Freemantle/Shirley) and B4 (Bursledon, Sholing, Thornhill and Harefield to Bitterne) routes despite the return of Velvet.
It is unknown whether Velvet will also resume the 502 service from Springhill School to the city centre and Northam that Bluestar also picked up.
But both Wheelers and Xelabus confirmed they would not be competing with Velvet for any routes.
Philip Blair, managing director at Xelabus, said he had been told by Mr Stockley that Velvet had no plans to resume the X4 Hedge End and X7 Chandler’s Ford routes it took over on Thursday.
Steve Barnett, general manager of Wheelers, which briefly took over Velvet’s A route, said they had sent buses out early on, but withdrew them once they realised Velvet were operating.