TWO bus companies could face fines totalling hundreds of thousands of pounds after almost one in seven of their services in Hampshire were late or unreliable.
A survey found 11.3 per cent of Solent Blue Line buses, 18.3 per cent of its rebranded Marchwood Motorways buses and 13.4 per cent of First buses turned up early, arrived too late or failed to show up.
The companies were hauled before a public inquiry and could face respective fines of up to £90,000 and £229,000.
Managers blamed high volumes of traffic, roadworks, illegally parked cars, sick drivers, and even slow passengers as "reasonable excuses" for some of the punctuality problems.
Checks carried out by the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency between July and November last year found 100 out of 713 Solent Blue Line journeys failed to meet required targets, while 121 of First's 903 journeys were below standard.
Solent Blue Line bosses said council roadworks along Millbrook Road and around Redbridge, and heavy freight lorries, had caused unforeseen "critical delays".
Poorly parked cars, pedestrians "unpredictably" using a crossing at Portswood Road and St Deny's Road, were said to be responsible for further delays.
Solent Blue Line operations director Andrew Wickham explained that the £3million acquisition in October 2006 of debt-laden Marchwood Motorways by Solent Blue Line's parent company Go Ahead had led to problems.
Outgoing owner and boss Peter Osborne retired leaving a management team that "wasn't up to the task", Mr Wickham said, and it took time for replacements to turn things around.
Managing director of First, Richard Soper, said: "South-ampton's roads are running at near-full capacity. It only takes the smallest thing to go wrong and the whole system breaks down."
Solent Blue Line runs 71 buses while its Marchwood operation runs 17 buses alongside 26 coaches, while First Bus has 373 buses, 127 of which operate in Southampton.
The inquiry was welcomed by Southampton Pensioners' Forum, which represents the majority of the services' users.
Spokesman John Nixon said: "There have been problems with buses in Southampton for some time now so I welcome this inquiry.
"Pensioners rely on buses to get around and something has to be done to make sure services are up to scratch."