A Southampton street is at the epicentre of a bus war as one of the city’s top transport operators has challenged its arch-rival by ramping up its services in the area.

Bus company First is now running 18 buses every hour along Shirley High Street.

Meanwhile its competitor Bluestar is running a further 16 along the same route.

And it’s a situation that is presenting customers with a mindboggling 34 options in either direction rising to 57 with reversed routes – meaning more one bus every two minutes travelling the same way!

But while hard-pressed shops and businesses welcome potential extra footfall, critics have blasted the move at a time when passengers elsewhere in the city have seen their services cut or axed altogether.

As previously reported in the Daily Echo, First came under fire earlier this year for cutting back on services in Southampton in the wake of slashed city council subsidies.

Among the routes affected were Service 9 from Sholing to the city centre, on which evening journeys were axed, and Service 10 from Totton to the city centre, which had its Saturday journeys withdrawn.

But the firm's new timetable, launched this month, channels more services linking the east and west of the city along Shirley High Street.

From 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, First Service 2 now has 10 buses running down the street every hour, while Service 3 has six; Service 10 has one every hour and the S1 runs every hour between 9.12am and 3.12pm.

Bluestar is already running eight buses an hour on Service 18 and a twice-an-hour on Service 4.

Most routes have buses travelling the opposite direction apart from the Services 2 and S1 which are on loop.

Southampton Test MP Alan Whitehead said: “If this is a bus route war it’s going to be unsustainable.

“You can never have too many buses but the problem with the way the routes are tendered at the moment is that you tend to get a concentration on the main corridors.”

He slammed First for withdrawing services on routes they wanted the council to underwrite and added: “The obvious solution is to tender for networks rather than routes, and that's something I hope will change.”

Shirley councillor Satvir Kaur said: “If they are restricted to a certain number of journeys around Southampton, it would be better for residents if they are more evenly distributed across the city.

“Hopefully they recognise that there are needs for those services in other areas off the High Street.”

When the Daily Echo visited Shirley Precinct at the height of rush hour we watched and filmed bus after bus leaving the same stop from 5.05pm.

Daily Echo:

The Service 2, which goes to Millbrook, had just one passenger on board when it left at 5.43pm while many others were less than half full.

However First deny their services are under-used and said counting passengers at a certain point is never an exact science as a vehicle could have just began its journey or people could have previously alighted.

A spokeswoman said it is quite common for many buses to converge in one area if they are serving multiple routes – claiming that around 52 buses an hour use Woolston Bridge and the company and Stage Coach run 77 buses between them in Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth.

She said if they were not financially viable they simply wouldn’t run them and continued: “We see a great demand for bus services in this area and the purpose of increasing the frequency is to make it as easy as possible for people to use them.”

But she said that the axed routes had been selected due to their commercial viability and added: “You match your resources to the level of demand as a bus operator is a business.”

A Bluestar spokesman also cited increased demand and added: “We have had a seven-minute frequency on this service since May 2011 and every 10 minutes since 1990 so this is nothing new for us.

But shoppers say they fear it will increase congestion on the already busy street.

Alex Robson, 35, from Ashtree Road, Bitterne said: “It seems daft two companies offering the same thing.

“I’m a keen cyclist and anything to reduce the number of cars is a good thing, but if it’s nose to tail with buses it isn’t relieving the situation.”

Daily Echo: