TWO bus companies have been fined thousands of pounds after a public inquiry found their services to be unreliable.

First Hampshire and Dorset buses was hit with a fine of £25,080, while Solent Blue Line was ordered to pay £8,500.

The inquiry showed that almost one in seven of the buses run by the companies was too early, too late or failed to turn up at all.

Bosses blamed traffic congestion, illegally parked cars, sick drivers and even slow passengers for the companies' poor performance.

The companies' excuses were not considered "reasonable" by the Traffic Commissioner and First Buses was ordered to pay a penalty of £60 for each of its buses and Solent Blue Line was ordered to pay £85.

The inquiry was launched after a traffic monitoring exercise showed that 13.4 per cent of First buses and 11.3 per cent of Solent Blue Line buses were turning up at the wrong times and in some cases not even showing up.

Bus companies are expected to ensure that their vehicles are on time for at least 95 per cent of their journeys.

At the public inquiry on May 20, Solent Blue Line operations director Andrew Wickham said that council roadworks along Millbrook Road and around Redbridge, and heavy freight lorries had caused "critical delays".

Richard Soper, managing director of First, said: "Southampton roads are running at nearfull capacity. It only takes the smallest thing to go wrong and the whole system breaks down."

First commercial director Mark Turner told the Daily Echo: "While First Hampshire and Dorset accepts the fine levied on it by the Traffic Commissioner in respect of the recent public inquiry, the issues to which the fine relates have largely been fixed.

"We have made a number of changes to the bus network over the past year, improving scheduling and ensuring that buses run to time more effectively, and we are also making further changes in September. "

Solent Blue Line's Andrew Wickham said: "We were disappointed that we were levied with a financial penalty but we have paid it and moved on. The Traffic Commissioner acknowledged the difficulties we face on a daily basis running a reliable service in a city like Southampton.

"We feel the minimum standards we are expected to achieve are very high but we will continue to do all we can to meet them and keep on working to improve the service for our customers."

Solent Blue Line runs 71 buses while its Marchwood Motorways operation runs 17 buses and 26 coaches, while First Bus has 373 buses, 127 of which operate in Southampton.

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