Bus operator told to improve

A BUS operator was hauled before a public inquiry after an investigation found one in five journeys in Ipswich left early, arrived late or did not turn up at all.

A BUS operator was hauled before a public inquiry after an investigation found one in five journeys in Ipswich left early, arrived late or did not turn up at all.

A covert investigation into services run by First Eastern Counties was undertaken last year by the Department for Transport after complaints over punctuality from the public.

Of 454 journeys studied between March 16 and July 16, eight never arrived, 19 left more than one minute early and 83 were more than five minutes late.

As well as this, in 18 cases the front of the bus displayed the incorrect destination.


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This meant that almost one quarter of journeys fell outside the strict limits imposed by the traffic commissioner's office, which oversees bus licensing, forcing it to arrange yesterday's hearing with representatives from the firm.

Despite the damning report, First Eastern Counties Buses claimed at the inquiry to have “reasonable excuses” for many of the problems highlighted, including unannounced roadworks which delayed drivers and several breakdowns.

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The firm also said it was in the process of improving punctuality on all services and upgrading to newer buses with electronic destination boards.

Many routes and timetables in Ipswich were updated and improved on November 15 last year, including all but one of the ones investigated, after the report was compiled.

Alan Pilbeam, managing director of First Eastern Counties Buses, said: “Most of my job is about improving the services we offer, because that's what being a bus company is all about.”

But he said that the process was ongoing, and that the road network in Ipswich was “pretty much saturated”.

The public inquiry, which was held in Cambridge, was heard by Sarah Bell, the deputy traffic commissioner for the eastern area.

Although the commissioner has the power to remove an operator's licence, or reduce the number of services it can run, she chose to adjourn the matter for review later in the year, following further covert tests to be arranged this summer. But she made clear that further improvements would need to be made before then, despite the firm's ongoing efforts.

“The bottom line is that it's no comfort to the customer left at the bus stop in the pouring rain one in 10 times,” she said.

A spokesperson for Suffolk County Council said: “We closely monitor the sponsored services that operators provide on our behalf.

“We have our own compliance officers that monitor county council passenger transport services and we manage any issues of unreliability directly.”

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