Falkirk’s main bus operators went on the record to apologise to customers for delivering a poor quality service.
Directors from Larbert-based bus group First attended a public inquiry called by the Scottish Traffic Commissioner in Falkirk Town Hall on Tuesday.
They said they were sorry for the firm’s poor performance at the start of the year, which led to a stream of customer complaints about reliability and punctuality.
On one occasion a bus was removed from its intended route, leaving passengers high and dry, so it could be used on a school run.
First operations director John Gorman said a combination of roadworks, bad weather, poor communication and bus maintenance issues had caused buses to run late and, in some cases, not arrive at bus stops at all in January.
The inquiry also heard the man responsible for handling customer complaints was basically not doing his job - making it impossible for passengers’ concerns to be dealt with effectively.
Mr Gorman said: “We employed someone as a supervisor to receive and investigate customer complaints. He was also entitled to close them down when they had been dealt with.
“Unfortunately it became apparent this employee was not doing his job properly. He had been closing down complaints that had not been dealt with.
“This gentleman had the full support of the board and we had weekly meetings where he could raise any issues he may have had. He simply did not want to deal with matters as they should have been dealt with – as his job required.”
The hearing was told disciplinary action was taken against the employee, who subsequently resigned.
First’s performance had already been the subject of public inquiries in 2001 and 2003.
Traffic Commissioner for Scotland Joan Aitken said: “My office started to become aware, through press reports and complaints, something was not right with the way First was operating the bus service in the Falkirk area.”
Mr Gorman stated First recognised how important the bus service was to people’s lives.
He said: “At the time we had various road network issues as well as storms which did not help. We let down customers on these occasions and could have communicated with them far better than we did.
“We wish to assure the traffic commission and our travelling public we have our passenger’s concerns at heart.
“Without them we would not have a business. We must spend more time telling customers that is what we believe.
“We wish to apologise to these customers who have had a bad service from us. We want to be known as a brand associated with service and quality.”
Around 20 relatively new buses in the First fleet started developing faults around the start of the year and this led directly to the instance when a service had to be dropped to cover the school run.
First director Paul Thomas said: “The last thing we want to do is fail to run a registered service.”
First stated a number of measures were already being taken to improve services, including formal training for employees, upgrading Falkirk bus station and improving the monitoring of buses.
Mr Thomas: “If we missed a bus stop, any bus stop, we have failed. We have let people down - but we do try to do our very best and will continue to do that.”
The commissioner heard that the high number of complaints in such a short space of time did have an impact on the drivers.
John Lyall, employee director and driver, said: “The majority of drivers are frustrated because they are doing their best to get the job done.”
Mrs Aitken will now take the evidence away and take a written decision on matters in the coming weeks. She revealed one course of action she definitely would not be pursuing.
She said: “I can tell you now I won’t revoke your licence – this isn’t that sort of inquiry.”