TWO bus firms have been stripped of their licences after a public inquiry found their services had become "unreliable to the point of near unpredictability".
A Trip In Time Ltd and Stonehouse Coaches Ltd, both based in Larkhall, South Lanarkshire, have been disqualified after inspectors found that their buses routinely turned up late or not at all, dropped off passengers where there were no bus stops, and followed routes not scheduled on the timetables.
Brian Cutmore, director of both firms, was also accused of charging Transport Scotland fares in excess of those offered to passengers in an attempt to inflate the companies' income from concessionary fares reimbursement. He denied the claim.
However, Joan Aitken, the Traffic Commissioner for Scotland, said that Mr Cutmore "cannot be trusted with an operator's licence", adding: "Disqualification will be indefinite. For him public service vehicle operating is over. He must accept that and I hope he can move to another way of earning his living."
The decision follows a public inquiry held in Edinburgh in February, brought amid concerns about the firms' practices.
Inspectors from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) monitored 88 journeys over two days by A Trip In Time Ltd. These covered service numbers 7, 12 and 32, which ran from Coatbridge. None were seen to be operating.
Stonehouse Coaches Ltd were monitored over six days, with inspectors recording 61 instances of non compliance with the bus company's timetables. These included 13 instances where buses arrived late and three when they turned up early. In five cases services failed to operate at all, and two other buses were seen off-route.
Mr Cutmore said some services had been cancelled at short notice to protect passengers and the public. The inquiry was told the Cutmore family had been under stress since their Trip In Time depot had been burned down in May 2011 - allegedly by competitors. They had faced a financial struggle to get it back up and running but received threats and intimidation against operating their firm in Monklands, according to a lawyer for Stephanie Cutmore - Mr Cutmore's daughter and a fellow director.
However, Miss Aitken said she could not base her decision on "assertions about the behaviour of other operators", noting that Mr Cutmore had been called to public inquiries on four previous occasions over compliance issues and had once been fined £1000 in relation to the A Trip In Time Ltd licence.
Miss Aitken also disqualified Miss Cutmore from holding an operator's licence for two years.
Neither of the bus firms could be contacted for comment yesterday.