THE bosses of Merseyside’s two biggest bus firms have blamed recent poor punctuality on roadworks, claiming the last year has been the worst in a 'long time.'

The chiefs of the areas’s Stagecoach and Arriva services have called for council highways services to be made more accountable when it comes to the numbers of buses leaving on time.

Howard Farrall, regional managing director of Arriva Merseyside made the claim as the House of Commons’ transport committee visited Liverpool for a public evidence session.

It was held to ask Liverpool City Region combined authority officials and bus bosses how services are run in the city through its Bus Alliance – a body aimed at improving services in the region.

It was heard that Arriva services in the area had increased running times by “between 15% to 20%” over the past five years.

Mr Farrall said: “There’s one real disappointment and that’s punctuality and reliability. If you look at passenger focus surveys, that’s the priority. You can have the best buses in the world, but if they’re not punctual, then people won’t be happy.

“We would make highways accountable as part of the partnership.

“It’s about roadworks. There needs to be a more joined up thought process about how they plan roadworks.”Emergency works cannot be helped, but there’s a lot more work to be done on joining up roadworks with services.

“We’ve probably had a worst 12 months than we’ve had in a long time.

“Average running times have probably gone up between 15% to 20% in the last five years. Just to stand still, we’re having to put more buses into our cycles, which doesn’t do anyone any good.”

Alongside Mr Farrall at the session were Matthew Goggins, head of bus at Merseytravel, and Rob Jones, Stagecoach Merseyside’s regional managing director.

They were being grilled by a panel of MPs including chair Lilian Greenwood, with the event held at Mann Island on Monday.

During the discussion, it was suggested the issue may be due to Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson’s decision in 2014 to scrap almost all of the city’s bus lanes.

Mr Jones agreed with Mr Farrall’s point about punctuality, adding: “The bus doesn’t have the benefit over the car when travelling down roads. It’s on a par. There’s no priority.

“There’s nothing there to benefit the bus, there haven’t been those measures to restrain the use of cars, like in London [with the congestion charge] to make buses a more attractive choice.”

The comments have been made amid a flurry of roadworks across the city, with more starting on roads including Victoria Street, Old Haymarket and Brownlow Hill – and set to last until next year.

Responding to the comments, Mr Goggins said: “I wouldn’t dispute anything Rob and Howard have said.

“For us, as part of the Bus Alliance, punctuality and reliability is critical.

“Satisfaction with that is declining, and it’s something we need to address.

“Since the alliance was formed, we have had an election of the Metro Mayor, and the creation of a key route network of local roads which covers bus corridors. That begins to change the conversation a little.

“It means we are able to look at highways not just in districts and city boundaries, but the city region as a whole.

“I accept we haven’t made progress in that, but the conversation has changed. We need to look at what we actually need, in terms of aspects such as traffic signal priorities.”

He said satisfaction scores in the morning peak are 'pretty decent', but that they drop in the afternoon peak.

He said certain policies such as traffic priority for late-running buses was being looked at, adding: “For us it’s about trying to make the right decision in the right places to improve bus journeys. Punctuality is as important a priority for us as the bus operators.”

The cross-party select committee was visiting Liverpool on a tour of cities to find out about the health of bus services across the UK.

The trip will inform the cross-party committee’s inquiry into the health of the bus market, which is examining how services are run in England outside London amid a sharp decline in usage over the past 25 years.

As a region, bus travel accounts for almost eight out of ten public transport journeys in Merseyside. Passenger numbers have fallen since the start of the decade – although they are now coming back up from a downward trend.