A GALLOWAY bus company is accusing transport giant Stagecoach of "dirty tricks" after wresting a key council-subsidised route from the bigger operator.
Kirkcowan firm James King beat off competition from Stagecoach in April this year to land a five-year contract to operate the busy Stranraer to Dumfries X75 service.
But since then King's has had to contend with heavy commercial pressure from the multinational operator, especially on its Saturday service.
The Kirkcowan company says Stagecoach expected to "clean up" on subsidised bus routes, but after losing out on the X75 are sparing no expense in a bid to win passengers.
Stagecoach West Scotland strongly refuted any notion of "dirty tricks", and insisted all they were trying to do was to provide a good service and offer choice to the public.
King's main concern is its 2.40 X75 Carlisle to Stranraer service, where Stagecoach have put on two buses to rival King's coach along a busy part of the route.
Ian Sheppard, King's operations manager in Stranraer told the Gazette is furious at Stagecoach's tactics - and feels Dumfries and Galloway Council should act.
He told the Gazette: "I believe in fair competition but when it comes to dirty tricks like this, because of the size of them it's just not on. The passengers are totally confused with this whole thing. Two coaches are capable of covering everyboby - but they want all the revenue.
"I would like to think we are all courteous towards each other, but with Stagecoach it's got to be their way or no way."
Mr Sheppard - a Stagecoach employee until April this year, added: "I would ask them to explain to people why they are doing this and where they intend to go from here. Are they going to keep doing this for another five years and then tender again?
"They actually thought that they would win the whole thing this year, but they did not get near what they thought they were going to get. It went down like a lead balloon - I remember it well."
But Stagecoach West Scotland operations manager Sarah Longair stressed the X75 service was an official route, and that the company decided it could be operated commercially and without subsidy after King's tender won.
Passengers had become accustomed to Stagecoach buses and drivers on what was "a very local network", Ms Longair said, and the company wanted to continued to offer a service to its "loyal" customers afer losing the contract in April
She said: "At that point we went away, did the numbers and worked out that we would try to operate it on a commercial basis."
Rejecting Mr Sheppard's claims of "dirty tricks", she said: "We don't enter into that, that's not how we do things. It's a commercial service and the route we operate is registered with the traffic commissioner. The route has basically not changed, it's just that we do it on a commercial basis now.
"There have been no complaints from the traffic commissioner and no complaints from the council regarding operations on the X75 route."
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