ONE of Accrington's best-known bus companies has been sensationally shut down amid concerns about the way it was being run.
Accrington Buses, better known as Pilkington's or Pilky's, was stripped of its operator's licence at the end of a public inquiry conducted by the North West Traffic Commission.
Mrs Beverley Bell, traffic commissioner for the region, told owner Ray Pilkington that his firm was "chaotic" after hearing evidence about its poor maintenance and operating procedures.
She revoked all three licences held by wheelchair-bound Mr Pilkington and his twin sons, Alan and John, and ordered the company to remove its buses from the roads by 23 July to coincide with the end of the school term.
Pilkington's is contracted to run 16 school services in the Accrington area, as well as operating seven commercial routes in and around Hyndburn.
Other operators may step in to offer replacements but it is not clear what will happen to the 30 drivers employed by Pilkington's.
During the hearing, Mrs Bell was told an investigation last October found 15 out of 18 buses were faulty and the firm was issued with notices requiring them to be repaired.
This was done, but further spot checks resulted in another three prohibition notices being issued for faults including defective brakes and door operating systems. Vehicle inspector Stephen Kelsall calculated that the fleet had an overall 81 per cent MOT failure rate.
The company was also criticised for failing to provide proper maintenance records and accounts, as well as for its poor track record of buses failing to turn up on time.
Mr Pilkington, who has run the company since 1967, claimed that speed bumps and chicanes were damaging his buses and leading to more defects developing than usual.
He also blamed traffic-calming measures for services turning up late, saying that they made it difficult for drivers. Other problems included a shortage of drivers and mechanics.
He said: "We've worked it out that we go over a million bumps a year, and they're not small bumps. They're wrecking our buses and making our job near-impossible."
But he promised that if given another chance, he would take steps to improve maintenance procedures.
Mr David Law, Hyndburn Council's head of traffic and transportation, told the inquiry there were no more traffic-calming measures in the borough than anywhere else.
He said reports compiled about which services were running on time showed there was "something particularly wrong" with Pilkington's.
In concluding, Mrs Bell described the firm's maintenance records as "disgraceful" and said she did not trust the company with a licence.
She added: "The company has no idea of the requirements of operator licensing in the 21st century. This was not a temporary blip but evidence of a culture that is endemic within the company."
She told Mr Pilkington: "I do not feel, from the evidence I have heard and the documents that have been produced, that I can trust you with a licence."
"It is better for the people of Accrington to have no bus service at all than to have buses which, as far as I can see, are not being adequately maintained and are jeopardising road safety."
The firm can appeal against the decision but the trio were barred indefinitely from re-applying for their operators' licences until they can prove they have a full understanding of what would be expected of them.
The decision also takes into account John and Alan Pilkington's failures to report their criminal convictions, both for assault, to the Traffic Commission - a condition of their originally being granted operators' licences.
John told the hearing he had been convicted for assaulting a female member of staff by pushing an ice-cream into her nose. Mrs Bell suspended him from driving buses for 28 days because the conviction related to his job.
Alan said that he had not been able to report his conviction, for assaulting his ex-partner, within the 14-day time limit because he had received a prison sentence. He received a formal warning about his conduct from Mrs Bell.