The new boss of Cardiff Bus says she wants to draw a line under the controversy which led to the resignation of her predecessor.
In her first interview since being appointed, Cynthia Ogbonna also revealed a comprehensive review of the Cardiff Bus route network was due to be undertaken for the first time in a decade.
The mother-of-two was last week made the first female managing director in the 110-year history of the municipally-owned company.
Mrs Ogbonna had been interim managing director of Cardiff Bus since July following a damning tribunal report that prompted former MD David Brown to quit.
Cardiff Bus – which is owned by Cardiff council – was ordered to pay £93,000 in compensation after a Competition Appeals Tribunal found its tactics had driven its rival 2Travel off the road in 2004.
Mrs Ogbonna joined the company in September 2004 and was not involved in any of the decisions which related to the case, but was involved in the subsequent litigation.
In his report, tribunal chairman Lord Carlile of Berriew said Mr Brown had lied and given undertakings to his board that its cut-price White Service was run in accordance with anti-competitive legislation – without taking legal advice.
Asked if the tribunal chairman’s statement was fair, Mrs Ogbonna said: “They were not fair in my view. I know David Brown and I know that David would not intentionally lie.
“David was compassionate and did his best in those circumstances. He inherited something that was already planned.”
She added: “With the benefit of hindsight, the company would have run things differently. You do not go to litigation and not think that you could not do things differently.
“The company would be naive not to take into account what happened in the past. In all aspects of law, we are compliant. We have had extensive training on competition-related matters.
“We do not want to keep talking about the past, we would like the focus on the things that we do right. David felt that he needed to go because he could not manage the business with that hanging over him.
“We are now in a position where we can move forward and we now want to do what we do best and enhance our services.”
Cardiff Bus also came under fire earlier this year when it hiked its fares for the second time in five months, with a standard single fare rising to £1.70. Increasing fuel costs and cuts in Welsh Government funding were blamed.
Passenger numbers have dropped 4% year-on-year, but the new MD said this couldn’t be simply blamed on the fare rises as there had been drops in both fee-paying and concession customers, saying it was more a reflection of the economic climate.
She said Cardiff Bus was “not a profit maximising company”, but believed it should make profit so that it remains self-sufficient. “We do not increase fares to make more money, we only increase fares when we do not have a choice,” she said.
Thanks to a new fare launched late last month, passengers who live close to the city centre – particularly in the Canton and Cathays and Roath areas – can make short journeys for £1.
Mrs Ogbonna said the findings of a major review of the firm’s route network will be presented to the Cardiff Bus board early next year, but stressed it would not necessarily lead to a reduction in services, saying the goal was “always to get people into the city quicker”.
“The last time we had a review, everything started and stopped in the bus station, but now we have a bus box,” she said.
Talks are also continuing with the Welsh Government about developing online top-ups for its travel smartcard Iff, while she said a new bus station was an issue for the council.
“I am sure that we all want something to happen, but that is political,” she said.
“No matter the political colour, public transport is a priority. Cardiff wants to be known as a sustainable city and to do that the people of Cardiff need to have a mechanism to get in and out of Cardiff.”