ARRIVA bosses have blamed buses running late in Darlington on the town's Pedestrian Heart and traffic problems.

Company chiefs made the claims at a heated public meeting at Skerne Park last night.

The Park East community partnership, which incorporates Skerne Park, had called Monday's meeting to quiz Arriva on the estate's unreliable bus service.

Tony Stevens, Darlington depot manager, said: "We have a problem in Darlington - and that problem is too much traffic coming into town.

"It's purely, simply traffic. By 8am, North Road, Coniscliffe Road, Woodland Road, are full.

"I used to come into town at 8am. I now come at 6.45am. It affects all of us."

Mr Stevens said he did not live on a bus route when asked why he did not use a bus to commute.

Arriva's other representative said the Pedestrian Heart project also contributed to buses' unreliability.

Tony Batty, area manager for central, said: "Pedestrian Heart is a problem. One minute it's fine, the next there's a load of scaffolding being dropped off in the town centre."

But Mr Batty conceded there were "a million and one reasons" why a bus could be late - and said Arriva were investing in technology to make buses run on time.

"We are investing millions, along with Darlington Borough Council," he said.

A radio system, involving a new mast on the town hall, has been trialled for the past 18 months. When complete, it will send messages to bus shelter displays telling passengers when the next bus is arriving.

The company is also working on technology that lets traffic lights know when buses are coming, so they stay on green for longer.

A Darlington council spokesman said steps were being taken to reduce congestion.

"We have a strategic quality bus partnership to address a range of issues regarding bus travel in Darlington, including timing," he said.

Residents at the meeting also complained they did not know who to contact with complaints. Mr Batty said people should contact Judith Lee on 0191-281-1313.