Stephensons of Essex managing director blames driver shortages after Bury St Edmunds bus service branded 'non-existent'
A bus company boss has blamed driver shortages for a lack of services after complaints from residents.
One Bury St Edmunds resident said their Stephensons of Essex bus service was 'non-existent'.
However, Bill Hiron, managing director of the company, said that staff shortages in the industry were to blame for the lower frequency of buses.
The resident on Bury's Howard estate said that buses were not arriving as often as scheduled and they only saw one bus during a whole day despite the introduction of an emergency timetable which should see a bus arrive every hour.
They said the lack of transport meant some have struggled to get to West Suffolk Hospital for appointments as they cannot drive or afford a taxi.
Mr Hiron said there were 'significant shortages of bus drivers in many areas'.
"These have developed in the last few months and are a result of post-Covid re-appraisal of lifestyles, Brexit, competition from vacancies in other sectors - not just HGV, but van deliveries, Stansted Airport, and other roles which perhaps don’t involve working shifts," he said.
"These shortages have affected a number of Stephensons depots, and whilst we have an ongoing programme to recruit and train staff to drive buses, no DVSA driving tests were carried out for around 12 months during Covid, and even though they have now recommenced, it takes up to three months for a car driver to go through the necessary medical, licensing and training/testing processes to drive a bus."
He added there are ongoing problems at the DVLA which are slowing down new applications, and the company is still being faced with higher than normal short-term illness due to Covid isolation.
"Faced with shortages of this magnitude, we have the option of randomly cancelling services each day, or introducing revised emergency timetables at lower frequency which requires less staff to operate," he said.
"Whilst neither is what we would ideally wish to do, the latter at least gives customers some certainty, and the ability to plan their journeys better.
"Naturally, we continue to recruit and train new drivers, and we will start to return to normal timetables as soon as we are able."