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Driver shortage causes growing disruption to bus routes serving Sudbury and surrounding area

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Bus services travelling to and from Sudbury are facing increasing disruption as the exodus of staff to higher-paying driving jobs continues across the UK.

The national shortage of bus drivers has seen public transport services beset with cancellations in recent weeks and months, leaving many passengers scrambling to find alternatives.

More than 4,000 vacancies for bus and coach drivers are currently estimated across the UK, with many reportedly leaving for roles in the haulage industry, which itself has also grappled with a shortage of drivers this year.

Numerous Chambers services to and from Sudbury have been suspended due to driver shortages.
Numerous Chambers services to and from Sudbury have been suspended due to driver shortages.

Sudbury-based bus operator Chambers is among those which has had to apologise for being unable to run all of its usual services, confirming that it has had a lot of drivers leave on short notice over the last few months.

Until further notice, the company has suspended several times on routes 750 and 753, running from Sudbury to Bury St Edmunds and back, and routes 754 and 784, which travel between Sudbury and Colchester.

This has impacted passengers in rural areas such as Long Melford, Great Cornard, Acton, Alpheton, Great Waldingfield, Lavenham, Assington and Bures.

On Saturday, further service suspensions took effect on routes 88 and 89, both of which serve Halstead, via surrounding villages like Earls Colne, Wakes Colne, Castle Hedingham, Sible Hedingham and Great Yeldham.

Chambers has also continued to announce growing numbers of sudden cancellations on Twitter, with six additional services unable to run on Monday alone.

A statement from the company on Tuesday, which operates under the Hedingham and Chambers banner as part of the Go-Ahead Group, apologised for the disruption caused.

The firm stated that it is “making every effort to restore these journeys as soon as possible”, and that it is working to recruit and up-skill local people at its driver training school in Clacton.

Jeremy Cooper, managing director of Chambers, told the Free Press: “Like most other bus operators, Chambers is suffering from a shortage of drivers, as people have left to take up better-paid jobs in lorry driving and parcels delivery.

“We remain eager to up-skill local people to be bus drivers, and licences are now available.”

Chambers claimed that the driver shortage had been exacerbated by delays in the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) issuing provisional licences for new drivers.

“The failure of the DVLA to process any new provisional bus licence applications during the summer has severely hampered our training and recruitment process,” said Mr Cooper.

“In the meantime, we will endeavour to ensure that any cancellations are known well in advance, so that people can adjust their plans.

“We continue to prioritise all movements of school and college students.”

Other bus operators elsewhere in the UK have blamed delays in processing new driving licences for aggravating the crisis, but the DVLA has disputed this.

A spokesman for the DVLA said: “There are no delays for bus and HGV provisional licence applications, which are currently being issued in around five days.

“We are prioritising these applications and looking at ways to speed up this process even further.”

Passengers have bemoaned the disruption caused by the bus service cancellations, particular for those in rural parts of Suffolk with limited other means of transport.

Long Melford resident John Gee suggested it was particularly difficult for people who did not use social media to keep track of which services were running.

He said he had been trying to relay the updates for people who were not online, recounting a recent instance where a Melford woman had waited at a bus stop for an hour for a service which had, in fact, been cancelled.

“I appreciate that Chambers has driver problems, but it is late notifications,” said Mr Gee, of Chadburn Road. “On Monday, they notified the public 90 minutes after a bus failed to run.

“It has not affected me personally, but I was picking up comments on Facebook from passengers who had been left in the lurch.

“Chambers rely on customers having to download their app, check their Twitter page or website to ensure their bus will still be running, and then it’s not always up to date.”

The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers – commonly known as RMT – argues the mass exodus of bus drivers across the country is the result of low pay and poor working conditions for its members.

“For years, bus workers have been underpaid and undervalued,” said the RMT’s general secretary, Mick Lynch.

“The exodus of staff from the industry was a crisis that has been coming, and will have a devastating impact on lifeline services.

“We now risk a serious escalation in transport poverty, with those without cars, in areas where buses are the only option, cut adrift.

“This is a scandal cooked up by the toxic combination of bus de-regulation and private sector greed.

“The solution is a planned bus network, publicly controlled, which values both the staff and the vital services they provide.”