THE future of bus travel in Essex is in doubt after transport giant First announced it could look to sell off the bus service side of its business.

First is one of the largest commercial bus operators in the county along with Arriva - the owners of which are also believed to be looking to sell up.

It means two new operators could soon be behind the majority of buses serving passengers in Essex.

But First says it will continue to operate "as usual" and hopes disruption for passengers will be minimised as it looks to secure a sale.

A spokesman for First Essex said: "We have announced that we will be pursuing strategic options, through a sale or other means, to separate First Bus from First Group.

"Please be assured that as this process unfolds, we will continue to operate our services as usual, working closely with our local authority partners and demonstrating our commitment to our customers through the service we offer them.

"As a result, First Bus is now on a much stronger footing, and we believe it is the right time to pursue structural alternatives so the business can continue to provide excellent service, ensure the best possible future for our staff and continue to meet stakeholders’ requirements."

A spokesman for Essex County Council said it was following the matter.