A BUS driver working for a firm hit by staff shortages says working conditions are to blame – not the pandemic or Brexit.

Earlier this week, the Echo revealed First Bus Essex would be “temporarily suspending” its X10 bus service from Basildon to Chelmsford as it diverted staff to other routes with higher demand amid a labour shortage.

A driver, who has worked for the firm for several years, says many of his colleagues have left the job after the firm raised working hours last year.

The driver, who wished to remain anonymous, said the length drivers had to be on the road had been increased in December and in March of this year, the amount of time they were afforded to check their buses and equipment between driving routes had been slashed, adding drivers had been told it was a temporary measure until July, yet is still in place.

“Some of us find ourselves driving up to 10 hours a day now, it’s just too long to be driving. The company said it would take our terms and conditions for an interim period of March to July. July came and nothing changed back,” they said.

“The staffing shortages in my opinion are nothing to do with Covid or Brexit. I’ve known massive numbers of drivers who have left because of the hours. When I come into the station it’s a constant thing hearing someone new has left. And some of these people had been there 15 – 20 years.”

The driver added the firm had installed ‘shock systems’ into drivers chairs on the X10 and X30 routes, designed to monitor driver’s eyes and activate a motor to jolt them awake if they fell asleep at the wheel.

"I drove one of those buses and I couldn’t walk the next day. The problem was it would be set off if you squinted. So, if the sun got in your eyes on a bright day, you would get jolted by the thing," they explained.

Paul Coyle, head of operations at First Essex said;” As is being experienced across the bus industry and in various other businesses we have seen varying levels of staff shortages in some of our operating areas over the last few weeks,.

“We are doing everything we can to maintain a comprehensive network of services that supports our customers and our communities in Essex. The majority of routes are running normally although in some areas we are making temporary timetable adjustments to ensure a reliable service and minimise disruption. We thank customers for their patience and understanding while we overcome this short-term situation.

“Unfortunately, bus patronage has not returned as yet to the levels we experienced pre Covid with numbers averaging around 70 per cent of people choosing to travel by bus, which in its present form does not deliver a sustainable business model.

"Despite this we are paying significant premiums to our staff and working well within the terms of local agreements as agreed with our Unite colleagues to get us through this challenging time.

“On a positive note, I am pleased to report that we have a flourishing intake of new recruits who are presently in our training school and soon to be released into service which will help with the situation.”