A BUS service enabling people to get to the Asda store in Rayleigh has now been extended until April 4.

However, the long-term future of the No 3 bus, which links Southend and Chelmsford, could still be under threat because of problems negotiating funding for concessionary fares with Essex County Council.

The route is operated by Regal Busways, who stepped in last December to prevent the service from being lost when the former operator ceased trading.

Adrian McGarry, Regal managing director, said: "Initially, we said we would only run the service until February 2, until we had confirmation that the council would pay concessionary fares.

"They did, so we extended it to run until April 4.

"As soon as we took this action, we received a letter from the county council telling us they had run out of money and couldn't pay us concessionary fares for February and March, until funding issues were resolved.

"This isn't fair on customers or on bus operators. It's a waiting game.

"Because we can't run a service for free, it could mean we have to stop commercial services or that concessionary fare holders will have to pay to travel."

Mr McGarry said if pensioners were forced to pay to travel, they would only pay 75 per cent of an adult fare.

The No 3 service takes shoppers to the Asda store, in Rawreth Lane, and was welcomed by many who had been left stranded when the previous route was cut.

Mr McGarry said: "If the council fail to pay operators, then the council would have clearly broken the law.

"The law which gives the council the right to force bus operators to carry pass holders, also requires the council to have sufficient funding in place to reimburse operators.

"They would have clearly failed to do this."

Scott Wilson, spokesman for Essex County Council, said: "We are aware of the situation with Regal Busways and are in contact with them."