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Stagecoach blames ongoing issues with buses in east Kent on trouble with staff recruitment

Bus passengers "are being held to ransom" by ongoing cancellations caused by a shortage of drivers and mechanics.

Stagecoach is being forced to scrap planned services at short notice because it does not have the staff to run the planned timetable.

Stagecoach is being forced to cancel services because of staff shortages
Stagecoach is being forced to cancel services because of staff shortages

However, because on the majority of routes in east Kent it is the only operator, this means often travellers relying on buses to get to work, school or the shops are left stranded by sudden changes to the schedules.

One irate passenger, who did not wish to be named, told the Express she was having to arrive at work 40 minutes early just to ensure she was not late for the start of her shift in a Folkestone school kitchen.

"If I don't come out over an hour earlier, I'll be late for work," she said as she waited for a bus in Cheriton.

"I work in a school, in the kitchen - how am I going to feed the children if I am not there?

"They always cancel them, and the app doesn't tell you until the last minute."

'Passengers are being held to ransom as there is no alternative...'

Every day the bus firm's Twitter feed recounts a litany of cancelled buses, most often blamed on a lack of drivers or engineering faults.

Stagecoach says this "vacancy gap" is a nationwide issue affecting the entire bus industry.

Cllr Mary Lawes, who represents Folkestone Harbour ward on the town council, says she has written to the company demanding to know what it is doing to resolve the staff shortages.

"This has been happening for most of the year now," she said.

"Apparently this is due to driver shortages.

Cllr Mary Lawes
Cllr Mary Lawes

"Passengers are being held to ransom as there is no alternative. The Stagecoach app is never up to date.

"Most cancellations are being advertised on Twitter. Most people are not on Twitter, especially the elderly.

"People are known to stand for a few hours hoping a bus will come along."

A spokesman for Stagecoach said: "We apologise to our customers who are affected, and we want to thank them for their patience while we work to minimise the impact.

"Over 95% of our scheduled services are operating every day, but where we do have to make changes, we are updating our website and app for customers to track buses and see which journeys are affected.

"We also provide live updates on our Twitter feed.

A Twitter update from Stagecoach about ongoing bus cancellations
A Twitter update from Stagecoach about ongoing bus cancellations

"We have recruitment campaigns running at all our Kent depots, with trainee driver vacancies in most areas.

"On November 5 we're hosting a special recruitment open day at our Ashford depot for anyone considering a new career."

Elsewhere in the county, Arriva bus drivers look set to strike after rejecting the firm's latest pay offer following a formal ballot among Unite members.

It means strikes by drivers at depots in Northfleet, Gillingham, Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells will continue, with walk-outs already scheduled for the whole of next week, Monday to Friday.

Arriva said it was disappointed and regretted the disruption for bus passengers and said it would continue "to do all we can to resolve this dispute as quickly as possible".

Uncertainty a killer for bus reliability

When it comes to public transport, and convincing people they can rely on it for getting about with ease, frequency is just as important as reliability, writes Rhys Griffiths.

Reporter Rhys Griffiths has also been let down by cancelled bus routes
Reporter Rhys Griffiths has also been let down by cancelled bus routes

If people know their next bus or train is only 10 or 15 minutes away, they feel comfortable just arriving at their stop or station.

The wait is never going to be so long that one cancellation completely ruins your plans. Another one will be along in a minute (or 10).

I am relatively fortunate to live close to a route that is frequent enough that I just turn up, knowing that it shouldn’t be too long until one bus or another will be along to whisk me into town.

At least that is the theory.

In practice, as many regular Stagecoach users know too well, it can suddenly be the case that you are left waiting and wondering where all the buses have gone.

Stagecoach buses in east Kent
Stagecoach buses in east Kent

After about 20 minutes gazing down the street yesterday, I pulled out my phone to try and work out if I’d be better off walking.

You see, in our part of the world, we don’t have the live displays that other towns and cities enjoy, telling them in real-time when the next bus is coming.

Instead we have an old-fashioned paper timetable at the stop (very often out of date) and that’s it.

I’m fortunate to know that the best place to look isn’t the Stagecoach app, or Citymapper, or any other transport website. It’s the Twitter account you need.

And there was my answer: due to staff shortages, a whole swathe of the rush-hour timetable on my route had been scrapped.

Just as I was going to abandon my trip, an hourly service happened to appear over the horizon and I could hop on. Frequency again - I was inconvenienced, but not the end of the world.

What angers me is that for many people, particularly the older generation without a smartphone, there is now simply too much uncertainty to be able to rely on this vital form of public transport.

How many people are left stranded, unable to access updates via app or social media? How many have decided the bus is just too much hassle?

Stagecoach keep saying they need more staff, but what are they really doing to find them?

We have been hearing about industry-wide vacancies for many months now. People who pay for this service want certainty. It is time they redrew the timetables based on the drivers they do have - rather than the numbers they would like to have.

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