Company Statement - Uttlesford Bus Services

1 month ago Fri 12th Apr 2024

Central Connect acknowledge the concern that has arisen following the public announcement of the pending withdrawal of some local bus services in Uttlesford from Sunday 14th April 2024. These services are fully funded by Essex County Council, and we share residents' concerns that replacement services have not been arranged in a timely manner. Essex County Council were formally notified of our intention to cease operating the routes in question on 12th February 2024, and have, therefore, had two full months in which to arrange replacement services. The routes being withdrawn are routes 301, 316, 318, 319, 320 and 321.

Central Connect changed ownership in September 2023. The new owners' management team undertook a review of all work operated by the business, and identified a number of bus services operated under contract to Essex County Council where the timetables (created by ECC) were unachievable. The main reason for this is the increased traffic congestion as travel patterns returned to a more normal footing after COVID-19. The impact of this was severe delays and unreliability on this bus network, which has been the subject of much understandable passenger frustration.

This is something that as a business we wanted to resolve. We reported the concerns to ECC in September 2023, and then maintained a continual dialogue with them throughout autumn and winter 2023, but unfortunately received no engagement. Our concerns were heightened in January 2024 when ECC published their local bus tenders to be operational from July 2024 with exactly the same timetables which we had already told them were unachievable. This, to us, demonstrated that they were not intending to take any action, despite us making it clear to them that the timetables they required us to operate to were simply impossible.

We wrote formally to ECC in January 2024 as a final attempt at engagement, setting out our concerns and reminding them of our obligation to operate services compliantly, which they were preventing us from doing. We also told them that if no further engagement was forthcoming, we would be forced to deregister the services. Receipt of this notice was given by ECC, but no response has ever been provided.

As such, on 4th February 2024 we issued statutory Local Authority Notification forms to ECC, starting the 10 week process to deregister a local bus service. The first 28 days of this 10 week period is a local authority consultation period, allowing the local authority to engage with the bus operator proposing changes to their service(s) and discuss opportunities to mitigate any impact on the local bus network. No such engagement was forthcoming. On 12th February 2024 we wrote formally to ECC terminating our contracts to operate these bus services with them from Sunday 14th April 2024, due to their inaction preventing us from operating a legally compliant and punctual bus service.

We are extremely concerned that passengers will be left stranded next week, and believe that this is a very regrettable situation. However, we do feel that the engagement actions undertaken above gave ECC ample time firstly to attempt to resolve our concerns and allow us to continue operating the routes to achievable timetables, and then failing that to procure an alternative operator to step in. They chose to do neither.If and when we become aware of any planned replacement service(s) for these bus services we will promote this via our website and social media channels. Until then, we would advise that you contact ECC's Passenger Transport team on or speak to your local County Councillor (