Saturday 19th March 2022
Kent County Council launched a consultation last month seeking views on a raft of cuts to bus services it funds across the county which will be introduced this summer.
Notwithstanding Bus Recovery Grant 2 and Bus Back Better’s vision of a wonderful utopian future for bus provision the reality in Kent is the Council needs to trim its £6.1 annual budget for funding bus routes by a third, saving a whopping £2.2 million. It’s part of an overall cut in the Council’s budget for next year of £38 million (part of £100 million savings needed over three years) which comes on top of cuts worth £750 million over the last decade. Who’d ever want to be a finance director of a local authority?
Kent have published a comprehensive list of which services will be cut as part of the consultation. They include buses branded as Kent Karrier which provides Dial-A-Ride services in many areas across the county. The total savings from withdrawing the eight schemes will be a sizeable £568,000 making for a fair chunk of the £2.2 million needed.
Kent Karrier is a membership based door-to-door Dial-a-Ride scheme aimed at those with a mobility impairment or live in a rural area more than 500 metres from a bus stop or railway station. I doubt many use the services but those that do must find it a godsend for their travel needs and will no doubt miss the service. Expect significant protests at its withdrawal.
In many parts of Kent the Kent Karrier scheme is run by Compaid, a community transport operator providing “transport services to hundreds of disabled and elderly people every week” so I’m assuming they will continue to do their best, notwithstanding the loss of over half a million pounds of funding.
Compaid also runs the Delting Shopper service which is also up for withdrawal, saving £37,000.
In the chunky savings league table are bus routes X1 and X2 run by Arriva which provide a commuter service between Kings Hill and West Malling station and Maidstone town centre. Withdrawing these routes will save £208,000 so not to be sniffed at. I took a look at these routes a couple of weeks ago to see what the implications would be for residents of Kings Hill.
Kings Hill is a modern mixed use development built on the former site of RAF West Malling in the 1990s and 2000s. It lies 1.6 miles south of West Malling with around 7,700 people living there in over 2,000 homes as well as a central neighbourhood shopping area featuring a large Asda surrounded by a number of business offices.
The main daytime bus route serving Kings Hill is Arriva’s hourly route 72 which takes 11 minutes to West Malling and 50 minutes to Maidstone. Nu-Venture operates a six journey a day route 77 to Tonbridge and a sort of hourly route 151 to Chatham.
Routes X1 and X2 were introduced in a blaze of publicity five years ago using a Kings Hill Connect brand. The idea was to provide a convenient peak hour shuttle bus between Kings Hill and West Malling railway station (route X2) and a fast peak hour journey to and from Maidstone using the M20 (route X1).
Kent County Council cabinet member for environment and transport Matthew Balfour said at the time: “this will be a great service not only for commuters looking to get to West Malling but for those wanting a more direct bus service to Maidstone. These new buses we’re providing have fully redesigned interiors with USB charging points and aisle lighting as well as onboard announcements stating where the next stop will be. Alongside this, bus stops on the service have been enhanced with new signs and some have received work to make it easier to board.”
Sadly neither route caught on and any custom that had built up prior to the pandemic was decimated. I came across the regular Arriva driver on the route parked up In Kings Hill ready for his afternoon’s duty. He does three return shuttles on the X2 for two hours from 14:20 before heading over to Maidstone and back as an X1 then two more shuttle trips on the X2. He told me the previous day he’d just carried a couple of passengers back on the Maidstone journey and that was it
Another bus runs a second Maidstone afternoon peak journey while in the morning two buses provide four shuttle journeys and two Maidstone trips. You can see why £208,000 is hard to justify with such paucity of passengers especially as any Section 106 money from the developer which presumably helped kick it off has long expired.
Other bus routes up for the Kent cull include services based on Sittingbourne operated by Chalkwell (saving £314,000), the Edenbridge town service operated by Go Coach (saving £141,000), Go Coach’s route 208 (Pembury-Tonbridge-East Peckham saving £183,000) and its routes 474/5 Bluewater Longfield circulars (saving £115,000).
Also for the chop are the Council’s ‘Rural Transport Initiatives’ using ‘Taxi Buses’ introduced in 2019 with much fanfare and anticipation it would solve the ‘rural bus problem’.
I travelled on these and wrote about them at the time – the Sandwich Connect routes (£52,000), the Tenterden Hopper routes (£51,000) and the Nu-Venture operated Connect branded routes 58 and 59 (£211,000) will all end. Only route 13 to Hollingbourne operated by Nu-Venture continues its Monday to Friday timetable with the Saturday service ending.
Those rural initiatives coming to an end were inevitable as the prospects looked dire when I gave them a ride immediately after introduction. Sometimes it’s just postponing the inevitable when rural routes carrying fresh air are kept going under some illusionary initiative or other.
I’ll be sorry to see some of the weekly shopper journeys biting the dust – not least Autocar’s route 293 between Tunbridge Wells and Rye on Thursdays (saving £15,500) and route 299 between Tonbridge and Tenterden on Fridays (saving £15,000). These are both lovely rural rides through Kent, but sadly to be no more.
Similar shopper specials operated by Regent Coaches in the rural area around Dover and Deal and over to Canterbury (routes 541/2/4) are also up for withdrawal, I’ve not had the pleasure of a ride on these so will have to get a move on if I’m going to do so.
It’s sad that so many bus routes are soon to disappear from Kent’s bus network but I get the feeling it’s just the start of what will follow in many parts of the country, Bus Back Better notwithstanding. After years of austerity cuts followed by the pandemic the reality is local authorities simply don’t have the funds to subsidise unviable bus routes.
Kent’s consultation runs until 20th April. You can participate through this link. A full list of routes to be cut and the consequential savings can be found in the report to the Council’s Environment and Transport Cabinet Committee meeting on 18th February here.
Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThSSu.
Next blog scheduled for Sunday 20th March: Jointly operated bus routes.