Kent’s summer bus cull

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).

Flashback to February 2017 when Kings Hill Connect routes X1 and X2 were introduced. Photo courtesy Kent Council Council’s media hub.

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.

When I last caught Thursday shopping bus 293 from Rye to Tunbridge Wells – operated by Hams Travel a few years ago – it was a very busy trip.

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.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThSSu.

Next blog scheduled for Sunday 20th March: Jointly operated bus routes.

15 thoughts on “Kent’s summer bus cull

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  1. The prospects for the immediate future of public transport look bleak.

    Local Government funding is in a dire place and supporting bus services is well down the list. Expect culls around the country in the next few months. Less Buses Back Better, more some buses back later.

    National Government is less keen to make savings themselves, so the staggering subsidy for the railway comes without strings, but maybe one day somebody will look at this. Politically any reductions on the railway will bring the shadow of Beeching, so expect some tinkering at the edges and no real change.

    This is not trying to pit rail against bus as both have their place, but it does illustrate how all Governments talk tough about difficult decisions for local politicians whole avoiding those decisions itself.

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  2. Arriva is also making cuts in its commercial network in Kent from early April.

    This includes;-

    11 Maidstone to Bearsted village – following earlier cuts already reduced to a couple of journeys Monday to Friday and an hourly service on Saturdays. WITHDRAWN
    71/71A. Maidstone to Larkfield/Snodland. Frequency reduced from every 15 minutes to every 20 minutes (every second journey will operate beyond Larkfield to Snodland and section of route to New Hythe withdrawn.
    155 Maidstone – Aylesford – Cuxton – Chatham. Reduced to operate just between Cuxton and Chatham apart one school journey morning and afternoon to/from Maidstone. Would also seem to leave Ringlestone estate bus less.
    455 Singlewell shopping service at Gravesend
    477 Orpington to Bluewater. Section of route between Dartford and Bluewater withdrawn.
    6 Maidstone – Paddock Wood – Tunbridge Wells Frequency reduced to hourly and 6Aa variation withdrawn, apparently leaving lower part of Pembury village unserved..
    7 Maidstone – Tonbridge – Tunbridge Wells. Frequency reduced from every 15 minutes to every 30 minutes.
    281 Tunbridge wells local. frequency reduced .

    Nu Venture are withdrawing from the Monday to Friday operation 285 Hawkenbury service in Tunbridge Wells. Saturdays are provided by Hams Travel under contract to KCC

    Its possible work is going on to cover some of these withdrawals, but what can KCC do in the current situation apart from redraw the list of what has to be cut. If a service is taken off the list of cuts something else has to be added to replace it.

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  3. We’ve looked at the Kent CC list of savings before, and some of the cost-per-passenger figures are frighteningly high. It is appreciated that, for these few passengers, the cuts will mean hardship . . . but where c-p-p is above £10, surely a taxi can be cheaper?

    Do a deal with taxi operators whereby a registered user (with ENTCS pass) can travel at bus prices, and the balance is paid by the County. No infrastructure or bus costs to be paid, as the taxi operator already has done that. The Devon CC “Fare Car” scheme has been running thusly for 20+ years, and is included in the DCC timetables.

    My other concern is the length of time that X1 and X2 have been allowed to run on with seemingly almost no passengers. I appreciate that the original contract may have been for 5 years, but I doubt that passenger numbers have declined from substantial to zero since 2020. Was no mid-life monitoring carried out? Did County simply ignore the routes once the contract was awarded? Contracts can be varied or cancelled if necessary.

    A “greenline727” story to finish . . . in St Albans there have been calls for a bus link between the Abbey and City Stations since time immemorial. Herts CC tendered for such a service in around 2017, and issued a 5 year contract for an electric bus, but with a break clause after 12 months. There were no takers on that basis, so the contract started with a diesel minibus. Unsurprisingly, passenger numbers were usually around zero, and the contract ended after 12 months.
    This seems to be very pragmatic . . . would that other LTA’s were so sensible . . . or is no monitoring ever done until the contract is up for renewal??

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  4. How an earth can the limited X1 & X2 services cost £208,000 ? That makes no sense. It only operated Am & PM peaks Mon to Friday

    Running journey just to the rail station is never going to attract many passengers

    Even dafter are the journeys to Maidstone. The first bus is 9am so before concessionary passes are valid and it is to later for anyone that works in Maidstone. The first journey back as well is 16.25 so if you wanted to go shopping you would have to spend the whole day there so little surprise the service has no passengers

    Looking at all the bus services in that area and there are quite a lot they are operated by different companies and most are just random journeys or are random days and are very infrequent so will simply not attract passengers

    KCC seem to be vastly overpaying for these contracted services as well

    Making it easy to buy a combined bus and rail ticket would help particularly if it discounted the ticket

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    1. A link between those two station was never going to work even a basic sanity check would tell you that. Typically about 10% of people use rail. How many would want to go from the City station to the Abbey station is had to say but it would certainly not be many. If you wanted to go to Watford you would get a Watford train from London. If you wanted to get to Watford from St Albans you would go direct by bus

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  5. Talking of cutbacks, for the first time in a number of decades there will be no through useable service from York to Bridlington from early April. The only services left will be an early evening return working from Bridlington to York and back, hardly useful for anything other than to provide extra workings from Market Weighton to York and back as an enhancement to the 46. The train can’t be blamed as that takes forever directly, and quite a while with a change on the indirect route via Seamer which is significantly more expensive than the bus. Both train routes have been around just as long as the bus as well. One small saving grace is the 46 will see an increased number of journeys to compensate for the loss in frequency from York to Market Weighton, and there will be a pointless supported bus a handful of times a day between Market Weighton and Driffield, mostly however only as far as villages in between.

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  6. Buses are like sweets (or sweeteners) for politician-kids. Like the pic n’mix counter, the brighter and gaudier the better.

    At least until they get the inevitable indigestion. Don’t they realise (or review VFM)? No. Never. Not at least until the pocket money runs out.

    As long as someone else meets the bill, or takes the blame; who cares?

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  7. I wonder how many bus services were withdrawn in the past and pushed-through on the basis funding would be made available for DRT or community transport? And now this funding is at risk.

    Greenline727 – I think you may underestimate the cost of taxi fares. I was quoted £9.15 for a 3.5 mile one-way journey on a Saturday afternoon a couple of months ago and this was by Uber! £10 per passenger on a bus service sounds a lot but any LA wishing to have a deal with a local taxi firm can expect to pay a similar amount, unless a tidy discount can be negotiated or there remains an element of subsidy.

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    1. Dan T . . .quite possibly . . . it’s a while since I’ve used a taxi!! Here is the Devon CC page: https://www.traveldevon.info/accessibility/fare-cars/.

      By selecting one of the services, a further page comes up . . . example: F18 quotes a single fare of £3.15 per journey, although that is dated 2015!! Maybe the deal could be that the LTA guarantee a minimum income per trip, and if insufficient people travel, then the LTA make up the difference??

      I’m not saying that FareCar is fit for all journeys, but it must be cheaper than some of the Kent Karriers . . . ISTR that one c-p-p was almost £50!!

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  8. When the 208 (Pembury – Tonbridge – East Peckham) was re-tendered from Autocar to Go Coach, Autocar decided to run a commercial 208A (Pembury – Tonbridge), so you have duplication over the busier section ….

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    1. Whether the Enhanced partnerships will sort this sort of thing out who knows

      Looking at many of those route there seems to be little logic to them. It seems more a case of what money have we got and then fit the service around that. Whether the service is of any use is ignored

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  9. And with the current rise in coronavirus, admittedly mild,will anyone want to sit on a bus.A godsend,if they needed one,for the car industry.It’s strange that we now have a fuel crisis but motorists are,as usual, doing as they please draining away the fuel.

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  10. Arriva Northfleet commercial service cuts

    From 17th April 2022 the following changes will be in place:

    Service 455

    Will no longer run

    Service 477

    Will only operate Dartford to Orpington + Sunday service will no longer run

    Services 414, 423, 481 & 489

    All services will have minor timetable changes

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  11. So why is Surrey able to boast of putting on Sunday journeys because of the Government’s “Better Deal 4 Buses ” funding in its latest East Surrey timetable book ? I fear Hants will follow Kent, not Surrey.

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  12. In addition to the cuts in Arriva services described above. The 367 (which, I believe, once had a passenger of note) is being reduced to one journey in each direction from 19th April, the start of the summer term (according to Chalkwell’s website).
    It is also worth noting that some of the journeys and routes under threat serve schools. Parents will have made their choice of school for September based on the existing bus network. In Kent more than most counties, it makes a difference with grammar schools, comprehensive schools, faith schools, at least one University Technical College, schools serving one gender and both. Lots of pupils catch the bus to school, some travel quite a distance, the suggestion is that the changes will take place in Summer. So little time to make alternative arrangements if a parent finds that their child can no longer catch the bus to school.

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