Kent transport

Bus cuts in Kent will cause ‘absolute chaos’ in schools, warn parents and teachers

Parents and teachers are warning that proposed cuts on Kent bus services will cause ‘absolute chaos’ for children trying to get to school.

This week a huge group of protesters gathered in Shepherdswell, near Dover, one of the potentially affected areas.

A mass of residents gather in Mill Lane,Shepherdswell, to protest against the proposed cuts. Photo by Nigel Bowles

Kent County Council (KCC) is hoping to save £2.2million, with 38 services in the county set to be wiped out completely.

But there are fears that cutting some routes will particularly affect children trying to get to school, with the new school year starting today.

Terry Hunt, chairman of Shepherdswell and Coldred Parish Council, said: ‘We have an 88, an 88a and an 92 a service which more or less gets us from here to Dover.

“There are also school buses that go from here to Dover and Sandwich. I worry how children in Shepherdswell, Coldred and even Eythorne will get to school if the buses are withdrawn altogether.

‘They seem to think they can rely on the children going to school by train, but the walk from Dover Priory to one of the schools is a long walk or means taking another bus. KCC has an obligation to go to school.

Young protesters at a bus stop in Mill Lane, Shepherdswell.  Photo by Nigel Bowles
Young protesters at a bus stop in Mill Lane, Shepherdswell. Photo by Nigel Bowles

“If the buses leave, it will be absolutely chaotic.”

Alyson Young, 50, from Shepherdswell, is a parent and governor of Dover Boys Grammar School.

She said: “My son is entering year 11, a very important year. Without the bus to Shepherdswell and Whitfield his journey would be very disrupted.

“We’re told we’re supposed to get out of our cars and take public transport – but that will mean more cars on the road.”

Jenny Parker, a teacher at Dover Grammar School for Boys, who also lives in Shepherdswell, says she and her husband rely on the 88 service through the village.

Dover Grammar School for Boys, in the Tower Hamlets area of ​​the city
Dover Grammar School for Boys, in the Tower Hamlets area of ​​the city

“From a teacher’s point of view, getting to and from one of the schools in the Tower Hamlets area is sometimes a nightmare,” she said. “In fact, I walk past many schools on my way to work.

“Can you imagine in Dover if each of the parents of students from St Edmund’s School, Dover Grammar School for Girls, Astor and my school try to drop off their children because they have no other means of transport to get them there? ? Engorgement. It’s bad enough trying to get home in the traffic in the Tower Hamlets area.

“Schools are inclusive places where we try to bridge the gap between the most disadvantaged. By removing this service, they directly affect families who cannot afford to travel.

“As a parent of children attending Sandwich Technology School, we are completely sabotaged and at a loss as to what to do to get our two children to school.”

Ms Parker said if the cuts continue, her youngest son Oscar, 11, who starts in Sandwich this week, would have to leave the house at 6.40am, walk 20 minutes to the station, catch a train to Dover, then switch to one to take him to Sandwich before going to school.

The future of bus services, including in Dover, will be discussed by county councilors early next month.  Library Image: Sam Lennon for KMG
The future of bus services, including in Dover, will be discussed by county councilors early next month. Library Image: Sam Lennon for KMG

It would be against walking three minutes in the morning to a bus stop if services are maintained.

The protest petition was put together by James Pout, from Aylesham, where the school bus for Dover Christ Church Academy is at risk.

Bus services in other parts of Kent are also at risk, such as in the Ashford area.

Laura Avery, 44, from Smarden, said: ‘I don’t drive and my husband does, but the only reason we moved here was because there were bus services. Otherwise, how could I get around?

“Although I don’t drive, I have always been independent and happy to use public transport.

“My eldest son is 16 and uses it to be independent, but he can’t now. If they got rid of it, there would literally be nothing.

“Kids use it to go to college, people use it to go to work.”

“If the bus leaves, I will be totally abandoned…”

Patricia, 80, from Egerton, uses the 123 bus at least twice a week.

“I rely on it and have for 10 years,” she said. “If the bus leaves, I will be totally abandoned.

“Parents here work everywhere as we are a hub for Canterbury and Maidstone.

“Egerton has nothing. Stores closed before the pandemic and we supposedly have a pop-up post office two days a week.

“All we have is in Ashford and if the bus leaves we won’t have anything.

“If we take an elevator, there is no turning back.”

“Unfortunately, the council is not in a financial position to adopt the services that operators seek to withdraw…”

The risk to the buses comes from two separate sources: the Stagecoach company which is cutting services and the KCC which is cutting subsidies for certain routes.

KCC had originally planned to make cuts this fall, but members of its oversight committee, at a meeting on August 18, spoke out against it.

It was decided to refer the matter to the authority’s next council of ministers on Tuesday and its full council meeting on September 15, thus deferring a final decision.

KCC leader Roger Gough said: “Despite best efforts, we know there will still be gaps in services, but unfortunately the council are not in a financial position to adopt the services that the operators are looking to withdraw.”

A spokesperson added: “KCC and commercial bus operators worked together to secure school bus services for as many students as possible in September, following notice from bus operators of their intention to cut services across the county.

Cllr Roger Gough, Leader of Kent County Council
Cllr Roger Gough, Leader of Kent County Council

“Some commercial bus operators had planned to stop operating routes that serve economically unviable schools, due to the difficult challenges of declining passenger numbers, rising costs and driver shortages. These are not services that KCC subsidizes or controls.

“The scale of the changes planned by bus operators and the impact on school routes have been significant, leaving many children and their families facing the prospect of not being able to get to school in September. The severe financial constraints facing the council mean that it is not possible to provide additional large-scale, long-term subsidies to bus operators.

KCC’s public transport team worked with bus operators throughout the summer to find measures to enable as many students as possible to access bus services.

These have included restoring connections for pupils attending Harvey Grammar School in Folkestone and maintaining some services with Homewood School in Tenterden.

Lines expected to be affected from the fall are as follows (lines operated by Stagecoach unless otherwise noted): 61, 61a, 80b, 81b, 83, 88, 88a, 90, 92, 92a, 96, 96a, 111 , 123, 292 (Coach), 293, 299 (Coach), 541, 542, 544, HGS3 (Crosskeys Coaches) and Sandwich Connect (Britannia).

A Stagecoach spokesperson said: “The Department for Transport is asking each local authority to review their bus networks and work in partnership with bus operators to put services on a sustainable basis.

“As part of this review, we have been asked to review the services we currently operate and identify those that would not be viable without supporting funding. No final decision has been made and we are working closely with KCC to minimize reductions in service as much as possible.

“There will be no changes to Stagecoach services in the Dover/Deal area until the end of October and we will work with KCC and local schools to communicate any changes well in advance.”