Kent transport

Decision to cut bus services in Kent called by opposition councilors

Additional reporting by Ciaran Duggan, local democracy reporter

The decision to cut dozens of bus services in Kent has been recalled by opposition councilors as people share their anger over the move.

Kent County Council agreed to cut 38 subsidized trips across the county in October as the local authority seeks to save £2.2million to tackle significant budget pressures.

Several Arriva-run services on Maidstone buses are impacted by the cuts

Bus companies and residents have strongly opposed the cuts and now the local Green Party has called for the decision and demanded it be reviewed by KCC’s review committee next month.

The official challenge comes three weeks after transport chiefs defended the large-scale cuts, which they said were necessary to achieve a balanced budget and ensure the local authority’s financial security.

Green County Councilor Rich Lehmann, of Swale East, warned that the bus cuts “will put more cars on the road” and cause more damage to the local environment.

He said: “Cutting public transport and giving people little choice but to use their cars, if they have that option, will increase Kent’s carbon emissions to a point where we need to reduce them quickly. “

KCC shadow cabinet member for transport, Cllr Barry Lewis (Lab), said: “I have been in politics for almost 50 years and I have never seen such anger at the decision to destroy the services of buses in Kent.”

Several Arriva-run services on Maidstone buses are impacted by the cuts
Several Arriva-run services on Maidstone buses are impacted by the cuts

The council has invested £6.6 million to support 127 bus services, which are deemed socially important to the local community but not financially profitable.

Among those angry at the move is Emma Butler, who says the cuts will leave her son, Rory, with no way to get to school.

The 12-year-old Borden Grammar pupil is currently traveling to Sittingbourne on the 332 bus from Chalkwell, one of the routes due to be cut in October.

Emma said: ‘I was shocked to hear it was being scrapped as it is the only school bus in the area.

‘Travel Line has confirmed that after the bus cuts there will be no more routes available between our home and Rory’s school or the nearest school to our address, Westlands School.

“KCC explained to me that by sending Rory to high school and not to the establishment closest to my home, they could not help me.

Emma Butler and her son Rory live in a rural area near Stockbury
Emma Butler and her son Rory live in a rural area near Stockbury

“However, if I decided to move Rory to Westlands, my nearest school, the council said they would step in and pay for a taxi each day to get him to and from school.”

But Emma explained that none of this was guaranteed because neither she nor the council knew if Westlands even had places.

She said she would be forced to kick him out of their home in Hazel Street, Stockbury, instead.

Emma added: “I don’t want to move Rory. He just moved in after his freshman year. He has friends, sports clubs and is doing well.

“I don’t want to take him out of there just because the council wants to save money and cancel his school bus.

“I have been a teacher for almost 20 years but these bus cuts make me choose between my job and my child, finally I will choose my son.”

Emma Butler and her son, Rory, 12, live near the Stockbury roundabout
Emma Butler and her son, Rory, 12, live near the Stockbury roundabout

Jerry Ralph, of Crown Road, Sittingbourne has also written to KCC asking for the authority to stop the cancellation of council-assisted bus routes run in the town by Chalkwell.

He said: ‘I understand the council needs to save money, but the complete removal of all but two of the funded services provided by Chalkwell is sure to cause great distress to elderly and disabled passengers.’

Jerry’s wife suffers from severe asthma and fibromyalgia, a long-lasting condition that causes pain throughout the body.

Due to her conditions, she is unable to drive herself or walk for long.

Jerry continued, “My wife’s medical condition means it’s almost impossible to walk any distance.

“Those with school-age children will either have to resort to using their car – which will make congestion worse – or move to more urban areas of the region.

An email sent to Emma Butler suggested her son travel six miles to school after bus routes were cut
An email sent to Emma Butler suggested her son travel six miles to school after bus routes were cut

“The decision to remove these services will add more passenger cars to the city’s already congested road network and increase pollution levels in the area.”

Kent County Council Leader Roger Gough said: “We know the removal of the KCC grant from some of our supported bus services will impact those who currently use it.

“We have put measures in place to ensure that the most vulnerable are protected from the impact of these withdrawals, by removing Kent Karrier services from the list of routes whose subsidy is to be removed.

“After these subsidies are removed, we will still invest £4.5million in bus services supported as a council.

“We will ensure that children and young people who are entitled to free transport to and from school have transport in place for the start of the school year in September.

“The council has seen a dramatic increase in the need for its services across all areas of authority and an increase in the cost of operating them. We must prioritize the services we are legally required to provide. »
Cllr David Brazier (Con), who is a cabinet member for transport, said: “Council has no obligation to support unsustainable bus services. This is subject to the availability of funds.”

He also told the transport committee on July 6: ‘Indeed the £2.2million is no longer in my budget and I can’t spend money I don’t have.

“The decision to remove these services will add more passenger cars to the city’s already congested road network…”

Five Kent Karrier services, which provide call-in services for the elderly and disabled, were also at risk but have since been rescued.

The remaining 38 roads to be cut mainly serve rural communities and isolated areas.