Kent County Council (KCC) and commercial bus operators have worked together to secure school bus services for as many pupils as possible in September, following notice from bus operators of their intention to cut services across the county.
Some commercial bus operators had planned to stop operating routes that serve economically unviable schools, due to difficult challenges from 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 far-reaching, 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.
Recognizing the significant impact on families, KCC’s public transport team worked with bus operators throughout the summer to come up with a range of different measures to enable as many pupils as possible to access school bus services in September.
Through this joint work, bus operators have:
- Maintaining school transport options for Maidstone schools from the Aylesford area.
- Connections retained for children traveling from Herne Bay and Whitstable to Spiers Academy in Canterbury
- Establishment of an alternative bus network taking children from the Sevenoaks area to Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells
- Connections restored for pupils attending Harvey Grammar School in Folkestone.
- Retained some services at Homewood School.
- Retained service from Canterbury to Westwood and non-peak round trip.
Details of all service changes can be found on the KCC website at www.kent.gov.uk/buses.
Although it has not been possible to find solutions for all service changes and some may also be less convenient than previous services, KCC continues to explore opportunities with bus operators. This includes working with bus operators in the eastern county, who are planning substantial changes to services later this year that will affect school routes.
KCC chief Roger Goughsaid: “We recognized that the scale of the changes planned by operators would have a serious impact on the ability of many pupils to travel to and from school independently in September.
“That’s why I’ve tasked our public transport team to work with operators to find ways to make school bus routes safer for as many students as possible. Together, they’ve done a tremendous job of reverse a worrying situation for families in certain parts of the department and offer a range of services allowing as many students as possible to access school bus routes from September.
“Despite our best efforts, we know there will still be gaps in services, but unfortunately the council is not in a financial position to adopt the services that operators are seeking to withdraw. However, I hope our work so far will give the residents of Kent confidence that we will continue to work in partnership with operators to deliver the best possible outcomes for communities.
While the majority of announced bus withdrawals are offered by private bus companies, KCC has also planned to withdraw subsidies from a smaller number of bus lines, in line with its approved budget. Those plans have been put on hold pending further board meetings in September. Therefore, bus services that would have been affected will continue as usual until further notice and will accept Kent Travel Saver bus passes and other ticket types.
Visit www.kent.gov.uk/buses for an up-to-date breakdown of planned updates to Kent’s bus services.
Notes to reporters:
- In England, buses operate in an unregulated market. This means that bus operators are free to decide which routes they serve.
- When routes become economically unviable, bus operators may choose to withdraw their service. KCC has a legal obligation to consider supporting an economically unviable bus route, but there is no obligation for it to provide funding.