Proposed reductions to subsidised bus routes in Kent have been drastically scaled back following positive talks with bus companies and the decision by KCC to reduce the required savings from £2.25 million to £455,000 in this coming financial year.
Subsidised bus services represent just 3% of the network in Kent. The remaining 97% of services are run by commercial or community operators.
Following discussions with bus companies Stagecoach and Go Coach, proposals to move a small number of services from public subsidy to commercially-operated routes, are expected to go out to public consultation in April.
These changes are designed to protect school services and ensure communities currently served by a subsidised route will not lose out, while providing necessary budget savings.
Stagecoach has proposed changes to the following services in Thanet:
• 39: Sherwood Gardens loop, Dumpton and Nixon Avenue
• 42: Windermere Avenue/Rydal Avenue, Nethercourt
• 56: St Peter’s Road/Vicarage Street, St Peter’s and Stone Road/Lanthorne Road/Knights Avenue, Broadstairs
These services are mirrored by existing commercial services and could be served by them with some slight network changes.
Go Coach has proposed revisions to service 404 from Edenbridge to Sevenoaks/Plaxtol to Borough Green. The proposal would take the current mainstream home to school transport contract and convert it to a school-focused commercial service.
The second element is refocusing the current 404 on Edenbridge to Sevenoaks, dropping the Plaxtol to Borough Green which is already covered by another service.
It would also withdraw the Wednesdays-only 405 – again, covered by an existing service.
The Go Coach proposals improve the connectivity between Edenbridge and Sevenoaks for off-peak bus users.
There will be full local consultation in April on the proposed changes.
The council is clear that no further changes to the subsidised bus network are proposed.
Cabinet Member for Highways, Mike Whiting, said: “I am grateful to both Stagecoach and Go Coach for these innovative proposals which will allow us to make the necessary savings to our budget this year.
“I was clear at the outset that any changes proposed would not affect school services or leave communities without a service, and I believe these proposals achieve that.”
Next month, the council will launch “The Big Conversation” to better understand what communities want from their public transport services and how they could be better organised to meet that need.
More than £40 million of bus-related business is commissioned by Kent County Council. KCC’s aim in holding the Big Conversation, is to maintain services, potentially improve rural access and deliver this at a lower cost.
Kent County Council Leader Paul Carter, who announced the Big Conversation in January, said: “These big conversations will invite ideas about the possible alternative delivery models for rural bus services.
“What we envisage is replacing the conventional subsidised bus services and, in its place, provide greater access for rural residents.
“This could include a taxi-bus style service which links rural communities to main-line commercial bus routes or community-led transport services.
“And that’s why we need to have these conversations – so we can see the bigger picture affecting rural residents and see what is going to work best for people, and we have set aside £500,000 to invest in new technology and encourage innovation.”
Discussions will be held with parish councils, commercial and community transport providers, technology providers and ultimately culminate in a Rural Bus Summit in the summer which will bring everyone together to discuss the way forward.
The proposals are due to be discussed by the Environment and Transport Cabinet Committee on Tuesday, March 20.