Kent County Council’s ‘Big Conversation’ meetings on changes to rural bus services have been branded “small conversations” after just 40 people turned out to the event in Margate last night (June 21).
The venue, at Margate Football Club, was chosen after complaints about the initial choice of Birchington not being accessible enough. But the club is not on a direct bus route and only two audience members had used public transport to attend.
Ten of the 40 people present were Labour Party members.
The meeting presented three alternative plans for public transport in the face of impending cuts to bus services subsidised by Kent County Council. The services are those that don’t have enough passengers to make a commercial return but are considered necessary for those living in rural areas. Kent County Council has been funding the services but says there is not enough money in its budget to continue doing so
1. Replacing the subsidised bus service with a small bus or taxi that would be used to connect people living in rural areas with an existing commercial bus service. A small minibus would pick up passengers from villages and connect with bus maybe four times a day and do the same for the return journey. These services would run at fixed times. They would pick up and drop off passengers at fixed stops along the route. Passengers could wait on the feeder minibus or taxi for their connecting bus to arrive. Passengers could buy a ticket for the whole journey (feeder service and existing bus).
2. A bookable bus service would collect passengers from chosen points and take them to a range of places in a set area. This could be from a pick up point or from the passenger’s home. Passengers would make a booking by telephone or on the internet. They would say where they want to go and would be told when they could be picked up for their journey. Bookings could be made 7 days, 1 day or hours before the journey. Journeys would be shared with other passengers to make them as efficient as possible. Passengers would need to be flexible with the time and length of their journey. Passengers would need to allow more time to travel to fixed time appointments e.g. doctor’s appointment.
3. There could be a taxi-bus service using a smaller vehicle, such as 7-seater car or minibus. The taxi-bus would run at fixed times and to a fixed route. It would stop at fixed stops along the route. This would not be on a fixed route so can provide more journey opportunities however journeys could take longer. Passengers would need to book in advance. The amount passengers pay for their journey depends on where they are going (just like an existing bus).
The options would mean passengers paying for their route – bus passes would not be valid for minibus/taxi services.
A consultation on these options is open now and runs until August 8.
Labour County Councillor Barry Lewis, who was at last night’s meeting, said: “The minibus/taxi would have to be pre-booked and will probably cost between £2-£4 per person. People won’t be able to use a bus pass on this part of the service. There was some anger at the monopoly held by Stagecoach and that questions about the Thanet 39,42 and 56 services were not answered.
“They have spent £90,000 on this consultation and if the Margate meeting is anything to go by it is proving a flop.
“The Big Conversation should be called the Small Conversation.”