A public meeting in Broadstairs to discuss proposed cuts to subsidised bus services in Thanet and across the county was attended by some 400 people today (August 30).
The gathering at GAP auditorium in Queen’s Road was about Kent County Council plans for three alternative plans for rural public transport in the face of impending cuts to subsidised services.
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.
KCC proposals were originally to cut £4 million funding for Socially Necessary Bus Services (SNBS). Some 78 SNBS contracts looked likely to be axed, including the 41-42a Monkton to Ramsgate service. But, as part of this financial year’s agreed budget KCC reduced that cut to £0.45 million.
Earlier this year it was announced that consultation on funding cuts for Stagecoach services 39,42 and 56 in Thanet had been delayed.
The majority of those at the meeting had come by bus according to a show of hands asked for by Cllr Jenny Matterface, one of the organisers of the meeting.
It was chaired by KCC councillor Rosalind Binks and organised by KCC councillor Barry Lewis, who paid for the venue hire with Jenny and two regular bus users.
County councillor Mike Whiting, Cabinet Member for Transport, outlined the reasons why KCC is having to consider its funding for many services across the county.
He emphasised that no decision had been taken about the three subsidised routes in Thanet that earlier in the year had been announced as under threat of being cut or rescheduled on an amended, commercial route.
Cllr Whiting said: “I pledge that if we want to amend any subsidised bus route we would formally consult again. We need to consult with the public before we do anything. “
According to some in the meeting this isn’t what drivers are telling passengers.
In June Kent County Council said the delay on consultation over the 39, 42 and 56 services was to allow “further mitigation” from Stagecoach “to be fully developed and included in the consultation document.”
South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay told the gathering he thought the 56 route would be ‘pretty safe.”
There were many question from the floor and Mr Whiting said he would take on board comments, although some of his replies didn’t placate those who wanted greater assurances about routes that are important to them.
Cllr Matterface said: “I was pleased so many attended and even if they didn’t get the answers they wanted, they were assured no major cuts are planned. Craig Mackinlay MP also spoke about how important these meetings are and his disappointment that KCC isn’t giving more consideration to the use of community transport where available.
“I was disappointed only KCC councillor Karen Constantine was able to attend although Lesley Game had sent apologies. Where were the other KCC councillors who should be fighting for their residents?
“Only two other Thanet district councillors came along and it was disappointing, too, that others didn’t feel it important enough to support. As many who attended said, these services – whether the 39, 42 or 56 – are vital to our communities. There were calls from the floor to renationalise bus services or for a Monopolies and Mergers investigation into the local monopoly of Stagecoach in East Kent.”
During the meeting Cllr Whiting revealed £500,000 has been set aside to fund pilot schemes which will be carried out as a result of KCC’s Big Bus consultation.
Cllr Constantine (pictured) said she has written to Cllr Whiting to request a specific consultation in Ramsgate.
She added: “Thanet is a particularly deprived area, proper attention needs to be given to our area to ensure concerns are fully heeded. I note with concern Cllr Whiting’s comments about the bus companies not making sufficient money. This is risible when you consider the vast profits that bus companies do make.”