No subsidised bus services in Thanet will be cut this financial year and three isle routes that were under threat could be run commercially by Stagecoach, dependent on the result of consultation, says Kent County Council”s transport boss.
County Councillor Mike Whiting confirmed the services are safe until at least next April following a meeting in Broadstairs last Thursday (August 30).
Last November Kent County Councillors at an Environment and Transport Cabinet meeting agreed to launch a consultation on plans to cut subsidies for some bus services in Kent. KCC had planned to cut funding for Socially Necessary Bus Services (SNBS) in a bid to save £4million.
The authority said it needed to make the 70% reduction in its SNBS budget between 2018-2020.
But in March KCC said the reductions had been massively scaled back to £455,000 in this financial year following talks with bus companies.
The authority said that following discussions with bus companies Stagecoach and Go Coach, proposals to move a small number of services from public subsidy to commercially-operated routes, were expected to go out to public consultation in April.
The changes were designed to protect school services and ensure communities currently served by a subsidised route would not lose out, while providing necessary budget savings.
Stagecoach 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
KCC said those routes already had similar existing commercial services and could be served by those with some slight network changes.
In June KCC confirmed consultation on the three services had been moved back to September. The delay was to allow “further mitigation” from Stagecoach “to be fully developed and included in the consultation document.”
It is now understood that Stagecoach is willing to take the three services on commercially although a consultation would need to be held first and no changes will take place during this financial year – ending in April 2019.
A consultation is expected to take place on the services before the end of this year.
KCC cabinet member for highways Mike Whiting said: “I was delighted to have been invited to the meeting in Broadstairs and to explain the position. Clearly there has been a lot of misinformation about what is happening which has caused distress for many in the area.
“There are currently no proposals to cut any KCC subsidised bus services.
“If any such proposals were to come forward, they would be subject to specific and detailed consultation.
“At present we are in discussions with operators to see how we might take routes in Thanet and in Sevenoaks out of subsidy by amending the commercial bus network in a way that replaces the key elements of the subsidised routes.
“As I said clearly at the meeting, rumours that buses would stop in September are inaccurate. In accordance with procedures, any proposals to amend services would be the subject of consultation with users and residents.
“We will look to publish proposals and consult later in the year. Any changes made would likely be introduced from next April.
“As with all of KCC’s finances, we are under significant pressure and we need to ensure best value for every pound spent.”
Thanet councillor Jenny Matterface, who was one of the organisers of the meeting which was paid for by county councillor Barry Lewis, said: “This is very good news for all Thanet’s bus users and we await further details. It has put to rest the misinformation put out by some drivers but I do have to ask what would happen if commercially it proves unsuccessful?
“Do we lose the route or end up with an amended one? It does show people power can produce results!”
Earlier this year KCC ran a Big Conversation consultation looking at replacing the conventional subsidised bus services with three proposals put forward, including a taxi-bus style service which links rural communities to main-line commercial bus routes or community-led transport services and a bookable bus service would collect passengers from chosen points.
Cllr Whiting said: “The Big Conversation is designed to consider if there are better, more innovative ways of providing reliable rural transport in the longer term, it is not about cutting services.
“The aim was to ask people whether three ideas – feeder services, bookable services and taxi-buses – would be welcomed by rural communities and could allow us to get more for the same amount of money or, possibly, reduce the overall cost to Kent’s Council Tax payers.
“Some people assume KCC must be providing less in subsidy for the services it does provide – that is not the case. Each year we spend more money on supporting bus journeys in Kent.”
Around 97% of journeys in Kent are run by private operators, such as Arriva and Stagecoach, with over 50 operators covering 600 services or routes.
The Big Conversation consultation is now closed. Analysis of the responses is underway and a consultation report will be presented in September 2018.
KCC will host a Bus Summit at County Hall in October which will provide an opportunity to announce the pilot schemes to be implemented in early 2019.
Some £500,000 has been put aside for the new schemes.