By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
A controversial decision to raise the cost of the Kent Travel Saver bus pass by 21% for the next academic school year has been upheld.
Kent County Council’s (KCC) transport committee met last Friday (February 18) to review the above-inflation rise from £370 to £450 from June 2022.
The Kent Travel Saver provides secondary school students, who are aged from 11 to 16, discounted travel on buses from 6am to 7pm on weekdays. There are around 14,000 pass holders, excluding Medway.
Serious concerns were raised by some councillors, including the Greens, Liberal Democrats and independents, over the financial hit for families.
Cllr Ian Chittenden, KCC’s transport spokesman for the Lib Dems, described the £80-a-year increase as “unreasonable” amid increases of household bills, such as food and energy.
The Maidstone North East member said: “This is happening at a time when families, who can afford less, will have to spend more money.”
Greens county councillor Mark Hood said the “massive hike” will have a negative impact on KCC’s climate change pledge to reach net zero carbon emissions on its own estate by 2030. The UK’s target is 2050.
The Tonbridge member said: “I am worried many more cars will be used for school run journeys.”
At Friday’s meeting, Swale Independents Alliance county councillor Mike Baldock suggested the cost rises be postponed.
Cllr Baldock said he hoped extra financial support could be accessed from Boris Johnson’s government through grants.
But KCC’s cabinet member for transport, Cllr David Brazier, said he could not “undo” an agreement that was made by the full membership of 81 Kent county councillors nearly two weeks ago.
A sweeping majority agreed to push the Kent Travel Saver price up during KCC’s budget meeting at the Detling Showground in Maidstone, on February 10.
It came in light of financial pressures faced to deliver frontline services, such as adult social care, with demand increasing during the pandemic.
On the travel saver rise, Cllr Brazier told KCC’s transport committee on Friday (Feb 18): “If there are consequences, then they are considered to be of lesser importance to make than savings in other areas.”
The pass gives a discount of 25% to 50%, say KCC. Stagecoach and Arriva offer additional free travel at weekends.
The rises will generate an additional £910,000 of income for the county council.
Cllr Peter Oakford, KCC’s cabinet member for finance, added: “We are not in a position to reverse any difficult decisions that we have made.”
Consequently, Cllr Baldock’s motion was defeated as 10 members voted in favour of upholding the price hike, while three were against.