A protest over planned cuts to Stagecoach bus services in Thanet has been held outside the company’s depot in Westwood today (August 16).
Around 70 people including county and district councillors and residents turned out to demonstrate against the changes at the protest organised by Unite the Union Retired Members and Unite Community.
There is rising local anger about the axing of Stagecoach routes 33 and 37 and the truncation of route 9 from the end of August.
The 33 bus currently runs hourly from Monday to Saturday on a coastal route between Margate and Ramsgate via Broadstairs. The 37 operates a more limited service from Broadstairs to Westwood Cross and Margate, while the 9 goes from Westwood Cross via Broadstairs to Ramsgate, Nethercourt, Cliffsend, Minster and Monkton before continuing to Canterbury. From August 28, it will turn around at Monkton, although the 9X will continue some peak period journeys to Canterbury.
There are a number of other bus route changes that will also take effect from August 28
Beacon Road resident Jenny Matterface, who previously represented the ward on the district council, is involved in a petition against the reductions which has gained more than 2,660 signatures.
She said: “A good turnout from across the community protested outside the Westwood Bus Depot against the drastic cuts proposed by Stagecoach.
“The demonstration was organised by Unite the Union Retired and Unite Community members and was attended by county and district councillors and many residents impacted by the cuts.
“One person told us ‘If these cuts go ahead I will find it difficult to get to Canterbury for hospital appointments’. Another protestor said she would become isolated and unable to go shopping easily, visit friends and generally be part of the community.”
Independent Broadstairs councillor Ruth Bailey has written to Stagecoach and South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay with accounts from residents who will suffer due to the cut in services.
She also attended the protest today and said: “I attended the Stagecoach bus cut protest this morning because I firmly believe that bus services should be more than just a business.. Buses by their nature are a public transport service, a vital provision which links people and communities to shops, jobs, medical services, families and social events.
“The buses due to be axed serve our residential streets and, from testimonials I have received, these cuts will affect not just the elderly but a much wider, cross section of the community. At a time when we should be encouraging more people onto public transport to reduce single journeys and cut emissions it seems a nonsense that bus routes are being cut.
“The local transport authority, via the government, should be looking to the future and providing subsidies for any potential loss making routes.
“I have been writing to Joel Mitchell, the MD of Stagecoach SE, as well as to Craig Mackinlay MP. I also sent Mr Mitchell more than 30 personal and poignant accounts outlining the impact these proposed bus cuts will have on individual passengers. I called for a public meeting and put forward alternative suggestions in a bid to save the doomed routes but unfortunately all to no avail.
“The last I heard from Mr Mitchell he said he was having last minute discussions with KCC. With the cuts due to take effect in less than two weeks, we really need to be hearing something very soon and I really hope that it will be positive news.”
Fellow Broadstairs councillor Aram Rawf has also written to Stagecoach MD Joel Mitchell. A reply from Mr Mitchell to Cllr Rawf said: “It’s such an incredibly difficult time at the moment. I am so upset at having to make cuts. This isn’t why I joined the industry, completely the opposite in fact.
“The challenge is that costs are up hugely as the cost of living continues to shoot up, while passenger numbers have fallen significantly since covid. Government funding is ending and local authorities are under their own cost challenges.
“I’m not trying to make money, but my statutory duties mean I need to make sure the business doesn’t run at a loss at the very least, which we try and rebuild for the future.
There are many routes that don’t cover their costs, and I have no choice but to review what we operate so we can build a sustainable baseline for the future.
“We’re here to serve people and I am determined to grow again, but have to be able to create foundations to be able to do that.”
The petition is now closed and due to be sent to Joel Mitchell at Stagecoach.