KENT County Council (KCC) has voted to cut nearly 40 subsidised bus services, mainly in rural areas across the County as the authority attempts to save money.
Among the subsidies that have been cut are six routes serving the Tunbridge Wells area, which are now likely to stop running following the axing of the cash help to the bus operators.
Initial plans by KCC had been to save £3million pounds by withdrawing subsidies to 48 services by 2022, but a following public consultation, the cuts were reduced to include 38 services, saving County Hall £2.2million.
Last Thursday (October 20) councillors at KCC voted in favour of defunding the routes with will see money to providers Autocar, Arriva, Stagecoach, Go Coach, Regents, Nu-Venture and Chalkwell bus operators cut.
Routes 6, 255, 277, 293, 296 and TW9 are among the subsidised routes that serve Tunbridge Wells that will be cut. The axing of these six routes alone is said to save KCC £120,403 a year.
But KCC’s proposed plans to cut the subsidies have received wide-spread backlash for disproportionately affecting those in the most rural areas of the county with fears of loneliness and loss of independence to local residents.
A public consultation, which ran for eight weeks from February 24 to April 20, received 2,562 responses. The Council also received three petitions, surveys by Kent Karrier operators and a parish council, four MPs letters and a report by disabled charity, Compaid.
During the debate held at County Hall in Maidstone last week, Cllr Rich Lahmann (Green Party), said: “The cuts would have an enormous impact across rural parts of Kent.
“This decision essentially places a premium on rural living across the county for the sake of a saving equivalent of 0.2 per cent of our annual budget, although I’d question whether the saving would even be that high.
“[It] would immediately become harder to live in for elderly and disabled residents as well as for families with no alternative means to get to work or school.”
Cllr Richard Streatfield (Lib Dem), added in an impassioned speech: “The Council, the administration hasn’t listened and is not listening
“There [was] a child yesterday that, because of the overcrowding on the bus services that is continuing, was taken ill in Tunbridge Wells.”
He continued: “The argument that the commercial decisions were entirely separate from the supported service is absolute nonsense.
“The managing director of Go Coach put it to me that this was a ‘perfect storm’, that the reduction post-pandemic, when the bus services needed our support the most, was made incomparably worst by the decision to reduce the supported service.”
Kent Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport, David Brazier, had previously defended the cuts, saying: “The council is under no obligation to support unviable bus services.
“This is subject to the availability of funding,” he said, adding: “Effectively the £2.2m is no longer in my budget and I cannot spend money I do not have.”
Of 53 Kent County councillors, 37 voted for, 15 against and one abstained.