MP steps in to prevent last stop for bus routes

Olympian Louis Smith

Villages such as Hawkenbury and Pembury are particularly concerned about cuts and changes by more than one bus company, driven by low passenger numbers and rising costs.

Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark (above) has been acting on concerns about Bus 285, which operator Nu-Venture warned it is not attracting enough passengers to cover the cost of the route.

“Nu-Venture said that the number of people using the service is so low that their forecasts do not see a recovery in use to the point that would make it viable,” Mr Clark told the Times.

The MP has also met Arriva and Go-Coach to suggest the bus operators combine existing services with operating the 285 ‘even if it meant a less frequent, but viable, service’.

He added: “I have also met with the UK Chief Executive Officer of AXA to explore whether the company could make an increased contribution to the finances of the service, since it provides a more sustainable way than driving for their employees to get to Hawkenbury from the centre of town, and also avoids additional street parking pressures on the – already inadequate – parking places in the roads and streets of Hawkenbury,” he added.

Nu-Venture owner Norman Kemp told the Times: “The commercial bus operators who operate these services will have to make changes from time to time or withdraw services.

“We also depend on passenger numbers and it’s a basic rule of business that if income is insufficient or costs increase, it is no different to any other business.”

And Hawkenbury is not the only village to lose bus services.

Operator Arriva is set to cancel and reduce the service on a number of routes from April 17 [Easter Sunday] that serve Tunbridge Wells, East Peckham, Paddock Wood, Pembury, Southborough, High Brooms, Rusthall, The Pantiles and the hospital.

In Pembury, borough and county councillor Paul Barrington-King, said he was ‘100 per cent against any cuts to Pembury’s buses’.

“The 6A is the big one,” he said, referring to the route that takes passengers from East Peckham to Tunbridge Wells via Paddock Wood and Pembury, including a stop at the hospital, on weekdays.

Christopher Burley, Commercial Director, at Arriva said passenger numbers had dropped by 30 per cent since the pandemic.

He added: “Before Covid we had identified lower customer demand across some services in the area and these have not improved post Covid where we are only carrying around 70 per cent of the numbers before the pandemic.

“As a result of this we have made changes whereby service frequencies have been reduced.”

Meanwhile, Go Coach, which is also reducing a number of services including the 208, has blamed the ‘horror of fuel price rises’ for the cuts.

David Hunt, spokesman for the company, said in addition to falling passenger numbers ‘we have the horror of fuel price rises, the like of which has never previously been seen’.

He added: “Clearly no-one wants to lose their bus service as it represents a vital link for many people, but bus companies are commercial businesses and must at least cover their costs to remain in business.”


The proposed service cuts

Proposed budget cuts to bus services include:

  • Cancelled: Sunday Bus 6’s diversion through Pembury (Arriva);
  • Cancelled: Monday-Saturday Bus 208 from East Peckham to Tonbridge and Pembury (Go-Coach, though Autocar would continue a parallel route);
  • Cancelled: Wednesday/ Friday/ Saturday Bus 255 between Benenden and Tunbridge Wells, via Hawkhurst, Flimwell and Lamberhurst (Autocar);
  • Cut: One early departure on Monday-Friday Bus 277 Henwood Green to Tunbridge Wells (Arriva);
  • Cancelled: Monday/ Thursday/ Saturday Bus 296 from Paddock Wood to Tunbridge Wells via Horsmonden, Brenchley and Kippings Cross (Autocar);
  • Cancelled: The ‘dial-a-ride’ Tunbridge Wells Kent Karrier, transporting those in isolated rural areas or who because of age or disability cannot use buses and trains (Compaid).

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