Children safe on country lanes as 'people power' bus keeps running

Kirsty Alfredson with Mimi and Lulu Benjamin, who go to Weald of Kent, and Mrs Alfredson's daughter Freya Wynne Thomas, who attends Tonbridge Grammar School

Children safe on country lanes as 'people power' bus keeps running

by Andy Tong | 5th September 2019

A RURAL bus service taking children to school in Tonbridge is set to continue during the new academic year.

The 200S drives around the lanes near Hildenborough, allowing pupils to travel safely in the dark where there are no streetlights or pavements.

It is being run by local company Go Coach after Arriva cancelled the original 572 service ‘due to insufficient usage’ a  year ago, shortly before the start of term.

Parents, local residents, KCC councillor for Malling West Harry Rayner and Hildenborough Parish Council campaigned for its retention.

But when that failed, they approached Go Coach and the councillors contributed £3,500 to help fund a 10-week trial for the 200S last January.

The Sevenoaks company agreed to keep the service going until the summer holidays, monitoring the number of students catching the bus before confirming it will keep running.

Kirsty Alfredson, a mother of two girls who live on Mill Lane, launched the Bring Back the 572 campaign and believes the numbers show the service is a valuable resource.

She said: “We needed to prove that the numbers were there, and we know there are more than 30 children using the bus each day.

“As local residents we always knew there was support for it, and it’s a relief to know they are going back to school with a bus that’s reliable!

“Last year was horrendous, wondering if they would get to school or whether we would all have to jump in the car, drive to Tonbridge and then race back hoping you’d be in time to make work and school for my other daughter.”

She added: “Our lane has no footpath, no street lights and isn’t safe to walk in daylight, let alone in the dark winter months.”

There is no guarantee that the service will continue. Ms Alfredson said: “The way Arriva were doing their figures, it was set up to fail. But even for Go Coach it was never going to be hugely profitable.

“Because the margins are so small, they are constantly monitoring. Every now and again I ask them how it’s going and they say ‘it’s going in the right direction’.

“The one-off grants from Harry and the parish were a kick-starter. That’s all gone now but there’s no need for them to cough up any more.

“Go Coach is a local company that doesn’t get the same funding, there’s no subsidy from Kent County Council. Why shouldn’t they get the same funding as Arriva, who aren’t even a local business?”

Andy Wells, manager at Go Coach, said: “The 200s operates from Monday September 2. The numbers were low at the end of the last academic year so we’re hoping they increase.

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