The 572 service from Watts Cross was cancelled by Arriva ‘due to insufficient usage’ just weeks before the start of the academic year last September.
The decision provoked anger from parents since pupils were forced to walk down country lanes without pavements in the dark.
They launched the Bring Back the 572 campaign, which has led to another company providing a 10-week trial of a new service from Thursday [January 3].
‘Arriva had no answers for parents that queried how this full bus was unprofitable and needed axing when buses travelling almost empty with just a couple of shoppers in the mid-morning were not’
The project is backed by Harry Rayner, Kent County Council [KCC] member for Malling West, who put in £2,500 from his discretionary fund; Hildenborough Parish Council has contributed £1,000.
Cllr Rayner said: “I was kept in the dark and knew nothing of the decision by Arriva to cease the 572 bus service until Hildenborough parents began protesting at their loss of service.”
It is hoped the new 200S bus, provided by the Sevenoaks company Go Coach, will prove that enough children use it to justify the 572’s reinstatement on a permanent basis.
Go Coach, which is not directly funded by KCC but is paid for the number of passengers it picks up, runs the shuttle bus between the village and the station. The new route will replace the last commuter shuttle of the morning.
The campaign was launched by Kirsty Alfredson, a mother of two girls who live on Mill Lane.
She called a public meeting in Hildenborough village hall, which was attended by representatives of Arriva and more than 80 residents.
She also commissioned a report from highway engineer Les Henry, which was submitted to KCC.
Mr Henry concluded: “There is no safe route to access alternative bus services.
“The cost savings made by withdrawing the 572 bus route do not outweigh the probability of personal injuries to children travelling to and from school and therefore the bus service should be reintroduced at the earliest opportunity.”
Mrs Alfredson told the Times: “Parents are angry that children are being left at bus stops, getting to school late and are expected to walk dangerous lanes with no footpaths or lighting.
“I do question Arriva’s low usage argument as the bus used on the route was always full.
“Arriva themselves confirmed at the meeting the average usage was 35 children per trip. That’s on a 28-seater bus with standing room for 15.”
Tonbridge Grammar School, The Judd School and Hillview School for Girls are supporting the restoration of the service. Hillview’s Headteacher Hilary Burkett said the cancellation had led to the greatest number of transport complaints this year.
“Arriva had no answers for parents that queried how this full bus was unprofitable and needed axing when buses travelling almost empty with just a couple of shoppers in the mid-morning were not,” said Mrs Alfredson, who claims Arriva calculated the loop around the lanes costs £1.50.
“Arriva and KCC alleged that the trip around the lanes only picked up six children, but the number is confirmed at 20 with more starting next year.”
She adds that the loss of the 572 has had a damaging knock-on effect on other services. “The drop in capacity is the straw that broke the camel’s back and it’s causing chaos.
“Children in Hildenborough are waiting at least half an hour in the morning as full buses pass.
“And in the afternoon Hildenborough children are getting on buses destined for Sevenoaks and Kemsing etc., forcing the children going there to wait for later and later buses.”
Tom Tugendhat, the MP for Tonbridge & Malling, has been campaigning hard to stop bus cuts.
He said “I’m pleased that we have a solution to the issue of bus capacity in Hildenborough.
“I’m grateful to Go Coach and Harry Rayner for making this happen. It really is a case of ‘use it or lose it’ so I hope that it is well supported and can remain for the long term.”
How the new service works
The 200S starts at the entrance of Mill Lane at 7.54am, travels along Vines Lane and Riding Lane before rejoining the B245 in the village.
It returns from Hillview at 3.50pm, calling at Weald of Kent and Tonbridge Girls Grammar before arriving back at Mill Lane at 4.25pm.