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Big Conversation on bus services by Kent County Council - meetings at Dover, Margate, Romney Marsh, Canterbury and Tenterden

By Sam Lennon

Privatised bus services need to be controlled more to work properly for people.

To much focus is on profit rather than fully directing services to where they are needed.

That's the view of Dover and Deal Green Party in the run-up to a public consultation, called The Big Conversation, on rural bus services by Kent County Council.

The first consultation meeting is at Dover Town Hall next Tuesday.
The first consultation meeting is at Dover Town Hall next Tuesday.

The first of 11 public meetings in the county takes place in Dover next Tuesday.

Others follow at Canterbury, Margate, Tenterden and Romney Marsh.

Beccy Sawbridge, Green Party Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Dover and Deal, said: "We need an integrated public policy that does not leave most of our vulnerable citizens stranded because it is subject to the wants of market forces.

"Bus travel is a necessity for the poorest among us and therefore needs to be a high priority."

Beccy Sawbridge of the Green Party. Picture: Alan Langley
Beccy Sawbridge of the Green Party. Picture: Alan Langley

The Greens argue that there is no regulation on privatised bus services like on privatised utilities.

It means that bus providers have to make profit for shareholders but have no obligation to provide a public service.

Routes therefore may not always go to where they are needed and KCC can do very little except provide a subsidy for services that Stagecoach, the local operator, says it is losing money on.

A statement from the local party said: "Giving private companies a free hand to provide a public service doesn't work and the law needs to be changed to give democratically elected bodies more say.

"It is unacceptable that old people can't visit their friends, disabled people are stuck at home and children return home along unpaved, unlit country lanes.

"Many people can't afford a car but everybody needs to visit their doctor, go shopping and maintain social contact."

Last September Stagecoach had a big shake-up of services in Dover with less-used town services withdrawn and a reduction in frequency on most Dover local routes on Saturday afternoons.

Routes in some villages, such as Shepherdswell and Eythorne, were taken away and only buses for some school journeys were left in their place.

But Stagecoach also had replacement services and stressed that it was targeting under-used routes.

Public consultation on bus services begins next week. Stock image.
Public consultation on bus services begins next week. Stock image.

The Greens complain that services are decided by private providers and KCC usually only gets involved after a decision is made cutbacks.

Its statement says: "Any Big Conversation needs to address the problems caused by allowing what is in effect, in East Kent, a private monopoly to provide a public service.

"KCC should research the need for bus routes and ensure that appropriate services are provided.

"Bus services should be franchised and regulated by councils.

"We should encourage networked local and not-for-profit community providers rather than private monopolies."

Around 97% of journeys in Kent are run by private operators, such as Arriva and Stagecoach, with over 50 operators covering 600 services or routes.

KCC issues more than 298,000 concessionary travel bus passes for the elderly and disabled.

The Big Conversation asks people which rural bus services KCC should keep running and support with subsidies.

The consultation comes after the authority backed away from earlier plans to slash £2 million from its budget after a storm of protest - including from many MPs.

A spokesman for Stagechach said: "It's great that people are talking about bus services in east Kent and we welcome KCC's Big Conversation.

"More than 95% of the bus services in Kent are provided by commercial operators without any public subsidy and therefore at no risk to the public purse.

"Twenty-five years ago, when Stagecoach first began operating in the county, there had been years of under investment in bus provision resulting in a diminished network and a fleet of just 240 buses. Since then we've seen unprecedented passenger growth and investment in new vehicles and new technology.

"Today Stagecoach operate a thriving network with over 450 buses and many local routes that have been enhanced to frequencies never seen before.

The Dover meeting is at the Town Hall in Biggin Street from 7pm to 9pm next Tuesday.

Other East Kent ones, again from 7pm to 9pm, are at:

Margate Football Club, Hartsdown Park, Hartsdown Road, Margate, on Thursday, June 21.

University of Kent, Canterbury, on Tuesday, July 10.

Homewood School & Sixth Form Centre, Ashford Road, Tenterden, on Wednesday, July 11.

St Mary’s Bay Village Hall, Romney Marsh, Thursday, July 12.

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