Plans to axe dozens of bus services across Kent have been postponed after a Tory rebellion.
Earlier this year, Kent County Council agreed to cut 38 subsidised trips across the county in October.
Their "reckless" decision was called in by opposition councillors to be debated in public at County Hall, Maidstone, this morning.
A small group stood outside the county council's HQ with signs to protest against the proposed cuts which would see the local authority save £2.2million to combat significant budget pressures.
Following a two-hour scrutiny meeting about the bus cuts, which were due to come into effect from late August to October, councillors detailed the "avalanche of emails" they'd received from concerned residents.
The chamber heard how parents would be left to choose between keeping their jobs or dropping their children off at school, while adults will be questioning whether they can afford to get a taxi to the hospital.
Conservative councillor Harry Raynor called for the cuts to be postponed and debated at a full council meeting later next month – this was seconded by meeting chairman fellow Tory Andy Booth.
In total, nine councillors, including a handful of Conservatives, voted for the postponement, while two – Cllr Dylan Jeffrey and Cllr Rory Love OBE – voted against it.
The plans have been strongly criticised by residents and councillors who have objected to the cuts and demanded it be considered by KCC's scrutiny committee.
It was called in by Green Party councillor Rich Lehmann, who labelled it "reckless", and Mike Sole, from the Liberal Democrats.
They believe the impact these subsidy cuts will have to communities across Kent – particularly the rural communities affected, and the elderly, disabled and low-income members of those communities – is "too great a cost" for the savings these measures will bring.
The formal challenge comes months after transport chiefs defended the large scale cuts, which they say were needed to achieve a balanced budget and secure the local authority's financial security.
The council has invested £6.6million to support 127 bus services, which are deemed socially important to the local community but not financially profitable.
Councillors were concerned over how much money it would cost the council to offer free transport for those who will miss out due to the bus cuts – questioning whether it would be more than the £2.2m saved.
Cllr Sole said the cuts would lead to more cars on the roads as parents take their children to school and the council would be "taking a backwards step towards their net zero target.
'They will be saying do I move my child to another school? Shall I not go to hospital?'
Cllr David Brazier hit back at people opposing the cuts and said concerned residents and councillors had a "fundamental misunderstanding" of the issue – claiming people were conflating the cuts to 38 subsidised bus services and that of commercial service cuts from providers.
Chairman Andy Booth seconded the move to postpone, and said: "We are in an extremely difficult time here. Life is getting tougher and the pound is getting smaller.
"I feel for the parents of youngsters trying to get them to school. It is an utter nightmare."
Cllr Trudy Dean said residents would be left with hard choices to make if the cuts went through. She said: "They will be saying do I move my child to another school? Shall I not go to hospital?
"Much of the Malling area would need to change school and struggle to get to Maidstone Hospital."
Cllr Rory Love, who was against postponing, called on councillors to come up with a solution which would generate an estimated £3million to keep the buses running.
"Talking about bus services doesn't make them anymore viable to the operator," he added.
"People who use another service which will be cut as a result will be impacted. We need the money to be there, we can't magic up money."
Cllr Barry Lewis joked during the meeting their people would be left with three choices if cuts were approved – lose their jobs, pay for taxis, or make it legal for 12-year-olds to drive.
But he described the rebellion as similar to a last minute equaliser, and hopes momentum leads to the cuts being scrapped.
Jane Sinclaire, from Westerham, was outside County Hall with her daughter protesting at the cuts which would see her son affected.
"The alternative is unworkable and unsafe," she said.
"I don't think Kent County Council would have gone ahead with these cuts if they had known what they know now."
Among others angry about the move is Emma Butler, who says the cuts will leave her son, Rory, with no way to get to school.
The 12-year-old Borden Grammar pupil currently makes his way into Sittingbourne via Chalkwell’s 332 bus, one of the routes due to be slashed in October.
Emma said: “I was shocked to hear it was being axed as it is the only school bus in the area.
“Travel Line confirmed that, after the bus cuts, there would be no routes available from our home to Rory’s school nor the nearest school to our address, Westlands School.
“KCC explained that, by sending Rory to the grammar school and not the nearest establishment to my house, they couldn’t help.
“However, if I decided to move Rory to Westlands, my closest school, then the council said they would intervene and pay for a taxi each day to get him to and from school.
“I don’t want to move Rory. He has just got settled after his first year. He has friends, sports clubs and is doing well.
“I don’t want to lift him out of that just because the council wants to save some money and cancel his school bus.
“I’ve been a teacher for almost 20 years but these bus cuts are causing me to choose between my job and my child. Ultimately I will choose my son.”
The matter will now go back to the council's cabinet where they can choose to proceed with the plans or rescind them.
If they are rescinded, they won't go before full council, but if they choose to proceed they will be heard at the meeting later this year.
After the meeting Cllr Rich Lehmann said “I am delighted and surprised in equal measure at the outcome of today's meeting.
To have such strong support for our cause from so many of the Conservative councillors on the committee underlines the fact that people power works. If enough residents contact their elected representatives about issues like this to show opposition, they have the power to change opinions.”
“I hope that next month's full council meeting will give these cuts the scrutiny they deserve in light of the hugely challenging times households across Kent are now facing.
"These buses are relied upon by some of the most vulnerable residents across our county, and to push ahead with the cuts when there are still so many unanswered questions relating to how much the council will actually save and what the carbon impact will be would be unnecessarily reckless.”