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Last day for Park and Ride in Maidstone as falling passenger numbers sees Maidstone Borough Council and Arriva close the service


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A town says goodbye to its Park and Ride today - a service which has carried passengers for 33 years.

After today there will be no more routes running to Maidstone town centre from Willington Street and London Road.

Maidstone councillor Brian Clark at the Park and Ride site
Maidstone councillor Brian Clark at the Park and Ride site

When it first launched in November 1989, people could choose from four parking sites around the town - Willington Street, London Road plus Sittingbourne Road and Coombe Quarry.

Coombe Quarry stopped running in 2007 and was turned into housing and the 506 service from Sittingbourne Road shut in 2016 after Maidstone council couldn't reach an agreement over the lease with landowners Gallagher Properties.

Tumbling passenger numbers, thanks to the pandemic sealed the fate of the service which ran from the remaining two bases.

Arriva, which took it over in 2019, had asked Maidstone council for extra money on top of the £162,000 it gives the operator every year.

Council talks, some of which were held in secret, revealed the Park and Ride buses were carrying around 500 passengers a day, with Arriva saying it needed to carry 1,100 to break even.

The Park and Ride bus pictured in 1990 just one year after the service launched
The Park and Ride bus pictured in 1990 just one year after the service launched

Maidstone council leader David Burton says his authority was subsidising the service in four ways, saying: "We pay for all the infrastructure at a cost of around £160,000 a year. Arriva wants another £200,000. KCC subsidizes many of those who use it with bus passes and we give free rides to our own staff."

But while finances were discussed in council circles, many of those using the Willington Street site for the last time yesterday revealed they too would be hit hard in the pocket.

An adult off peak day return starts from £2, peak return is £3.20 while a weekly ticket is £12.50 and an annual season ticket is £450.

The cheapest parking in council-run car parks in town start from £4.20 for four hours in a short-stay venue, while for anything over five hours in a long-stay car park the fee is £7.30.

Angela Relf, from Downswood who is a pharmacist in town said: "It's so disgusting. I work at a pharmacy and had to work through the pandemic without the Park and Ride and a season ticket cost me near enough £500 it's ridiculous.

The yellow Park and Ride buses were a familiar site in Maidstone during the noughties
The yellow Park and Ride buses were a familiar site in Maidstone during the noughties
The Willington Street Park and Ride pictured a day before the service closed for good
The Willington Street Park and Ride pictured a day before the service closed for good

"I do not live far form Maidstone but I'll have to pay through the nose just to get into town."

Loretta Town from Roseacre, who works in Sainsbury's in Maidstone said: "They take away this service then that means I have to wait an hour just to do the same route on a different service which is already bad enough."

Denise Whiffen from Shepway who works in HSBC bank said: "It's a real shame because I have been using this service for about two years but now I am going to have to drive to work which is going to cost more than double what I pay here on parking. My best option is to park in the train station but that will cost £6.50 a day.

Michael Jennings, Arriva's area head of commercial - Kent, Surrey and Essex - said: “I would like to thank all of our Park and Ride customers and our dedicated Park and Ride team who have been amazing throughout the difficult times associated with the pandemic.

"Myself and the rest of the team have done everything we can to keep us from having to make this difficult decision, but unfortunately it has not been possible on this occasion.”

Happier times in 2004 when 11 new park and ride buses were handed over to then council officials Trevor Gasson, Cllr Malcolm Robertson and Cllr Kevin Hawkins, with Malcolm Spalding, then commercial manager at Arriva Picture: John Westhrop
Happier times in 2004 when 11 new park and ride buses were handed over to then council officials Trevor Gasson, Cllr Malcolm Robertson and Cllr Kevin Hawkins, with Malcolm Spalding, then commercial manager at Arriva Picture: John Westhrop
Dave Ellis, from the parking office, checks his radio for the last time as some of the last travellers wait at Coombe Quarry in 2007
Dave Ellis, from the parking office, checks his radio for the last time as some of the last travellers wait at Coombe Quarry in 2007
A packed Coombe Quarry Park and Ride car park in 2007 Picture: Matthew Walker
A packed Coombe Quarry Park and Ride car park in 2007 Picture: Matthew Walker

Cllr Paul Cooper (Con), MBC's chairman of the strategic planning and infrastructure committee, said: “We know that there has been a modest increase in the number of people using the service as lockdown restrictions initially lifted.

“However passengers have not returned to use the service and numbers have not met pre-pandemic levels which has made it very difficult for Arriva.

“We understand how hard it has been for any business trying to survive in these very unusual circumstances and one which none of us could have predicted.

“The council has facilitated the Park and Ride service as much as we possibly could prior to and throughout Covid, but understands why Arriva has made the decision to withdraw the service.”

Similar issues are facing Canterbury, where council bosses are planning to to mothball the Sturry Road site for two years following a drastic fall in passenger numbers since the pandemic struck. The move would save the city council £360,000 a year.

The Sittingbourne Road Park and Ride service stopped running in 2016 and the land is near where the new M&S stands at Eclipse Park Picture: Martin Apps
The Sittingbourne Road Park and Ride service stopped running in 2016 and the land is near where the new M&S stands at Eclipse Park Picture: Martin Apps
A new fleet of buses were unveiled in 2019, left to right: drivers Kenneth D'Souza and Jason Hood, with Arriva area MD Oliver Monahan and regional MD south Simon Loh Picture: Chris Davey
A new fleet of buses were unveiled in 2019, left to right: drivers Kenneth D'Souza and Jason Hood, with Arriva area MD Oliver Monahan and regional MD south Simon Loh Picture: Chris Davey
Bob Bumstead was the driver of the last ever 506 bus which ran to Sittingbourne Road Picture: Matthew Walker
Bob Bumstead was the driver of the last ever 506 bus which ran to Sittingbourne Road Picture: Matthew Walker

Maidstone council had attracted criticism from some of its own for holding part of the Park and Ride discussion in private.

Deputy leader, Jonathan Purle, revealed he'd found out the closure had been approved about 'half an hour after the decision had been made.'

He added: "I do hope that in future we could avoid the situation where critical services are able to close without some sort of public engagement."

Stuart Jeffery, a Green party campaigner, said: "It's frustrating to hear of the closure of Park and Ride which will increase traffic on Maidstone’s already gridlocked and badly polluted roads.

“The closure will likely mean more traffic heading into the town centre and adding to the town's traffic woes – unless other measures are put into place.

The Willington Street Park and Ride on Friday
The Willington Street Park and Ride on Friday

"Currently, Maidstone Borough Council subsidises Arriva with £162,000 each year, money that should now be invested in real alternatives to car travel."

Today, to mark the last day, Carl Underwood hopes to run his green ex Maidstone & District Leyland National Bus over the current and previous Park & Ride Bus Routes, as a Farewell Road Run from around 11am to about 3pm.

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