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Bus passes face 18% hike by Kent County Council affecting 14,000 holders

Additional reporting by Gabriel Morris

Parents are angry at proposals to raise school bus passes by an inflation-busting price 18%.

The Kent Travel Saver (KTS) will rise from £450 to £550 next term, affecting nearly 14,000 students.

KTS, offered by Kent County Council (KCC), is a discretionary travel concession aimed at secondary school students.

KCC was able to hold the cost in 2023-24 because of funding provided through the Department for Transport’s Bus Improvement Plan.

But in the 2024-25 term, the price has been hiked by 18.18% due to “operation inflation” - a move described as “extortionate” by one parent.

A low-income pass will remain at £120 and a limited number will be free to some users, such as carers.

The issue will come up for discussion by members of the Environment and Transport Cabinet Committee next Tuesday (May 21) at County Hall in Maidstone.

Amanda Clarke, whose daughter Aimee is at Knowle Academy and affected by bus pass price increase
Amanda Clarke, whose daughter Aimee is at Knowle Academy and affected by bus pass price increase

Papers state that without DfT subsidies, next term’s cost could have been as high as £650. The current total of bus passes is 13,376 with an additional 2,500 on low income tickets.

Mum Amanda Clarke, a 55-year-old NHS worker whose teenage daughter Aimee attends Knole Academy in Sevenoaks, seven miles away from their West Kingsdown home, says she feels “really angry” about the rise.

She added: “I have no choice but to pay it because I have to work. But I can see other parents using the car instead.

“I don’t expect it to be free but I think £100 is extortionate and would like to know where the money goes.”

Chairman Cllr Sean Holden said the price increases are largely determined by the charges set by the bus companies who provide the service.

He added: “Most of the county councils in the country do not do this. It still represents value for money and around £1.45 per trip - cheaper than if we were not providing the subsidy.”

Cllr Sean Holden, Kent County Council
Cllr Sean Holden, Kent County Council
The cost of the Kent Travel Saver Card over time
The cost of the Kent Travel Saver Card over time

The KCC papers state: “Even at £550 the pass is still considered to provide value to the user.

“When compared over 190 school days, the KTS will still deliver a daily cost of £2.89 or £1.45 per trip.

“This is lower than commercial daily bus fares and lower than the £2 fare cap, which ends December 24.

“The KTS also still provides significant value against a number of operator period tickets, which can range in price from £550 to £1400 per academic year.”

Margate Labour member, Cllr Barry Lewis said: “This is a Tory stealth tax. It is nearly six times the rate of inflation and yet again the Kent tax-payers are going to have to pick up the tab for Tory austerity measures.”

KCC cllr Barry Lewis, Margate, Labour
KCC cllr Barry Lewis, Margate, Labour

KCC is taking a forensic approach to its finances as it faces having to make tens of millions of pounds in savings to make the books balance next year.

If the authority fails to do so, it faces having to issue a section 114 notice - an admission of effective bankruptcy.

Green Party KCC member Cllr Mark Hood said: “The difference in the savings parents can make on the bus pass is narrowing, so why wouldn’t people get into their cars?

“Environmental considerations are totally disregarded in this.”

The 16-plus travel card will also go up to £600.

Hertfordshire County Council is backing cheaper bus travel
Hertfordshire County Council is backing cheaper bus travel

A Kent County Council (KCC) statement said: “This funding is being used again this year to help keep the cost to parents as low as possible but, in light of the considerable financial pressures the council faces to maintain its statutory services, the cost of the pass is needed to increase so that we can continue to provide the scheme within current subsidy levels.

"Even with this increase, depending on the journey being made, a full-cost Travel Saver pass can save up to 50% on the cost of bus travel compared to operator tickets. The council does not control buses, but this is a way that we can continue to help parents with cost and encourage the use of bus services to get to school.”

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