Last Thursday evening I went to a ‘consultation’ meeting about the future of our bus services organised by Kent County Council and held in St Mary’s Bay village hall. I stood by the door and listened, making notes about what people said. I’m sure some people thought I was a journalist! But I wanted to listen and help raise the alarm about what’s happening.
The room was packed with people absolutely furious about the recent changes made by Stagecoach to local bus routes. Some people walked out because the meeting was supposed to be looking at future options, but we have a crisis NOW!
Lack of bus provision prevented people attending
Some people couldn’t get there – because there was no bus late enough to take them home again after (you couldn’t make it up). There should be meetings elsewhere too – why have Hythe, Folkestone and other towns been missed out?
Fears for the High Street, worries about children’s safety
The stories people told about the impact of the changes were horrendous. There is currently NO bus that goes down New Romney high street. Local businesses spoke about their fears for the high street. Parents of children at the Marsh Academy highlighted that the bus that used to collect their children and drop them straight home has been axed. They are worried about safety as children have to wait longer or face impossibly long walks home. One woman who works in end of life care, yes you read that correctly, now has a TWO hour commute to work from thanks to the changes. One young woman spoke about her difficulties getting home from her Saturday job; a pensioner asked what happened to the promise that no-one would be more than an hour’s journey from a hospital – several hours is now common.
KCC have no control over the privatised bus service
The situation is totally unacceptable. KCC officers freely admitted they have no control over privatised bus services and couldn’t stop the changes. They seemed helpless in the face of what is happening and said they could not step in and plug the gaps left by Stagecoach. They said they would call Stagecoach management in and pass on our concerns, but judging by the company’s approach to answering emails/letters they are banging their heads against a brick wall. One woman said she had got a reply to her letter, but it was dated December 2016 so they couldn’t even get that right!!
Uber-style bus service idea floated
As for the future, one man said KCC appear to be looking at an Uber style business model and technology. Many people in the room pointed out they don’t have smart phones. Asked if they would be prepared to give up their concessions and pay more for these revamped services, people shouted NO. We already have the lowest pensions in Europe so why should older members of our community lose their free bus passes by the back door.
Bring the buses back into public ownership
It was absolutely clear at last night’s meeting that people just want a bus service that’s reliable so they can get to their job, to the GP and the hospital, buses that they can actually get on – not massively overcrowded, that are accessible for disabled people and parents and are affordable. Its not rocket science. Let’s run them for people not for the profits of Stagecoach or hamstrung by KCC budget cuts. Buses are a community asset and we want them back! That’s what everyone should write on the ‘consultation’ forms.
2017 General Election Labour Candidate for Folkestone & Hythe Constituency