Courtesy Lewis Smith. Attribution-2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Flagship bus routes in Dartford are set to see service cuts from April this year as government funding for buses is withdrawn.
Two Fastrack routes run from Dartford via different routes to the north and south. Fastrack A cuts will see a reduction throughout the day from 6 to 5 buses per hour from 3 April 2022. It runs north from Dartford through a lauded “green” development towards Bluewater via Greenhithe passing hundreds of recently constructed homes.
Fastrack B will see the same cuts. It runs from Dartford south to Darent Valley Hospital then onto Bluewater, Ebbsfleet – passing near new housing – and then Gravesend.
It’s not the only bad news for passengers, as fares increased again last week.
Across Kent many more bus cuts are proposed and Kent County Council have launched a consultation on routes supported by the authority. They state:
“To meet the financial challenge being posed by this year’s budget, KCC’s Public Transport team has been asked to reduce planned spending on this funding by £2.2m. To achieve this reduction, we would need to end 48 contracts with a total value of £3m which would affect around 55 supported bus services from Summer 2022.”
Since bus deregulation outside London in the 1980s, private companies operate profitable routes and the taxpayer is expected to pay for socially beneficial routes that make a loss. With regulation, profits from some routes can cross-subsidise those that are loss making.
Authorities lost the ability to set timetables, fares, and general service quality. In recent months Manchester and Liverpool have announced plans to take greater control of buses. In areas like Kent, nothing is planned. for more direct control over services, so while the taxpayer continues to pump money in, Arriva continue to offer little.
North Kent is seeing some of the highest levels of housing growth in the country, with Ebbsfleet alone seeing 15,000 homes and the development corporation expanding to include sites miles from Ebbslfeet itself, yet there appears minimal ambition to marry that to reliable, high quality public transport. Almost 1,000 homes are planned in Northfleet.
It’s not just bus routes that suffer from the deregulated services but also poor standards across the board. Arriva run Fastrack and most buses in Dartford, offering high fares and very poor information. The Fastrack website itself hasn’t been updated for years.
The general website is far from great either. Searching Fastrack for timetables didn’t show anything at first. It took quite a few attempts. Searching “Fastrack” showed nothing when asked for routes. Searching for Dartford eventually showed it.
Despite higher fares, cutbacks and poor information Fastrack is what authorities are pinning their hopes on as thousands of homes are built in places like Ebbsfleet. £5 million is being spent on a new route as we speak. How many people will bother to use it given service standards is another question. The pandemic has hit hard of course, though looking ahead the sheer number of new homes should ensure decent ridership levels, but if it’s expensive and infrequent, car use will only grow – and places like Dartford are already creaking under high levels of congestion.