Parents face 'extortionate' 18% price hike for Kent school bus pass

A Kent bus
The cost of the Kent Travel Saver (KTS) will rise from £450 to £550 next term, affecting nearly 14,000 students -Credit:LDRS

Parents are facing an inflation-busting price hike for a Kent school bus pass - with the increase slammed as "extortionate" by one angry mum. 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. It said it was able to hold the cost in 2023-24 because of funding provided through the Department for Transport’s Bus Improvement Plan.

But the price increase in the 2024-25 term will go up by 18.18 per cent due to “operation inflation”. A low-income pass will remain at £120 and a limited number will be free to some users, such as carers.

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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. 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.

Amanda Clarke, whose teenage daughter Aimee attends Knole Academy in Sevenoaks, says she feels “really angry” about the rise
Amanda Clarke, whose teenage daughter Aimee attends Knole Academy in Sevenoaks, says she feels “really angry” about the rise -Credit:LDRS

Mum Amanda Clarke, a 55-year-old NHS worker whose teenage daughter Aimee attends Knole Academy in Sevenoaks, seven miles 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.”

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.”

Margate Labour Councillor Barry Lewis
Margate Labour Councillor Barry Lewis -Credit:LDRS

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.

Council says cost is being kept 'as low as possible"

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 per cent 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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