Community Transport in Staple and surrounding villages
Most of us are aware of the withdrawal of a bus service in Staple and the surrounding villages. Following on from the meeting in St James's Church last year we have been researching options to augment the school buses (during term time) and the twice a week Regent coach service.
The following is a summary of the current situation:
It is unlikely that Stagecoach will be prepared to re-instate any services and Regent Coaches are not able to run any further coaches unless additional funding is available - as we all know there have been a number of cuts to the services that Kent County Council can support, including public transport. We have therefore, with the support of the Parish Council, looked to alternative means of providing some form of passenger transport for Staple and nearby villages that have lost most, or all of their bus services.
There are several alternatives in Kent and we have been in contact with two such services that have been operating a Community Transport service for members of their villages.
One is a dial-a-ride service run by Thanet Community Transport Association (TCTA) and provided primarily for disabled and/or elderly customers . We have met with them and they run a very efficient service.
They had been asked by Craig Mackinlay to put forward a business plan to expand their service into our area (with Staple specifically in mind) - he has also signposted them towards a number of potential sources of financial support.
This a large-scale operation, which operates 60+ minibuses (using exclusively paid drivers) under a Section 19 permit (pre-booked journeys for members only, membership fee required, bus passes not accepted).
They in fact run two separate schemes. One of these is already available to Staple residents on a Thursday (collection from home, with a choice three drop off points in Sandwich, six in Deal and return to home). Membership is £5 per year, and a round trip costs £3.50.
he other scheme (the one which they are being encouraged to extend to our area) currently operates in Thanet only (collection from home, transport to a destination of the customer’s choice, assistance where necessary and return to home). Membership is £20 per year, return trip £8.50.
The other service we have looked at is the Stockbury Community Bus - this runs under a Section 22 permit, operating scheduled services for registered members from Stockbury and the surrounding villages.
Registration is free, and available to all. It operates three times per week with volunteer drivers, and takes passengers to either Sittingbourne, Maidstone or Hempstead Valley. The return fare is £5.00 except for bus pass holders, who travel free - the scheme is reimbursed for the bus pass journeys by KCC.
The scheme has been running since 2010, initially with a bus loaned by KCC, and now with a 17 seater bus purchased about 2 years ago with financial support from KCC. We understand that the scheme also receives support from KCC in respect of running costs, but we are not aware of the detail.
It is interesting to note that Stockbury has a broadly similar population to Staple (691 souls as at the 2011 Census, vs. 771 in Staple) and the mean age is also very close (40 and 42 years respectively).
We are of the opinion at the moment that, in the event of Staple remaining without a regular bus service, a fixed route community-based scheme, running to a timetable on maybe two or three days of the week, with a low membership fee and a low cost return fare (but with bus pass holders travelling free) would probably represent the best alternative. There could also be the possibility of a shuttle service at specified times to link in with main bus route at Ash and Wingham. However, we are looking at the viability of all options and are in discussion with KCC, TCTA and our County Councillor to establish how best such projects might be funded. We intend to canvass opinion within the village and if we receive a positive response we would also intend to contact our surrounding villages to enlist their support.
We will keep you informed with updates in The Escallop, meanwhile if you have any suggestions or comments please email either Malcolm (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Roger (email@example.com) or drop a note into Fagus, The Street.