New Ash Green is a rural village situated within Kentish countryside and is home to around 7000 people. The village was created with the concept of promoting a rural community that also maintained connections with nearby towns, such as Dartford, Gravesend and even London. However, although public transport has allowed New Ash Green access to these areas in the past, it is getting harder for residents without cars to easily travel around Kent, and reach rail services situated as nearby as Longfield, primarily due to an inadequate bus service. With cuts to timetables over the past few months, New Ash Green has been left isolated, with an erratic bus service, leading to people often waiting at bus stops for hours, or never reaching their destination.
Residents are unhappy about these changes to the bus timetable, and in recent months, an online petition reached nearly 350 signatures, campaigning for the proposed cuts to the 489, 423 and 433 bus services to be reviewed. These cuts have left elderly residents and people without cars highly inconvenienced. However, this is not the worst of the problem, as buses are half an hour late on average, and people who use them are completely reliant on these services to get to hospital appointments, work, school and more, therefore this can pose a serious problem to residents.
A shocking incident on Friday the 27th of November left many angry and waiting in the cold, when a bus, due to arrive at 15.35, was forty minutes late, and then left residents stranded in Longfield, waiting for the next bus home. These residents had not only waited for forty minutes in Gravesend in bitterly cold weather, they were left to wait in Longfield after dark for the next bus home, which is not only unpleasant, but something that may distress some members of the community and make them feel unsafe. This also had the effect of leaving many people in New Ash Green and Hartley waiting for a bus that would never come; this is an all too common occurrence, and has a dramatic impact on people when buses are often up to two hours apart. When the bus driver was asked politely why he had decided not to drive all the way to New Ash Green he was unapologetic, and offered no explanation as to why the bus was late.
Ellie Simmons, a student who used the 489 bus service on Friday the 27th of November was appalled and shocked, and as a regular traveller on the 489 she stated that she is ‘fed up of standing in cold and bitter weather, waiting for buses that are either late or never come’, the longest she has had to wait is ‘two and a half hours’ due to a festival within Gravesend, she received no apology when the bus arrived. Although buses being dramatically late is often due to circumstances out of their control, there is often no apology from drivers or Arriva themselves. New Ash Green resident Alex Bowers recalls being on many buses that have simply broken down, describing them as ‘old, inconvenient and unreliable’, and that the service between New Ash Green and Bluewater is particularly bad, with up to three and a half our gaps between buses.
Overall, the bus services between New Ash Green and neighbouring communities are unreliable and infrequent, something bad enough in itself, without residents having to contend with buses regularly being late, not turning up and breaking down. Bus drivers and the helpline regularly provide no explanation or apology for late or non-existent services. For many within New Ash Green and Hartley, these buses are essential, especially for the elderly, who use them to get to and from medical appointments, to get their shopping, pay bills, and even see friends, when walking is simply not a viable option, especially in cold weather. At this point, residents of New Ash Green are not even demanding more buses, they are simply asking that they are on time and take them to where they need to go.
By Jenna Dobbs, Mayfield Grammar School, Gravesend