Two Kent operators quit London commuter market

Fresh signs of decline in commuter coach travel between Kent and London have come with two operators — Buzzlines and Chalkwell — announcing their withdrawal from the market.

Buzzlines withdrew its 737 service from Ashford after 28 April, citing declining passenger numbers on a route first provided by Swinard’s of Ashford in the 1980s. Subsequently acquired by Australian-owned Westbus, it was later taken over by Hythebased Buzzlines, after Westbus closed its Kent business. It was the most easterly of those running between Kent and London.

Unable to compete with the fast journey times possible by high-speed train between Ashford and central London, the route was restructured in April last year to terminate in east London at Canary Wharf, where the road journey from Kent via the Blackwall Tunnel still offered some advantages for door-to-door times.

Annual fares were, at a little over £3,000, around half the cost of a rail season, and as a further incentive, Buzzlines offered a rebate to customers who purchased a Travelcard to commute beyond Canary Wharf.

Buzzlines’ announcement was followed by Chalkwell deciding to cease its services during May, saying that the ‘commercial viability of operating our own services has reached a level where it is no longer sustainable’.

Chalkwell had run commuter services from the Swale area since the failure of Smith’s of Sittingbourne in 1992. It later inherited Maidstone area routes from Arriva’s New Enterprise Coaches, which in turn were remnants of the once extensive Invictaway network started by Maidstone& District.

It numbered these routes originally in an E series, harking back to Maidstone& District’s express coach services, but Transport for London later allocated 731 to cover all variations to Swale.

Latterly, three coaches ran from Sittingbourne and one from Maidstone. Ten years ago, it used 10. Both areas are also served by other operators and Chalkwell has reached an arrangement with National Express-owned Kings Ferry, which will accept Chalkwell passengers on its coaches, provided they exchange their paper smartcards for boarding passes that can be scanned by Kings Ferry’s mobile ticketing system.