Plans unveiled to get people back on the buses

Measures to get more people using buses, including cheaper fares for under-19s, new rural services, bus priority improvements and traffic filters to reduce journey times, are set to be introduced in Oxfordshire.

Oxfordshire County Council’s cabinet has approved its draft enhanced partnership (EP) document for submission to the government. The EP sets out plans by the county council, bus operators and its partners, to help bring passenger levels back to pre-pandemic levels.

It also sets out how the county council intends to spend the £12.7 million it was earmarked to receive from the government earlier this year, following its Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) bid. Although this was significantly less than the £56m which the council bid for, the money will be prioritised on schemes which maximise the benefit for passengers.

Councillor Andrew Gant, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Highways Management, said: “Effective public transport is key to many of our priorities as a council. We want to invest in an inclusive, integrated and sustainable countywide transport network, fit for the 21st century, and significantly reduce reliance on car journeys. Buses are also central to helping address the climate emergency and tackling inequalities in the county.

“The bus companies have been hit hard by the pandemic, shortages of drivers and uncertainty over financial support from the government. Through our ambitious plans we aim to tackle these problems and look forward to working with the bus companies on improving the situation for the county’s existing and future passengers.”

The measures contained in the EP aim to increase bus usage by:

  • keeping buses at the heart of decision making
  • making buses faster and more reliable
  • upgrading bus infrastructure
  • improving the image of buses
  • making buses easier to access and understand.

Once the draft EP has been submitted and consulted upon, the final version will be submitted to the government later this year to secure the £12.7m BSIP funding.

Bus passenger levels are currently running at between 75 and 80 per cent of pre-COVID levels. Without improvements and action, including continued government financial support, services may have to be reviewed later this year.

As a result, Oxfordshire County Council is proactively working with partners by hosting a bus summit in Oxford on 24 June to explore what can be done to help the industry. A marketing campaign is also due to begin later this month aimed at highlighting the financial advantage of taking the bus over the car, where possible, during the current cost of living crisis.

Earlier this year, the county council and bus companies Go-Ahead and Stagecoach were successful in their bid to bring 159 electric buses to Oxford and its surrounding areas. The bid received £32.8 million from the government’s Zero Emission Bus Regional Areas scheme meaning that, along with £6m from the council and £43.7m from bus companies, the package for buses and the infrastructure to charge them is worth £82.5m.

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