Saturday 8th January 2022
This week has seen further rationalisation between Go-Ahead owned Oxford Bus and Stagecoach Oxford simplifying which bus company operates which routes. Long gone are the days of intense head-to-head competition between the two operators, now there’s sensible cooperation and coordinated timetables making for an attractive bus network to entice passengers.
Following intense discussions brokered by the county council both companies entered a Voluntary Partnership Agreement back in 2010 which saw a significant number of buses withdrawn from the network but the bonus for passengers was coordinated timetables, new fleets of buses and a new joint smartcard scheme.
It was reported at that time Oxford Bus would withdraw 34 old buses from its 90 bus fleet replacing them with 20 brand new vehicles while Stagecoach would withdraw 35 of its 82 strong fleet with 26 new ones acquired.
In the ensuing decade passengers continued to enjoy very frequent routes with the benefit of modern comfortable environmentally friendly buses and joint ticketing, as well as operators own ticket schemes continuing.
There were still some competitive skirmishes between the two companies including Oxford Bus extending its Water Eaton Park and Ride (renamed Oxford Parkway Park and Ride after the adjacent newly opened station) to Woodstock in 2017 competing with Stagecoach’s route S3 already serving Woodstock en route to Chipping Norton and who in retaliation introduced a new route 7 between Woodstock and the city.
Five years later that skirmish as well as some other city routes served by both companies have just been rationalised as part of updated coordinated timetables introduced earlier this week from Sunday.
Oxfordshire County Council once again oversaw discussions between the two companies and cited the National Bus Strategy as background: “the council worked proactively with operators to identify opportunities for greater efficiencies through the reduction of unnecessary duplication, with the aim of placing the network on a more secure financial footing while minimising impact on passengers“.
The changes are billed as a “network review”. Oxford Bus no longer operate three buses an hour on route 2/2A along Banbury Road to Kidlington and Stagecoach have withdrawn its three buses an hour from route 3/3A along Iffley Road to Rose Hill. The former is now the exclusive preserve of Stagecoach’s route 2/2A with the latter in the hands of just Oxford Bus route 3/3A. In both cases the frequency has reduced from nine buses an hour to a new six buses an hour. Extra peak hour buses run on the 2/2A while the 3/3A has an uneven frequency.
Stagecoach’s half hourly routes 12 and 16 to Greater Leys and Minchery Farm have also ceased with changes to Oxford Bus routes 3A and 5A acting as replacements.
The replacement of Stagecoach route 16 with new Oxford Bus route 5A is like-for-like for residents at the southern end of the route towards the terminus at Minchery Farm, but the change hasn’t gone down so well for people living on the section of route further north towards the city centre just west of Cowley where there’s no replacement bus into the city centre.
It’s inevitable when removing duplication and rationalising routes some passengers will lose out. Here’s a before and after map showing the section of route previously served by former route 16 (now 5A coming from the another direction into Cowley) (in green) and route 20 (in red) which continues …
What’s irked residents of the three roads involved – Cornwallis Road, Florence Park Road and Church Cowley Road – is the low frequency of route 20 and that it only performs a local function in Cowley, whereas route 16 was half hourly and continued into the city centre. Route 5A runs down the Cowley Road which is also served by the high frequency routes 5 and Stagecoach 1, whereas route 16 used Abingdon Road into and out of the city centre.
It looks to me as though these upset city residents are very much in the minority with these changes and most travel needs for the city’s bus passengers are still met.
Routes outside the city are also involved in the review with Stagecoach route S8 from Oxford to Abingdon and Wantage withdrawn in favour of a new route X1 operated by Oxford Bus sister company Thames Travel which is extended in the city to the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre and from Wantage now interworks with route X32 to provide a link to Harwell Campus.
Meanwhile Stagecoach continue its route S9 now running every 20 minutes on the direct route between Oxford and Wantage via East Hanney.
Thames Travel have also introduced new peak hour route 34 to replace the withdrawn Stagecoach route X34 between Abingdon and Harwell Campus.
Other changes see Oxford Bus withdraw its route 500 Water Eaton Park and Ride with Stagecoach’s route 7 amended to call by at Oxford Parkway station and the Park and Ride site as a replacement.
Passengers with tickets already purchased for travel on one of the routes being given up by either Oxford Bus or Stagecoach have been advised to get in touch with the withdrawing company for a refund. It’s a shame a knock-for-knock arrangement couldn’t have been agreed to allow these tickets to continue although I suppose there might be compatibility issues with smartcard based ticket acceptance on different ticket machines.
Even if it wasn’t for the reduced number of passengers travelling as a consequence of the pandemic, these changes make for a sensible rationalisation and still offer attractive frequencies on busy corridors for passengers.
There are just two city routes which remain jointly operated – the first between the city centre and Blackbird Leys along the Cowley Road (Stagecoach 1 and Oxford Bus 5) with a coordinated five minute frequency between the two companies. I doubt either will want to give up that lucrative corridor any time soon, nor the second route between the city centre and Barton with both operators running a combined 7-8 minute frequency on route 8.
Good sense continues to prevail in Oxford and shows what can be achieved without a whiff of franchising and local authorities wanting complete control. I’m pleased to report a recent visit to take a look at the changes seemed to indicate all was going well.
Next blog, Sunday 9th January 2022: Highgate Village terminus to terminate.