Oxford’s bus routes rationalised again

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council both companies entered a Voluntary Partnership Agreement back in 2010 which saw a significant number of buses withdrawn from the network but the bonus for passengers was coordinated timetables, new fleets of buses and a new joint smartcard scheme.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 Oxford Bus no longer operate three buses an hour on route 2/2A along Banbury Road to Kidlington and Stagecoach have withdrawn its three buses an hour from route 3/3A along Iffley Road to Rose Hill.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.

Roger French

Next blog, Sunday 9th January 2022: Highgate Village terminus to terminate.

29 thoughts on “Oxford’s bus routes rationalised again

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  1. The good sense doers not appear to extend to tickets. For a lot of tickets bought in advance the passengers are having to contact the bus company to get a refund which is hardly sensible. Why could they not have remained valid until they expired ?

    Stagecoach will be the sole operator, and will introduce new timetables on routes 2/2A serving Kidlington to the City. Journeys will run every 7 to 8 minutes during peak times and every 10 minutes off-peak, with journeys alternating between a clockwise and anti-clockwise loop of Kiddlington and Lyne Mead. Evening journeys and night buses will be operated on the 2. (clockwise).

    Stagecoach and SmartZone tickets will still be valid, however customers with Oxford Bus Company CityZone tickets are advised to email info@oxfordbus.co.uk.

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    1. Why could they not have remained valid until they expired ? Because some services – like the OBC 2/2A – were ceasing on 1/1/21. If you were an OBC 2/2A passenger and had an OBC ticket valid beyond that date how would you have been able to use it?

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  2. Pleasing to see the County Council once more brokering sensible changes, albeit reductions, to both the City and County network after the disaster Covid has left in it’s wake. Considering the efficiency savings to be made, it did seem a little odd not just to leave the ticketing issue alone until such tickets expire. But more bizarre, passengers on Thames Travel X39/40 (Oxford-Reading) have also had to cash in their tickets pro-rata as the route will now be run by sister Go Ahead company Oxford Bus! Strange indeed.

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  3. “…although I suppose there might be comparability issues with smartcard based ticket acceptance on different ticket machines.”

    I guess that “comparability” should be “compatibility”! Those pesky spell checkers are at it again!

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  4. The odd frequency on the 3/3A is because the X39/40 to Reading now goes down Iffley road too which I assume fills in the gaps in the 3/3A timetable – in reply to Terence above I think this is also why they have been transferred to Oxford Bus Company as otherwise, it makes no sense. Although since they often share buses their ticketing technology must be the same so the tickets definitely could’ve just carried over

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    1. And further, the X38 which is under the same River Rapids brand is still operated by Thames travel! Although credit to oxford bus company, if you go on their website to the timetable section then they have timetables for all of the other bus companies including Stagecoach, Arriva, Red Rose and Pulhams

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  5. That in itself is a reduction from the previous combined 4 minute frequency…

    There was a slight reduction on the London Road in November when Stagecoach withdrew their part of route 9 to/from Risinghurst. That didn’t go down very well either.

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  6. Oxfordshire County Council cut a number of rural Oxfordshire bus routes a few years ago like the 44 Oxford to Abingdon via Boars Hill.They said that they cost too much but they always have money to pay for parkway stations and park and ride.

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    1. Because there is a fundamental difference between capital funds to build stuff, which aren’t that hard to get, and revenue funds to run buses, which are always in short supply. And how much do councils pay for parkway stations exactly…?

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  7. The whole point of this is for it to be seen as a singleaa intergrated Network yet the bus companies are still doing their own things with regard to fares which to a great extent defeats the object

    Enhanced partrnership though are alway going to be difficult to impliment as the bus companies are seperate commercial companies and even within one company the different business units operate very much as stand alone businesses. It may also stifle competion

    We will have to wait and see what happens when the bus back better funding comes though

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  8. Total madness to remove competition you only have to look.at the mess Transport for West Midlands got itself into trying to coordinate West Midlands Travel & DIAMOND Bus. Andy Street was left humiliated & DIAMOND came out the winner. One day councillors will keep thier nose out of buses and leave the professionals to get on with it.

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    1. Firstly, it mostly wasn’t “proper” competition to begin with – they were jointly operated services, although obviously they were competing on service quality and price.

      Secondly, councillors had nothing to do with it. This was dealt by the council officers and bus companies working together.

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      1. You have a strange perception of competition as neither company accepted each others company tickets & were therefore competing against each other on a simple economic factor namely price. Oxfordshire County Council must be unique in England if it is devoid of councillors here in Birmingham Transport for West Midlands is governed by a cabinet of elected councillors known as the Transport Delivery Committee. I would personally be very concerned if I were you if your council was functioning with no direct input on local affairs from democratically elected individuals namely councillors and was being run by unelected officials without any public input.Hardly in the public interest is it?

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      2. You have a strange perception of competition as neither company accepted each others company tickets & were therefore competing against each other on a simple economic factor namely price. Oxfordshire County Council must be unique in England if it is devoid of councillors here in Brum Transport for West Midlands is governed by a cabinet of elected councillors known as the Transport Delivery Committee. I would personally be very concerned if I were you if your council was functioning with no direct input on local affairs from democratically elected individuals namely councillors and was being run by unelected officials without any public input.Hardly in the public interest is it?

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      3. Incorrect, on all the main corridors in Oxford tickets are accepted between the two main operators.

        And this review concerned wholly commercial services. There is no requirement for consultation and these are business decisions taken with the asisstance of the council to bring the parties together. Where’s the role for councillors? They don’t have any say in commercial bus operations.

        Amongst the aims of the National Bus Strategy are to eliminate wasteful duplication, which this achieves by making the services more efficient, and frequencies better match demand which here is 70% of pre-Covid. Ensuring that the operators remain in the market at all is in the public interest.

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      4. Coordination between operators has been a complete disaster in the West Midlands County… No one is happy with Transport for West Midlands and its approaches. Trying to coordinate commercial services is an idea doomed to failure the market should decide what service is provided by operators to ensure best practice for customers here Day Tickets start at £2.85 on competing services operating 7 days a week 364 days a year.The concept of integration and partnership has no place in a free market & will return us to the dark days of the NBC & PTE when Brum had one of the worst bus services in England the same applies in Oxford.

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  9. Total madness to remove competition you only have to look.at the mess Transport for West Midlands got itself into trying to coordinate West Midlands Travel & DIAMOND Bus. Andy Street was left humiliated & Rotala came out the winner. One day councillors will keep thier nose out of buses and leave the professionals to get on with it.

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  10. In addition if tickets see accepted by both operators why has my cousin who lives in Oxford asked me to recover his ticket from one of the operators who will no longer be running the 2?

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  11. Because they have a single operator pass, which are still available. Return tickets are valid on both operators as well as a full range of day and period passes under the Smartzone banner. Your cousin made a choice to save about a quid a week by restricting their own options to half the services available – in fact less than half once you take into account all the other Stagecoach services on 2 road.

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    1. We have all operators passes in the West Midlands and very few take advantage of them. No one is normally going to chose a higher fare pass when operators are offering competitive cheaper options that is a simple fact of economics. I personally use a nBus ticket valid on all operators in Brum but never see anyone else with one only WMT Travelcards & DIAMOND Value tickets. The market should be left to its own devices all operators passes are costly, cumbersome and of little benefit to normal bus passengers simply a waste of public resources here when the operators do it far better.

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      1. Shortly more passengers in Oxfordshire will benefit from the premium high quality service operated by Diamond Bus when Johnsons routes pass to them bringing more choice to Oxford

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  12. Interestingly no one has mentioned that the ever excellent Diamond Bus based here in Warley have increased peak and Sunday journeys on the 250 showing other Oxford bus operators how to actually run a quality bus service. Hats off to Rotala

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  13. You say users of the axed no.16 are in a minority. A minority of what?
    Does that mean they don’t matter?

    I know as a frequent passenger that most of us are old,
    have pushchairs or wheelchairs.

    There’s no replacement for any of us who live around Abingdon Road
    and frequently used that route for going across town via Donnington Bridge Road.

    At the same time, the only place you can go now from Abingdon Road is…
    Abingdon. No longer can you go to Reading, Wantage, Wallingford.\\
    Who is benefiting from these changes please?

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