New Bus Route Week Day 3: Routes 24 and 25

Wednesday 22nd February 2023

After Telford and Skelmersdale today’s New Bus Route Week blog features new bus routes 24 and 25 in Bicester, Oxfordshire.

Readers may recall I blogged about route 250 running between Bicester and Oxford via the huge new residential development at Heyford Park last August.

The original plan had been to replace the 250 with a new bespoke shuttle service linking Heyford Park and the nearby villages of Upper Heyford and Lower Heyford with Bicester as the section of route south from the Heyfords through the villages of Kirtlington and Bletchingdon would be replaced with a DRT operation.

Dave Harrison, Oxfordshire County Council’s Principal Public Transport Planner kindly added comments and explanations to that blogpost clarifying a decision was subsequently taken to abandon the idea of DRT (hooray) and instead serve the villages with a new traditional timetabled rural service utilising one bus and using the number 24, with the number 25 being used for the new Heyford Park shuttle bus route.

This is a welcome and refreshing development with passengers in these villages now confident they can travel on one of the six scheduled journeys on Mondays to Saturdays at advertised times rather than endure the lottery of a DRT operation and all the booking faff that goes with it. Good sense prevails in Oxfordshire.

Dave has been very astute by devising the route of the 24 so after it leaves Bicester it runs via two previously unserved villages by the 250 and cut off from the bus network – Wendlebury and Weston-on-the-Green – meaning the route qualifies as a new bus route that can be funded through the County Council’s Bus Service Improvement Plan funds.

Dave tells me the last time Wendlebury and Weston-on-the-Green were served by bus was in 2016 when the County’s subsidy cull that year saw the end of many rural bus routes, so it’s very much welcome to see these small communities have a bus back again. The contract for the 24 is for two years until March 2025 when the BSIP money has to be used up according to DfT rules.

The route is being operated by Grayline Coaches of Bicester which also operates the local town service in the town (route E1) as well as coach hire, schools and other work. Interestingly the current £2 maximum fare applies to the route even though DfT won’t be funding it because it’s a new service since that fare offer was established so doesn’t qualify but both Grayline and the County Council agreed between themselves it should apply and hopefully the DfT will allow new entrants in for the extension of the scheme from April to the end of June, as this will certainly help encourage new passengers.

I had a ride on the route on Saturday on the 11:45 from Bicester and was joined by two other passengers who travelled to Kirtlington where we also picked up a couple with a mobility scooter and a dog.

In Beltchingdon, the next village, we gained a mum with a young daughter and a dad with a young daughter. I initially thought they were a family of four as they boarded but it turned out they didn’t know each other.

The couple with the mobility scooter and dog alighted at the large Sainsbury’s in Kidlington just north of Oxford and the non family went all the way into Oxford.

We had a streamline journey into Oxford not stopping at any of the bus stops leaving waiting passengers to catch city services, which was a bit of a surprise although we’d have needed much more running time had we stopped for everyone and it would have detracted from the travel experience from the villages if the bus had effectively become a local city route as well as risking crowding out the village bound passengers on the return journey.

And that was it for route 24 – if it had been a DRT journey with those numbers travelling it would have been regarded as extremely busy and a huge success, so route 24 could be said to be doing very well after its first week.

As explained above the new shuttle bus running between Bicester and Heyford Park (as well as Upper and Lower Heyford) has been given the route number 25 for old times sake as it used to take the number 25A before it was rechristened as 250.

In fact the bus stop plate in the centre of Bicester, as I pointed out last August, still displays the number 25A rather than 250, so now instead of replacing the A with a 0 it just needs someone to remove the A, and add the 24 too.

In Heyford Park it’s just the zeros that need removing.

Dave explained to me both tenders for the 24 and 25 were awarded at short notice due to a lack of response from bus operators interested in running these services – presumably linked to driver shortages – so it’s been very much last minute to get things going and hopefully bus stop plate updates will follow including siting new stops in Wendlebury and Weston-on-the-Green where there are currently none.

Red Rose Travel have won the tender to operate the hourly timetable on the 25 which utilises one bus managing to do the journey out and back in a scheduled 57 minutes making for a rather tightly timed route. The original tender specified a half hourly service (hourly on Sundays) utilising two buses but when no responses were received it was reduced to a one bus hourly service. It’s being funded by Section 106 funds from the Heyford Park developments and there’s an aspiration to increase the frequency to every 15 minutes.

In Bicester the route terminates at Bicester Village railway station providing a handy link for residents of Heyford Park who can get a special £1 bus fare on the route if they have a rail ticket (paper or mobile).

I caught the 10:40 from Bicester Village railway station with one other passenger boarding with me who travelled to Heyford Park.

Three other passengers boarded in the main pick up point in central Bicester (Manorsfield Road) with one travelling to Lower Heyford and the other two to Upper Heyford.

The bus does a circular routing at that end of the route serving Lower Heyford first and then Upper Heyford where there’s some lovely views of the Oxfordshire countryside.

On the journey back one passenger travelled from Lower Heyford to Heyford Park, one boarded in Upper Heyford and six got on at three of the bus stops as we passed through Heyford Park all travelling into central Bicester with one of those continuing to the station. So not too bad but not exactly packed out.

There’s still much construction taking place all over Heyford Park so route 25 has much potential for the future.

Residents who want to reach Oxford now have to take the 25 to Bicester Village and then the train rather than the former 250 which went direct but an hourly service to Oxford was too generous for the numbers travelling.

Sadly there are already a lot of cars parked in driveways and alongside the new houses in Heyford Park. Let’s hope that 15 minute frequency can be introduced later this year (the current tender is a temporary one until August) as a higher frequency might well encourage more passengers to use the bus.

It’s also the case there’s significant house building taking place on the western side of Bicester through which the bus passes which could offer more opportunities to gain new passengers.

Likely long term success rating:

Route 24: 5/10 (as the route will always require public funding so it’s uncertain what will happen post BSIP).

Route 25: 7/10 (with a question mark over what will happen when Section 106 money runs out).

Roger French

Next New Bus Route Week blog posting tomorrow from Denbighshire and Flintshire.

10 thoughts on “New Bus Route Week Day 3: Routes 24 and 25

Add yours

  1. Although Wendlebury lost it’s direct buses I think that there was a bus stop on the A34 and the village is very close to this green sign motorway.Crossing the A34 on foot would be almost impossible so it would only work going in the Oxford direction but then coming back would be a problem as you’d have to cross it coming back.


  2. My experience of the former 250 showed a need for the Heyford-Oxford link, but these sensible changes are far better than DRT or nothing at all. And talking of new routes, it appears the Snake Pass gets at least a Sunday service back in April.


  3. Probably the most pragmatic outcome … well done Oxon CC for persevering. My travels found that there were more passengers at the Bicester end, but at least the Oxford end does get a service; and I like the ‘kickbacks’ in the peaks that improve the service at the Oxford end.

    A concern must be that staffing issues prevent the frequency improvements … presumably Diamond Bus have retreated back to their normal area?
    I wonder if this will improve? Red Rose coming from Aylesbury is hardly cheap!!


    1. We’re intending to give a much longer lead time for tenderers for the 25 service in August, so that there’s enough time and confidence to get sensible bids in for the 30 min service (the 15 min service will come much later).

      Yes, Diamond no longer operate in Oxfordshire, and you are correct that the Red Rose arrangement is not cheap but they were willing to pick it up at short notice to avoid the kind of loss of continuity we have seen elsewhere in the country, and for that we are grateful.

      Oxfordshire CC


  4. Hi Roger –

    The name of the village is Bletchingdon. You might want to correct the typos (in the text & on the map)

    It’s in my county so must go get myself a trip!

    Best Chris


  5. Considering the size of the development at Heyford I am surprised there is no direct bus link to Oxford. I can see that Bicester is nearer and is quicker to get to London but I would have thought Oxford would be enough of a draw in its own right. . I am not familiar with the layout of the area but Heyford station has an infrequent (but quick) train link to Oxford which one would think could be developed and the hourly S4 bus from Banbury passes nearby, but probably not close enough for a diversion to be practical.


    1. Heyford is effectively two villages Upper and Lower and as I understand it this development is at Upper.The rail station is in Lower and a 20 minutes walk down the Oxford Canal Towpath from Upper but the development is even further as it’s at the old RAF/USAF base .That Banbury to Oxford bus doesn’t really go near either Heyford and Steeple Aston is the nearest place which has a very pleasant walk down the hill(or up) to Lower Heyford but I can’t see commuters wanting to do that!A bit of a stupid place to put a development but then it’s designed for cars.I know that area pretty well as I use to go stargazing there when I lived in Oxford.Build a development not near where people work ,town planning by the car industry and Sir Lawrie Barrett.


    2. There was a direct link to Oxford; but it was barely used and therefore withdrawn (and replaced by these new services …. see Roger’s original blog).


  6. I have had the misfortune to use the Wendlebury bus stop on the A34. It is not easy to cross a dual carriageway on foot and the S5 bus drivers must curse any passengers who want the bus to stop there. At least they now have an alternative.


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