Oxfordshire County Council scraps rural DRT plans

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DIAMOND BUS SOUTH EAST

A rural bus service in Oxfordshire that was due to be converted to a demand responsive (DRT) operation has had a stay of execution after Oxfordshire County Council decided is was ‘no longer pursuing’ the DRT option after the current operator withdrew from a tender process designed to give enough time to develop it, the council said.

The current service has been heavily subsidised by developer Dorchester Group’s Section 106 agreement as part of its undertakings for a development at Heyford Park, which is served by the Oxford to Bicester via rural villages service 250, currently operated by Diamond Bus South East. The County Council had been trying to negotiate a temporary contract to run the 250 to April 2023, but said it encountered issues with this and that it would have to reduce the timetable from 3 January and 11 February to every two hours off peak, rather than hourly, whilst the Sunday service is withdrawn altogether.

The council said that the changes were ‘the result of problems recruiting and retaining driving staff for the operation given the national situation, uncertainty about the future of the Diamond operation in Bicester and also that some other local operators are offering significant sign-on bonuses for new drivers.’

It has been proposed that from February a new service will cover the southern part of the route every two hours, whilst a second service from Lower Heyford for the rest of the route would mean passengers needing to travel to Oxford would have to go via Bicester. Over 1,700 people signed an online petition to keep the 250 as it is but the council says that the route is covering less than 50% of its running costs.