Rural Oxfordshire services saved as DRT option proves unpopular

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Service 24, operated by Grayline Coaches, is seen passing through the village of Wendlebury on the first day of operation. The first service bus to serve the village in many years. RICHARD SHARMAN

A rural bus service running between Bicester and Oxford has been saved. Previously operated by Diamond Bus South East since 5 June 2020, route 250 provided an hourly Monday to Saturday, also offering a limited Sunday service. Oxfordshire County Council had planned to cover a section of the service with demand responsive transport (DRT) following the ending of funding for the route. A spokesperson for Oxfordshire County Council told CBW: “Since the withdrawal of the Council’s bus subsidy budget in 2016, service 250 has been funded by Section 106 planning obligations from the emerging Heyford Park development. These have now expired and further funds are intended only for an enhanced service to/from Bicester, which would ordinarily have led to the withdrawal of the service between Lower Heyford and Oxford.

“Recognising this, the Council included in its Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) a replacement DRT service for Kirtlington, Bletchingdon and Hampton Poyle, which was successful in being selected for funding – however, following local feedback this was amended into a new fixed route retaining links to and from Oxford city centre and Bicester.”

Two new services were introduced on Monday 13 February. “These services are the result of a tendering exercise and subsequent negotiation when the original request received no suitable bids,” the Council said. “Both Grayline Coaches and Red Rose Travel have worked extremely hard to successfully implement these services in a challenging four week timescale.

“As part of the BSIP, service 24 is under contract until March 2025. Service 25 has been secured on a temporary basis until August 2023, at which time it will be retendered at a higher frequency with the Sunday service proposed for reintroduction.

“Neither service was eligible for the Bus Fare Cap Grant scheme, however the Council negotiated with Grayline a maximum fare of £2 up to 31 March 2023, and with Red Rose Travel a £1 single fare for holders of a valid rail ticket. Service 25 now serves Bicester Village station on every journey, timed to connect with trains to and from Oxford; this means that commuters from Heyford Park to Oxford are still able to travel at competitive journey times and for an affordable price.”

The introduction of service 24 also re-establishes a bus service link through the villages of Weston-on-the-Green and Wendlebury after a number of years without a service.

One of the first departures on the new service 25, operated by Red Rose Travel, is seen loading up in Heyford Park on the first day of operation. RICHARD SHARMAN