From Friday 2 December nine villages around Wheatley in the east of Oxfordshire will have no daily bus service. Heyfordian Travel has struggled to keep services running since 20 July 2016, when Oxfordshire County Council ended subsidies totalling £248,000 for the company to run four routes to villages east of Oxford.
Heyfordian is a local, family-run coach company that has operated since the end of the Second World War. In recent years it has run subsidised buses for Oxfordshire County Council. When Oxfordshire ended bus subsidies in July, Heyfordian had to withdraw route 104 to Cuddesdon but tried to continue routes 103 to Little Milton, 108 to Beckley and 118 to Horton-cum-Studley by reducing timetables and changing two of the routes.
Previously Heyfordian had run three buses from early morning to early evening. After July its reduced service used one bus to cover all three routes for most of the day, with a second bus helping in morning and afternoon peak hours only.
But the cost savings were not enough for the routes to break even. Heyfordian has no option but to withdraw routes 103, 108 and 118 from December.
The largest villages to be cut off will be Horspath (population 1,400) and Great Milton (1,000). Nine villages will be badly affected. On 26 October parish transport representatives and more than 50 bus passengers from the various villages packed a public meeting in the Merry Bells hall in Wheatley.
Emma Teasdale lives in Horton-cum-Studley. She told the public meeting:
“My daughter will have no way of getting from our village into Oxford and home from college daily when the 108 & 118 service is withdrawn. I certainly can’t afford a taxi twice a day. Angry is not the word!”
Linda Godwin and her husband live in Beckley on route 108. Mr Godwin is disabled, and both he and Linda have hospital appointments in Headington every week. Since Heyfordian was forced to reduce the service in July, Mr Godwin has been unable to get to some of his appointments. There is a Hospitals Patient Transport Service, but Mr Godwin says he has been told he is “not disabled enough” to qualify to use it.
Anne Purse lives in Beckley and is the county councillor for most of the villages affected. She says the parishes of Beckley, Forest Hill, Horton-cum-Studley and Stanton St John have been willing to pay toward saving routes 108 and 118, but no bus company has been willing to provide a service.
A group representing Oxfordshire bus passengers blames Government austerity cuts, which were so severe that Oxfordshire County Council decided to end bus subsidies. Hugh Jaeger, who chairs Bus Users Oxford and is a Director of Bus Users UK, said:
“In July Oxfordshire withdrew all subsidy from more than 100 bus routes. This forced bus operators to withdraw about half of those routes immediately. The County Council boasted that bus companies would continue the other half by reducing timetables and changing routes to try to break even.
“But Bus Users Oxford warned the public that we feared not all of these revised services would survive. We predicted that after losing about 50 bus routes in July, we could see further routes fail over the next several months.”
Hugh went on “I am sorry we have been proved right. Thames Travel is trying to save the largest number of routes, but at the beginning of September continued losses on routes 22 and 23 in Bicester forced it to withdraw those two services. Thames Travel continues to work hard to save other services, most of them in South Oxfordshire, and we hope they succeed.
“Now Heyfordian is being forced to withdraw routes 103, 108 and 118. And Bus Users Oxford knows that there are other bus routes in the west and south of Oxfordshire that are still at risk. How many more routes will lose the struggle to survive without subsidy? How many more Oxfordshire people will be left with no daily public transport?”
Hugh paid tribute to Heyfordian Travel: “Heyfordian is a local family business with 70 years of service. For four months they have borne a brave commercial risk to try not to abandon these rural communities. But county council cuts left Heyfordian in a position that proved impossible. Bus Users Oxford thanks Heyfordian for doing their best. We blame the ending of these bus services on county council cuts forced by central Government.”
THOUSANDS MORE PEOPLE WITH NO BUS
Hugh stressed how many thousand people will lose their villages’ only daily public transport “The nine villages on routes 103, 108 and 118 have a combined population of about 5,750. Of these almost 1,400 live in the largest village, Horspath, which is only one mile outside the Oxford ring road. It is a disgrace for a council to cut off a village as big as Horspath from all public transport.
Hugh added “There have been bus cuts since the Government started austerity in 2010, but in 2016 Oxfordshire has cut buses to much larger villages than before. One route that Oxfordshire ended in July served the West Oxfordshire villages of Milton-under-Wychwood (population 1,600) and Shipton-under-Wychwood (1,200). Also in West Oxfordshire it withdrew the only buses to the villages of Leafield and Stanton Harcourt, each of which has a population of almost 1,000. Oxfordshire is an affluent county, but its bus cuts have created hardship for many thousands of people.”
BUSES BILL IN PARLIAMENT
Hugh suggested “Parliament is currently debating a Buses Bill for a new Act of Parliament. Can this not include help to make it more affordable to run community buses for villages? Community buses get paid more than commercial buses for carrying people who use free bus passes. Perhaps community buses could be given a higher rate of the Bus Service Operators’ Grant too, which is paid to all bus operators to mitigate fuel costs.”
Hugh concluded “In Switzerland many villages of only a few hundred people have two buses an hour. In Oxfordshire we now have villages of up to 1,600 people with no bus. For anyone who doesn’t drive, bus cuts since 2010 must be one of the worst changes in public transport since the 1960s when half of our railways were closed. What kind of country do we want to be?”
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