OXFORD is bidding to become the first city in the country to have all public buses run on electricity, but a technical snag could scupper the plan.

Oxfordshire County Council’s cabinet agreed to submit a £50 million bid to become the UK’s first all-electric bus city at a meeting today.

The funding will help pay to upgrade or replace all the buses run by Stagecoach and the Oxford Bus Company.

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But at the meeting, held remotely, a statement read out by the council’s cabinet member for environment and transport, Yvonne Constance, said there was a technical hitch in the plan because the bus companies thought a budget of more than £50 million was needed.

Witney Gazette:

Yvonne Constance

The council is also submitting four bids totalling £20 million to bring ‘on demand’ bus services to rural areas of the county.

The bids, known as expressions of interest, need to be sent by June 4, and are altogether known as the ‘Better Deal for Bus Users’.

But the statement read out by Ms Constance – and again by council leader Ian Hudspeth when she had technical issues during the video call – explained there was a difference in the business modelling of the two bus companies.

This meant the total estimated cost of replacing all their buses was more than £50 million and could influence ‘the potential success of the bid’.

But the statement read out by both Ms Constance and Mr Hudspeth finished: “While we believe there may be a positive solution in time for submission of the expression of interest to be made on June 4, if not… should affordability become an issue as the business case develops requiring us to withdraw the expression of interest then cabinet will receive a further report at that time.

“For now, however, we remain hopeful of a positive resolution and are working hard alongside the operators to that end.”

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Oxfordshire County Council first announced it would bid to make Oxford the first all-electric bus city in February.

A report to the council cabinet said the scheme would complement existing efforts to clean up air pollution in the city.

These include the Zero Emissions Zone, which will see fossil fuel-burning cars charged for entering the city centre, and Connecting Oxford, which is aimed at stopping long tailbacks of traffic.

The funding for the all-electric bus city/town scheme comes from the Department for Transport, and is part of a £220 million package to overhaul bus services across England.

The all-electric bus city proposal will be a pilot to help the government understand how electric public transport could be rolled out elsewhere.

Connecting rural areas

The second part of the county council’s Better Deal for Bus Users is a series of four bids to bring in on-demand bus services in rural areas around the county.

An on-demand service is a bus which can pick up customers after they ask for ride through an app, similar to the Pick Me Up service which is soon to be discontinued in Oxford.

Witney Gazette:

Pick Me Up buses

These areas served by the new buses would include:

• A service linking villages in the Chilterns along the A4074

• A replacement for a service to villages south of Didcot due to expire in 2022

• Expanding a voluntary service currently running in Freeland and Hanborough in West Oxfordshire, and possibly incorporating the Lower Windrush Valley Area

• A service for villages in the ‘rural periphery’ of Oxford

Cabinet member Mark Gray asked how the services could be ‘kept alive in more rural areas of the county’, when the Pick Me Up service, running in Oxford had gone out of business.

Ms Constance said the Pick Me Up service had been struck by ‘two blows’ leading to its demise.

These were traffic in Oxford making journey times too long and putting off customers, and Covid 19 leading to a lack of passengers using the service.