For information: To receive an update concerning the enhanced partnership with local bus operators.
Phil Southall, Chair of the Oxfordshire Strategic Transport Forum (OSTF), gave his presentation to the FOP. The presentation was an update on the Enhanced Partnership with Local Bus Operators, including progress of setting up the partnership, potential areas of work and current funding bids. The slides were included in the agenda document pack, which can be found here.
The Oxfordshire Strategic Transport Forum would like
The enhanced partnership will form a Board with voting rights, split 50:50 membership with bus operators and local authorities. This was currently planned for October 2022. There will be a forum to aid engagement with stakeholders, and a variety of proposed working groups. Aiming to work together to find out what was possible in the areas proposed for working groups.
Regarding funding, local bus use had declined due to the pandemic, averaging 75%, which was lower than the national position. Therefore, network cuts could be 20-30%. We needed strong messaging to increase bus use post-pandemic. Buses are crucial to economic success of the County amongst other benefits. DfT funding had been given for bus capability. There were other funding stream opportunities, like ZEBRA and OxIS scheme. Behaviour change was an important part of this, not just technology.
Chair thanked Phil Southall and added that she felt it was important that we ensure bus services aren’t cut, not just for urban areas but for people in rural areas.
The update was welcomed by committee. Connectivity across the district (as indicated in maps from this presentation and the presentation from Oxford University) was important and a view was expressed that these presentations highlighted the need to connect market towns and villages to Oxford etc.
It was asked whether rural services, which were just as crucial, were more at risk from cuts. Mr Southall explained that the rural mobility fund bid was not successful for Oxfordshire. There was a raft of solutions but they required funding and information on need. Oxford was important in the transport strategy, which could dominate thinking. A track record was needed to increase funding opportunities and it would start with the track record being built in Oxford.
The transport and connectivity plan had been consulted on. Buses were at the heart of it and increasing active travel.
A comment from Councillor Enright was made about the challenges faced to bus services, including fears from the pandemic and rising fuel costs. He was in support of creating an efficient, capable, effective, cheap and plentiful bus service across the county with infrastructure to support. Local bus companies had been helpful in informing a community transport plan.
Phil Southall added a suggestion of creating a mobility hub, including rural hubs, e.g. Bampton.
The comments provided from FOP members were positive, viewing buses as an invaluable service that needed to be used more effectively and supported.
It was asked whether hybrid buses help the fuel cost issue. Mr Southall responded that from an operator’s perspective, fuel requirements are hedged which helps. The important aspect was getting people back onto buses, as we were risking loss of funding for services. For example, reduced use by concessionary passengers was a risk, as services could be cut.
Mr. Southall asked how can buses be more central to the planning system? He also reminded the FOP that it was assumed Oxford had good bus links, but there were offices in the outskirts that don’t have the best service. Mobility hubs were a way to connect these areas to services. The enhanced partnership aimed to ensure involvement of all partners to keep the momentum to strengthen the bus network.
Mr Southall was thanked for the update and further updates welcomed in the future.