A people’s bus service has taken its maiden voyage after a year of work by Labour & Co-operative councillors to save routes threatened with closure.
The councillors helped form a community benefit society in Witney, Oxfordshire, where cuts had threatened to leave some of the area’s most vulnerable residents stranded.
The West Oxfordshire Community Transport (WOCT), will run two routes connecting the town, in David Cameron’s constituency, with outlying estates where commercial operators had struggled to make a profit.
The society will follow the same routes, timetables and fares as before and continue to accept bus passes.
All its income will be ploughed back into the service rather than going to shareholders, and anyone can join the society to help with its operation and development.
Laura Price, one of the Labour & Co-operative councillors serving as a trustee on the society, said: “If it’s a model that works we want to feed it out further and help other communities keep their buses.”
Passenger Jill Dean told the Oxford Mail: “I use it daily. It’s important to all of us who use it. I would find it very difficult if it was lost, the same as everybody else. We are overjoyed that they are keeping it going.”
On its website, the Co-op Party says service has “modest beginnings”. It runs two routes, on an hourly timetable, using a converted 15 seater (wheelchair accessible) white van. While it employs a full-time driver, much of the organisation, for the time being, relies on the goodwill of the community and local volunteers.
But, the Party adds, “the concept of local transport being run for people, rather than profit, is a radical one – and an idea, we believe, whose time has come”.
It gives the example of HCT Group, formed in Hackney 1982 by a handful of volunteers to provide low-cost minibuses for local groups. It now employs 800 people with a fleet of 500 buses and a turnover of £44.2m, and is taking on the big operators which enjoy a stranglehold over the local bus market.
“Whether big or small, change is coming to UK local transport,” says the Party, which has been campaigning for more community transport services. “With the government’s Bus Services Bill approaching its second reading, there’s a huge opportunity to give communities greater scope to take control of local bus services, to support the growth of existing community bus operators, and to engrain the principle of people, rather than profit, at the heart of how local transport works.
“Our MPs will be in Parliament making the case for doing just that, inspired by the examples of hundreds of Labour & Co-operative councillors like those in Witney who are working with, not just for, their local communities to deliver a true People’s Bus service.”