Oxfordshire Council gives financial backing to community bus co-op

West Oxfordshire Community Transport said the route, in an area with little alternative provision, had become financially unviable

A rural bus route operated by a community co-op has been saved with cash from Oxfordshire County Council after it became financially unviable.

The 210 bus provides a vital link between the town of Witney and its surrounding villages but its operator, West Oxfordshire Community Transport (WOCT), said it had been hit by rising costs and falling passenger numbers after the pandemic.

The loss of the route would have left villagers with little or no alternative provision so WOCT turned to the council for help, securing an agreement for funds to maintain the current level of service until August 2024.

WOCT, a community-owned co-op which runs six routes in the area, began operating in 2017. It was launched by a group of Labour/Co-op councillors who were concerned that the axeing of unprofitable routes by bus firms would leave vulnerable rural residents stranded.

Andrew Lyon, head of operations at WOCT, said: “Like many community transport providers we have seen a reduction in passenger numbers together with a significant increase in costs.

“We had been encouraged by the growth of service 210 following its introduction and we are grateful to the county council for working with us to maintain the service whilst we rebuild patronage after the pandemic.”

Cllr Andrew Gant, Oxfordshire County Council’s cabinet member for highway management, said: “Bus services that people can rely on are a vital part of our transport strategy. That is why we have acted quickly here – as we have done in other parts of the county – to ensure that this important route is not lost.

“We are proud that our commitment to public transport is resulting in positive action for the people who need it the most.”

The new contract will begin on 3 April and there will be no changes to the timetable.