Charlbury's buses under threat from County Council cuts
Oxfordshire County Council has announced that it is planning to remove all (or almost all) bus subsidies - putting the X9 (Witney/Chipping Norton) and Railbus services at risk.
The consultation presents two options:
- remove all subsidies;
- retain subsidies for some off-peak services only.
In either case, the likely effect on Charlbury would be that the C1 Railbus service is axed entirely, and very possibly that the X9 service is reduced - for example, by cutting it back to a Witney-Charlbury service, or a two-hourly service, it could be run with one bus instead of two. (The S3 bus to Oxford is not subsidised.)
The changes will take effect in April 2016.
The parlous state of OCC's budget is well-known. Cutting bus subsidies would save £2.5m pa (by comparison, rebuilding Frideswide Square yet again is costing £5.5m).
Charlbury Town Council believes that the "keep off-peak services" option is nonsensical. OCC's rationale is that off-peak services can be a lifeline to the elderly and disabled in rural communities, and are also cheaper to run as the vehicles are not in demand for school services. However, this is rather naive as off-peak rural services can also be a subsidy sink with very little reward (such as the former T1) - there is little point running "lifeline" services if no-one uses them; on-demand or community-run services are usually more efficient.
A better-drafted option for reduced subsidy is possible and should include:
- a focus on non-discretionary journeys, rather than an arbitrary peak/off-peak distinction;
- a full Environmental Impact Assessment, to measure (for example) the impact on the congested and polluted West End of Witney if former X9 travellers were switch to cars;
- a targeted programme to help near-commercial routes move towards full commerciality, so that subsidy can be eliminated in the medium term.
All of these are strong arguments for keeping Charlbury's bus service as at present.
(Parish Transport Representative for Charlbury)