Oxford Bus Company is to examine whether its PickMeUp service could attract new funding following a new five-year funding package announced by the government last week. The national package includes a £170m ‘bus fund’ to support more electric buses, increase rural mobility and trial new ‘Superbus’ services.
At a recent OxLEP event, TechTribe Oxford reported that the city’s on-demand bus service PickMeUp is under threat after being launched last year to cater for the eastern arc around the city. Despite having chalked-up more than 250,000 journeys and 30,000 registered users, it is proving ‘commercially challenging.’ After £1m investment in the service, Oxford Bus Company chairman Phil Southall revealed it has lost £700,000 during the past year, leaving its future “hanging in the balance.”
When asked whether this new money is likely to save the service, Southall responded:
“We will look at the opportunities this money offers for PickMeUp and will examine with our local authorities whether a bid [for funding] is possible. The guidance provided is the money is available for rural and suburban areas rather than cities.”
The new fund includes provision for ‘at least 4,000 new zero emission buses to make greener travel the convenient option.’ As to how this announcement sits with Oxford Bus Company’s own plans to expand its electric fleet, Southall comments: “We welcome the positive commitment from the government on electric buses. We look forward to examining this opportunity with our local authorities and establishing whether we can unlock vital funding to support the vision for a cleaner Oxford via electric technology.
“Key is building a compelling business case for funding with all stakeholders committing to improving journey times and growing patronage together.”
More programmes for greener buses are to be announced later this year in the National Bus Strategy. On this Southall concludes:
“Tackling congestion should be at the heart of the National Bus Strategy, to ensure buses can fully contribute to reducing emissions and taking cars off the road.
“Buses significantly improve the air quality of our cities by encouraging people to take more sustainable modes of transport. Accelerating the transition to zero emission buses will further improve air quality for all. Funding would also help create higher frequencies or services at times of the day when demand is lower and make it easier for people to leave their car at home and make journeys in a healthy and sustainable way.”