If you are ever travelling between Oxford and Heyford you might have taken the 250 bus. This little hopper heads north of the city through the fabled Cotswold-stone, picturesque villages and on to Bicester. It’s not the busiest service, but there is a community which relies on it.
The driver knows most of his passengers by name. He keeps boiled sweets in the change shelf for his favourites and, as new additions join, greetings ring out across the aisles. Someone gets on with their yappy terrier, the passengers give a collective good-natured sigh followed swiftly by kind enquiries in their best doggy voices “what’s up with you, then”.
The 250 happily bounces along (quite literally – the roads are not the smoothest round Kirtlington way). The passengers are mainly in the senior bracket and when a younger woman is overhead deliberating with the driver over which stop she needs, they all chip in with their opinions “driver, she needs the next one” or “no, then she’d have to walk back on herself. Let her off here”. And so it goes. It sounds a bit like a Sunday evening sitcom on the BBC but it’s very real and sadly it’s under threat of closure. The demand might not be high, but that doesn’t mean it’s not performing a function. In this months magazine we talk about the importance of sustaining our mental health and Sir Muir Grey encourages us all to remain active as we age. In terms of mental and physical wellbeing, the value of this service must be priceless.
Public transport services are increasingly under threat, but what can’t be quantified when looking at ticket numbers is the lifeline they provide for certain members of our community: the elderly, sure. Also, those who are physically less-abled, those who don’t drive (for whatever reason) and those lonely souls who crave a little human warmth and contact.
Services around Witney and Banbury are currently also under threat and within Oxford city the opportunity to travel outside of the main designated spider’s legs of the city has been reduced significantly. Sadly, the wonderful idea which was the Pick Me Up (a taxi-public transport/Uber-like hybrid service run by The Oxford Bus Company) proved unsustainable during its trial, although the timing of Covid in 2020 presumably had some impact on its failure to launch. All very well and good, but in a county which aspires to inclusivity and sustainability, surely accessible public transport shouldn’t be up for sacrifice.