Oxford Special Part Two - The home of general all round good ideas

Interchangeable tickets are available across operators
Competition can be good or bad. We've seen it here in Norwich, where competing buses leave within minutes of each other and play follow-the-leader for the entire route. There is very little benefit to the passenger and very little benefit to the operator.

In Oxford, I could not help but notice the sheer amount of Stagecoach and Oxford Bus Company services heading to a place known as Blackbird Ley. What I soon picked up on is that Stagecoach and Oxford Bus Company have cleverly (and intentionally) timetabled their competing services to give an even headway between buses. This results in an impressive 4-5 minute combined frequency, the times for which are shown in eachother's timetables.

This links to the 'Oxford Smart Zone' smart ticketing system. Passengers can purchase these as a day pass from the driver, a week pass online, from the travel shop or from the driver and longer terms online or at travel shops. Tickets work as unlimited passes, rather than per journey like London's Oyster. Although fore-fronted by Oxford Bus Company, Smart Zone passes can be accepted on Stagecoach and Thames Travel services. For services to Blackbird Ley, as above, passengers with a Smart Zone ticket can use either of the competing services.

A Stagecoach hybrid Alexander Dennis Enviro400
Besides London, Oxford must be the most environmentally friendly cities in Great Britain in terms of buses. Around 43% of the Oxford Bus Company are hybrid, and the entire fleet complied with the Oxford Low Emission Zone even before the regulations were brought into place in January 2014. Stagecoach Oxford run a fleet of twenty five or so hybrid-electric Alexander Dennis Enviro400.

The Oxford Low Emission Zone sets the standard that all local buses operating in Oxford City Centre must be of Euro 5 emission standard or greater.

Oxford Bus Company operate a specific network of services for Oxford Brookes University, which goes under the BrookesBus brand. All services are free to most Brookes students and staff, and are still available for use by the general public. Fares, like on the rest of the network, are very reasonable too. A journey on a standard Oxford Bus Company journey of around twenty minutes cost just ninety pence - a similar journey in Norwich would cost almost double that.

Free wifi is on all Stagecoach and Oxford Bus Company buses
Free wi-fi is provided to all passengers using Oxford Bus Company buses, including BrookesBus, Airline, Park&Ride and X90, and on all Stagecoach buses including Stagecoach Gold, buses on the City network and Oxford Tube services.

Oxford is clearly a centre of innovation and something for other operators to look up to. The healthy and useful competition and smart turn out of the modern fleets must have a correlation to the number of people using buses, which from observation is simply astonishing. I must pay another visit to Oxford, and is now on my list of places to follow happenings from.
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About Kieran Smith

Norwich Buses Blog was founded in December 2013 by Sam Larke after he left another popular blog, Norwich Bus Page. Since it's launch, the site has grown dramatically, especially whilst written solely by Kieran Smith during 2015. The blog is now in it's third year and we look forward to more success and growth in the future. If you think you'd make a good writer for Norwich Buses Blog, please do get in touch via email: samuel.larke@gmail.com
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  1. It is ilegal for operators to mutually organise competing services on the same route as this is considered a cartel, as explained by Chris Speed and Malcolm Robson last year regarding the 13/53 in Ipswich. Therefore I would suggest the Blackbird Leys service in Oxford is pretty unique and the companies involved are regarded as joint operators not competing, hence the timetables showing each other's services.

    As such any comparison with Norwich or indeed Ipswich is irrelevant as different laws apply.

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  3. Where there's a will . . . it's not uncommmon (even First have done it elsewhere) for one operator to adjust their timetables to fit with anothers. It doesn't automatically create a cartel, which is acting in concert. But the point about Oxford is that it has restricted access to the town by car for decades (before even London thought of the congestion charge). That's the key to everything. East Anglians won't have it. It's an endless subject of discussion in Cambridge and the peasants are in revolt every time the subject comes up. "The bus network isn't up to it" they cry, "that's why the bus network isn't up to it" cry the operators. An everlasting dialogue of the deaf. And the politicians want to get elected. Oxford had first-mover advantage. No-one else will get away with it.

    1. No it's a cartel when it is mutual arrangement between operators but not when one adjusts to fit round another without discussion. The fact that both operators publicise each other's journeys suggests joint operation not competitive operation(or a loophole in the law)

  4. I believe the 3, 6, 8 and 9 are all joint services between Oxford Bus and Stagecoach as well. Certainly a unique arrangement

  5. The companies cannot work together independently. However, such agreements can be brokered by a third party. In this case, Oxford City Council. There are other examples around the country with First/Stagecoach/TM Travel in Sheffield with SYPTE and First/Abus have two separate examples, one brokered by North Somerset Council and one by BaNES Council.

    1. Indeed Oxford City and County Councils did broker the 'joint' operations on what were previously competing services.

      The two main aims were to give the user greater choice (as multi journey tickets are valid on both operators) and to reduce the number of buses in the city centre (and hence reduce CO2 emissions).

      In order to maintain capacity, more deckers now appear on city services than a few years back, when Oxford mainly used Citaros and B10B LEs and Stagecoach mainly used MAN ALX300s.