Local buses – one town’s successful fight

It’s a lovely story BUT people work up to 60 hours a week for nothing but Owl can’t help thinking that, because of that, this solution still makes it part of the problem – if you want it, pay for it and get volunteers to work for it for free to keep it going. Bet Chris Grayling, the (non)Transport Minister and Sajid David (Communities) adore it.

“… Witney’s town service had been run by Stagecoach for a fee of £95,804 per year, according to documents published in March 2015. Without that public money, the transport giant wouldn’t run it. (Like the council, Stagecoach refused to comment on subsidies but says: “Oxfordshire county council has made changes to its own contracted bus services.”)

Months before the service shut, Labour’s Price hoped to whip up some opposition. The reaction surprised even her. Public meetings were packed out, with passengers, shopkeepers and young people fretting about their grans. “I’ll always remember one lady – she was almost in tears every time she spoke.”

This made her wonder: why not take over the service? Sure, it was a bit of a left turn for her – the 38-year-old’s CV could be summed up as: worked in publishing, DJs northern soul records, raises a nine-year-old boy. No sign here of buses as a Mastermind subject. But “when your residents are crying because they’re going to be trapped in their homes, it’s not enough to say, ‘Aren’t the Tories evil?’ This felt like that one opportunity to do something practical while in opposition.”

Others soon got onboard, such as bus expert Miles, who now helps with timetabling and routes for free. Frantic tin-rattling raised the 18 grand that bought an old bus, and at the start of 2017 West Oxfordshire Community Transport (WOCT) was on the road. From the start Price wanted the venture to be a co-operative: “We need people to understand they’ve got a stake in making it work.” Anyone paying a quid can be a voting member, drivers get a proper living wage, and whatever profits might turn up are reinvested in the business.

The result is a mini-miracle, made of love and sweat. Price and a handful of others give their time for free. If a driver goes off sick, one of the directors gets behind the wheel. There’s no bus depot, just a corner of a yard rented cheap. Even though he’s paid only a part-time wage, the operations manager, Andrew Lyons, works 60 hours a week and will nip off on a Sunday to wash the buses. At 52, he supplements his earnings by driving a minicab; the day we meet, he’s booked to do a midnight run down to Gatwick. …”