Published: Thursday, 2 July 2020

Oxfordshire County Council and Oxford City Council have announced plans to install new temporary bus gates in Oxford.

The new temporary bus gates will ensure that road users can look forward to faster bus services, reduced congestion in the centre of Oxford, and more road space for cyclists travelling across the city.

The new, temporary bus gates are set to be installed as part of plans by Oxfordshire County Council and Oxford City Council, working in close partnership, for the recovery of sustainable transport services as lockdown is eased. The aim is to implement the two gates in August.

A bus gate is a form of access restriction that allows only buses, cyclists, emergency vehicles and other limited exempt users to access to certain key roads between particular times of day (often 7am-7pm).

Bus gates do not prevent access to areas of the city, however aims to redirect traffic through a different route and aims to reduce the use of the city centre as a through-route.

The new experimental bus gates do not require prior consultation or modelling before being installed, however they will be monitored and a consultation will be launched to assess their impact. 

The city centre already operates a number of bus gates at High Street, George Street, and Castle Street which have helped reduce congestion and allow passengers to enjoy faster journeys.

As the transport authority, Oxfordshire County Council will be implementing the two temporary bus gates, however the project has been funded by Oxford City Council. The two councils have been working closely together on measures to support social distancing and to protect public health across the city.

Oxfordshire County Council has committed to invest almost £3m of Government funding to support projects to encourage safe pedestrian and cycle movement in cities. Additionally, the City Council has committed £234,000 to start the work to allow pedestrians and cyclists to maintain social distancing.

Oxfordshire County Council will implement two temporary bus gates in the city centre initially located at:

  1. On Hythe Bridge Street or Worcester Street, between Frideswide Square and Beaumont Street
  2. On St Cross Road or South Parks Road, between Parks Road and Manor Road.

The exact location of the bus gates is to be decided, and due to their temporary nature they might even be moved slightly after installation in response to feedback. A third bus gate is also being considered on Thames Street or Oxpens Road and may be introduced if monitoring of the two initial bus gates suggests this is necessary and desirable.

The gates will be open to all buses and coaches, taxis and private hire vehicles, blue badge holders and disabled tax class vehicles and the councils also plan to allow city centre residents (through one nominated bus gate only, between 10am and 4pm). Some of these exemptions will require systems to be set up at very short notice so they may not all be in full operation from the outset. More details on the exemptions and how they will work in practice will be shared shortly.

Why bus gates

Oxford Bus Company has confirmed bus speeds in Oxford are 13% slower than in 2006. Bus gates will reduce this congestion by removing the ability for most private vehicles to go through the city centre.

A further benefit is that bus gates will also allow for safer journeys by cyclists as the roads at the allotted times will only be shared with buses rather than traffic as a whole.

Oxford City Council surveyed members of its residents’ panel last month on the impact of coronavirus and their plans to visit the city centre. When asked how they planned to travel into the city centre on their next visit, 47% of panel members said they intended to cycle, 7% planned to use the bus, 19% planned to walk, and 4% were planning on using a car.

Air pollution will also be cut in the city centre as traffic will not then become stuck in congestion. Oxford city centre has seen a historic 64% drop in air pollution as a direct result of the Coronavirus lockdown. 

In recent weeks, Oxford campaigners have been vocal in support of bus gates for Oxford as a means of addressing economic recovery for the city as it is unlocked. The University of Oxford has also expressed its support for the measure.

The temporary measure will act as one of a series to allow local bus companies to recover and support sustainable means of transport for residents, including cycling. In addition, reduced traffic will also offer all residents the prospect of cleaner air and a goal to continue it into the future.

“Oxford City Council is funding the introduction of two new bus gates to cut car traffic, allow public transport to run efficiently, and free up safe space for cyclists and pedestrians. This City Council is committed to the fullest and fastest economic recovery to protect jobs—the new bus gates are key to getting Oxford moving again in a clean, green and safe way. We are closely listening to residents and acting on their desires for urgent transport changes which work for the good of every individual and Oxford itself.”

Councillor Tom Hayes, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Green Transport and Zero Carbon Oxford, Oxford City Council

“The temporary bus gates will form a very important part of the recovery of the transport network in Oxford and offer a series of benefits to residents. Bus journeys across the city have been slowed by increases in motor traffic over many years along with increasing air pollution.

“Bus gates give us a chance to build Oxford back better as we recover; they will help sustain the recovery of the bus operators, reduce congestion where they are located and help offer safer roads for cyclists. Residents have indicated that they want safer streets with less traffic as part of the recovery and this will be one of the steps forward to achieving this goal.”

Councillor Yvonne Constance, Cabinet Member for Environment, Oxfordshire County Council

"The introduction of these two temporary bus gates is a positive step towards more sustainable active travel patterns. Covid-19 has given us a window on what could be a positive future - one with dramatically fewer cars on our roads, safer streets, cleaner air and less damage to our environment. With less congestion slowing journey times, bus travel is an attractive mode of transport for reaching the city centre and we look forward to seeing the positive effects the two new gates will have on our services."

Chris Coleman, Stagecoach Oxfordshire Managing Director

The gates will be implemented during temporary traffic regulation orders (TTROs), and using the additional powers and guidance issued to local authorities by the Department for Transport to assist in the delivery of emergency active travel measures and other coronavirus recovery schemes.

The Connecting Oxford transport plan between the County and City councils also includes various options for a series of new bus gates in the city centre and eastern area of the city.

The short-term implementation of these two bus gates in the city centre will be outside of this process. This means the bus gates put forward for short term implementation may differ in a number of ways from the bus gates being developed as part of Connecting Oxford. 

Differences could include the number of gates, locations, times of operation, exemptions and physical layout. At the same time, these temporary bus gates will yield vital data on the impact of reduced traffic including that on air quality, cycle mobility, increased bus patronage and increased levels of walking.

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