Chris Howells, Chair of Bicester Branch, Banbury and Bicester CLP
Chris Howells, Chair of Bicester Branch, Banbury and Bicester CLP

At the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow, one session focused solely on Transport. No surprise since road vehicle emissions alone account for 24% of CO2 emissions worldwide, the majority from cars and trucks. The surprise was that the official session made no mention of either Active Travel or Public Transport. The whole session was devoted to electric vehicles in general, cars in particular, with the aim of phasing out fossil fuel powered motor vehicles by 2040 and replacing them with electric cars and trucks.

If it hadn’t been for some serious lobbying from active travel and public transport attendees, the final document would have ignored alternatives to private transport altogether. As it was, it contained just one final sentence on the subject  “We recognise that alongside the shift to zero emission vehicles, a sustainable future for road transport will require wider system transformation, including support for active travel, public and shared transport.” As if the pandemic wasn’t enough, public transport was an afterthought in world leaders’ plans to save the planet.

In a growing, commuter town like Bicester with travel to London, Oxford, Birmingham and (ultimately) Milton Keynes and Cambridge, public transport is important now and should play an even bigger role in helping us to reduce our carbon emissions from travel in future. The problem, as we all know, is convenience and cost, whether by bus or train.

As far as convenience is concerned, travel to London and Oxford by rail are frequent, Birmingham somewhat less so. We don’t yet know what the frequency between Oxford and Milton Keynes and finally Cambridge might be via East-West Rail. Bus travel to London is cheaper than rail but less convenient with longer journey times and changes at Oxford. Local bus travel, while improved of late, is not universal across the Bicester area and the main operator – Stagecoach – focuses unsurprisingly on Bicester to Oxford.

Costs are a greater concern in encouraging us to use public transport more and reduce our personal carbon footprints. An annual rail season ticket from Bicester to London (including travel zones 1-6) costs £6292 pa., to Birmingham £4028pa., and Oxford £952 pa.  (All due to rise by 3.8% in March), The bus equivalent, the Stagecoach Annual Megarider ticket costs £800pa for an adult and covers  travel on routes to Oxford and Headington including the JR and is valid for travel on route 26 in Bicester.

Is there a better way? As of 1stJanuary, Austria provides one example of a country that has grasped the idea of public transport as the climate-friendly alternative to motorised individual transport. It recognises that convenience and cost are key to enabling us to change the way we travel and help the country meet its net zero carbon targets

The Austrian Government has introduced what they call the Klima (Climate) ticket. It offers something to everyone since all public transport in Austria will be covered by a single ticket which is both simple and inexpensive. The ticket covers travel on all scheduled services for a year – regional cross regional and national – and  the cost for a family with up to four children is £1133 for a full year.

In addition, the public transport network is being further modernised, with billions of Government funding over the next 10 years for the expansion of local and regional transport.

Given the seriousness of the climate crisis, the UK in general and Oxfordshire in particular require similar ambition and foresight to reach net zero carbon by 2040!

First published as a Bicester Advertiser column from Chris Howells, Chair of Bicester Branch, Banbury and Bicester Constituency Labour Party

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