A year ago the residents of Hawes were in the news after launching their own Little White Bus in 2011 to meet the trains at Garsdale station seven miles away. Today they have a fleet of 10 minibuses that rely on 53 volunteer drivers and nine part-time staff, ferrying 65,000 passengers a year. They also have a Land Rover to take children from the most remote farms to and from school.
On 20 July 2016, Oxfordshire county council scrapped all subsidies for bus services and 54 routes stopped altogether while many more were reduced. Dozens of villages in Oxfordshire had no bus service at all.
Witney’s town service had been run by Stagecoach before the subsidies were cut and The Guardian reported that local Labour councillor Laura Price who saw the strength of the opposition to losing the bus service and the distress it was going to cause, began to wonder what could be done.
‘Frantic tin-rattling’ raised £18,000 that bought an old bus and at the start of 2017 the West Oxfordshire Community Transport co-operative was set up. People paying £1 become voting members, drivers get a proper living wage, and profits are reinvested in the business.
Like the Hawes initiative, after 16 months it not only breaks even, it’s expanding. The fleet has gone from one to four buses (none less than 10 years old). The weekday town service runs “like a Swiss watch”. Other villages petitioned the co-operative to run a service for them and this February it began running a 210 service to Chipping Norton.