(Photo from The Oxford and Chilterns Bus Page.)
I’m writing this from a bus. Nothing particularly special about bringing a laptop on a bus, but in this case my laptop has full AC power from an outlet under the window seat. I was hoping to be able to post it via on-bus broadband wifi, but that doesn’t seem to be working. I have been able to pick up wifi signals from nearby buses, however. The bus is new, comfortable and spacious – particularly spacious because I’m sitting near the wheelchair spot.
You may have heard of the Bolt Buses; this is not one of those, but one of its inspirations. I’m in Barton, Oxfordshire, on the Airline bus from Oxford to Heathrow. On the way here I took the train, but I figured I’d try the bus on the way back. The trip takes almost the same amount of time – an hour and a half – but is cheaper: eighteen pounds, or about thirty-six dollars, versus twenty-two pounds and change for the train. The bus is direct; for the train you have to go into London and take another train back out to Heathrow. After the central bus station there were three stops leading out to a park-and-ride on the outskirts of town.
I actually missed the 10AM bus, but I’m not worried about missing my flight; I just took the 10:20. The frequency of the buses is about the same as the trains: every twenty minutes in the mornings and evenings, every two hours from 10PM to 4AM, and every half hour in between. That’s seven days a week – but on weekends the morning service starts at 6AM instead of 5AM. There are also buses to Gatwick Airport, and express buses direct to London every 5-10 minutes – the latter operated by two competing companies. This bus is about three-quarters full.
While in Oxford I stayed in a room above High Street, one of the main streets in town. Unlike a similar room in the US, there were no honking cars under my window because that part of High Street is restricted to buses and bicycles, and there was a steady stream of them until late in the night. The buses were mostly hybrid, so I didn’t experience the noise and pollution that I used to associate with buses. There were the airport buses, express buses, long-distance buses and local buses. Now, here on the M40 highway, there are numerous buses traveling in both directions. As far as I could tell, they were all privately operated by for-profit companies.
I had come here expecting a fairly limited transportation system, based in part on Kingdom by the Sea, Paul Theroux’s Thatcher-era exploration of the United Kingdom by train, bus, foot and ferry. Judging by what I’ve seen this week, England seems to be recovering from some of that. It obviously has a long way to go – only a few of the eliminated train lines have been reactivated – but public transit in Oxford looks very healthy indeed.