On 18 September 2019, Oxfordshire County Council and Oxford City Council launched a major engagement exercise to gather views of residents, commuters and employers affected by congestion in Oxford. This exercise closed on 20 October. The councils are now analysing the feedback that has been received.
The councils have put forward bold plans (pdf format, 3.2Mb) to tackle congestion and the poor public transport connections into and across some parts of Oxford, particularly the city’s eastern arc (this is an area outside the city centre that links parts of north Oxford, Marston, Headington and Cowley).
The plans would make a real improvement to journey times for commuters and quality of life for residents, including improved air quality, by reducing the number of cars travelling into and around the city.
- Press release - 17 September
- Read the full details in our Connecting Oxford plan (pdf format, 3.2Mb)
- The plans are a key part of the council’s Local Transport Plan 4 and Oxford Transport Strategy
View video transcript
Challenges: Poor public transport connectivity; Congestion disrupts travel plans and increases business costs; climate change & air quality – negative impact on the environment and people’s health; lack of road space to provide for all users.
Map showing outline of Oxfordshire and Oxford city with a number of images of Oxford landmarks and businesses.
Words appear - This affects us all, but particularly in Oxford.
What if there were a solution that could reduce congestion, increase connectivity, improve air quality and help combat climate change?
Slide showing map of Oxford - There is a potential solution
New traffic restrictions in the city centre and Oxford eastern arc
Green lines appear on map to show proposed new traffic restrictions 3 in the city centre - Oxpens Road, Worcester Street, South Parks Road. Two more in the eastern arc area - Marston Ferry Road, Hollow Way.
A workplace parking levy WPL around part of Oxford's Eastern arc.
Orange shading appears across the eastern arc area of Oxford Text appears
Amongst other things these would fund and enable:
New and improved bus routes, particularly across Oxford’s eastern arc
New and improved walking and cycling routes across the city
High frequency bus services, improving connectivity to oxford's eastern arc.
Slide shows map of Oxford with bus routes into the eastern arc highlighted using a purple line. Route identified using key stops - Oxford park and rides (Peartree, Oxford Parkway, Redbridge), Summertown, John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford Brookes University, Churchill and NOC hospitals, Oxford Business Park.
Dot showing John Radcliffe Hospital flashes and next slide appears:
Photo of John Radcliffe Hospital entrance on Headley Way with bus passing by. Also cyclists and a car. Text appears - free flowing buses.
Previous bus route map reappears. Dot for Oxford Brookes University flashes and next slide appears:
Photo of Headington Road outside Headington school with wide cycle lanes and bus and some cars passing by. Text appears – safer, more pleasant walking & cycling.
Photo of Oxford Brookes University Gipsy Lane entrance with bus passing by. Text appears - less pollution & noise.
Previous bus route map reappears. Dot for Oxford Business Park flashes and next slide appears:
Photo of Garsington road next to Oxford Business Park with moving bus leaving bus stop (towards Ring Road). Bus display – Abingdon via Redbridge P&R. Also some cars. Text appears - better connections to more workplaces:
Benefits for business paying the WPL. Map showing WPL area and locations of key businesses previously shown on the Eastern Arc bus route.
Benefits for employers: grants for on-site sustainable transport improvements; grants for on-site car parking management; access to a travel plan advisor dedicated to the WPL zone.
Purple line showing eastern arc bus route reappears. Benefits for employees: discounts on bus fares; discounted P&R parking; reserved P&R parking space; discounts on bike purchases.
Better journeys to Oxford city centre.
Purple line showing a route from north of the city into the city centre appears. Dots showing Summertown and the city centre (St Giles) appear. Summertown dot flashes and next slide appears:
Picture of Banbury Road just north of Summertown looking south. Bus lane for inbound journeys. Congested traffic - white cars moving slowly. Text appears – reduction in traffic – no need for bus lanes. A number of the white cars flash red and then disappear. Bus lane is removed and wide cycle lanes with cyclists using them appear in both directions. Remaining cars and a bus travel faster than earlier in the slide animation.
Text appears – wider cycle lanes to allow for cyclists of all abilities.
Map showing bus route into the city centre reappears. Dot representing the city centre flashes and next slide appears:
Computer generated image of how St Giles could look in the future; large area of pedestrian paving in the middle of the street in place of road space, extending north from in front of Martyrs’ Memorial. Some small market stalls are positioned on this area of paving with white silhouetted pedestrian figures moving around. Cyclists pedalling in both direction on buff coloured cycle lanes next to the remaining reduced amount of carriageway space.
Text appears: Next steps……
We want your views on the ideas put forward. Find out more and have your say. www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/connectingoxford
Final slide appears:
Logos for Connecting Oxfordshire, Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council.
Video created by blink image www.blinkimage.com
Questions and answers
Where will the existing traffic go?
In the short term some traffic might avoid the traffic restrictions by displacing to adjacent streets and the ring road. Experience from introducing traffic restrictions in Oxford city centre in the late 1990s showed that many people changed their travel behaviour including switching to alternative modes of transport or by travelling outside the restricted times. Improved alternatives will need to be provided, including new bus and cycle routes, and further restrictions might need to be in place to ensure the traffic restrictions do not lead to rat running.
Will rat running increase?
If a decision is taken to proceed to the next stage, detailed transport modelling will be undertaken at the next stage to understand the effects of the restrictions and to help identify measures required to mitigate any undesired impacts.
How will you stop drivers parking in residential streets near the traffic restrictions?
Where they don’t exist already, parking controls including Controlled Parking Zones (CPZ) might be required on roads near the proposed traffic restrictions to ensure people don’t park in residential streets. Further parking controls will be considered at the next stage, but much of Oxford is already covered by CPZs and Oxfordshire County Council recently approved a further nine new CPZs in Oxford which, subject to the outcomes of formal consultation, will be in place by 2021.
Will the restrictions simply increase journey times for some?
Traffic restrictions, and a workplace parking levy (WPL), will reduce traffic levels and therefore congestion. Some people who still need or choose to drive may find that journey times increase. However, congestion will be reduced on many routes meaning journey times should improve for all road users, particularly those travelling by public transport or cycling. There will also be improvements for people who rely on car, van and HGV transport.
If a decision is taken to continue developing these ideas, an assessment of the impacts including connectivity, changes in journey time and journey reliability will be considered as part of a detailed business case.
Won’t the traffic restrictions divide the city?
We are determined that does not happen which is why we want to engage with residents, employers and other stakeholders at an early stage in the project. This would include deciding the exact location of restrictions and the timings for which they would apply. Our intention is to create a better-connected city overall.
Can you say exactly where the traffic restrictions would be on the roads identified?
Not at this stage – this would be established as part of developing the business case and detailed proposals. At this stage we want to get feedback on the suggested restrictions on main routes into and around the city. There are some practical considerations about where to locate ‘bus gates’ and possible additional restrictions on side roads that need to be worked through.
Will Blue Badge Holders be permitted through the traffic restrictions?
No decisions have been made about exempting Blue Badge Holders from the new traffic restrictions. This will be considered based on the feedback we receive.
Will taxis and private hire vehicles be permitted through the traffic restrictions?
We anticipate that taxis and private hire vehicles would be allowed to travel through the traffic restrictions although the finer details of how the restrictions would operate including times of operation will be considered in the next stage of work and would be subject to formal consultation if the ideas are taken forward.
How would these ideas interact with proposals for ‘mini Holland’ style approaches in some of our residential areas?
Traffic restrictions and mini Holland approaches complement measures to reduce traffic levels on streets in order deliver: less pollution and noise, and safer and more pleasant walking and cycling environments. Further traffic restrictions might be needed in some residential areas to ensure there is not an increase in rat running.
Has a congestion charge been considered?
Compared to a congestion charge, traffic restrictions are considered to perform better in terms of sustained traffic reduction. This is important in Oxford because the objective is to reduce congestion whilst also reallocate existing road space from cars to public transport, walking and cycling.
A congestion charge also requires large capital investment costs for the cameras, payment mechanisms and back-office equipment. Whilst this could be covered by income raised, the significant operating costs would mean less money available to reinvest in transport improvements. In comparison, traffic restrictions are relatively inexpensive to implement and maintain whilst the ongoing operating costs of a workplace parking levy are minimal at just 5% of income raised (based on Nottingham’s WPL).
So, although it has not been ruled-out we do not consider that a congestion charge would achieve the required objectives, especially in terms of reducing traffic and congestion over the long-term, and so it not put forward as a preferred solution.
Workplace parking levy (WPL)
Isn’t the workplace parking levy simply a tax on business?
The scheme has been designed so those employers who contribute to the levy benefit the most from the new bus routes and package of employer and employee benefits, including grants available to better manage on-site car parking, sustainable travel improvements and discounted bus fares and Park & Ride parking. Improved connectivity and reduced congestion will also help improve productivity and help businesses overcome issues including recruitment and retention of staff.
Will all employers have to pay the levy?
It is proposed to exempt employers with 10 or fewer spaces to reduce the costs to small business. Other exemptions may also apply.
Employers can also avoid paying all or some of the levy by passing it on to their employees who park at work. These employees would of course also benefit from reduced congestion, improved connectivity and air quality. In Nottingham, where a WPL has been in operation since 2010, about 40-50% of employers pass on all or some of the levy to their employees.
Furthermore, employers can reduce the amount of staff parking they provide, as this will save them money every year on their WPL ‘bill’.
How can businesses paying the tax be confident they will see a benefit?
We want to work directly with organisations to ensure the proposals are developed in a way that meets their needs as well as the needs of their staff, customers and suppliers.
Whilst a WPL scheme is promoted and implemented by a local authority it must be approved by the Secretary of State for Transport. WPL proposals have to “demonstrate that they have properly and effectively consulted local businesses, have addressed any proper concerns raised and secured support from the local business community. This will make sure that future schemes will not impose a burden on business”.
The Transport Act (2000) requires that the proposals show how the all net proceeds from the levy will be used to improve local transport provision.
What are the criteria for organisations that will have to pay the levy?
We are focusing on organisations inside the ring road on the ‘eastern arc’ that links north, east and south Oxford outside the city centre. These areas are currently heavily congested during rush hour and often poorly served by public transport, cycle and pedestrian routes. We have assumed that organisations within 800m or approximately a 10-minute walk of the new bus route would pay. Furthermore, it is currently proposed that only employers with 11 or more parking spaces would need to pay the WPL.
Why will the workplace parking levy only apply to employers in the eastern arc?
We think it is fairer to relate the levy to the area where there will be most direct benefits. We are focusing on the eastern arc as the area with greatest growth in job-related journeys and the poorest bus connections. It is also where just under half of Oxford’s workplace parking spaces are located. The city centre is generally already very well served by frequent bus services from in and out of the city.
How many organisations will be affected by the workplace parking levy?
We cannot be precise about numbers as it would be determined by the proposed new bus route and other factors. However, we estimate about 70-100 employers could be in the WPL area.
How many workplace parking spaces are in Oxford?
Based on a survey of workplace car parking carried out in 2018, it is estimated that there is a total of 18,000 workplace car parking spaces within the Oxford city council administrative boundary.
These are distributed as follows:
- Within Oxford’s ring road - 11,944
- Outside Oxford’s ring road - 6,076
- Transport Central Area (city centre) – 2,070
- WPL area – 8,163
Why put a levy on workplace parking spaces?
Legislation (contained in the Transport Act 2000) means that a workplace parking levy can only be introduced for the purpose of directly or indirectly facilitating the achievement of local transport policies.
In 2015, the county council’s Local Transport Plan set out a vision and strategy to transform how people travel to and within Oxford, as part of its plan to create a less congested, less polluted city and county. In Oxford, the large amounts of free workplace car parking and lack of public transport connectivity, particularly across Oxford’s eastern arc, encourages car-based commuting which has a negative impact because of traffic congestion and poor air quality.
The levy is a way to reduce congestion and specifically fund transport improvements in Oxford’s eastern arc and the area selected means that the contribution to the cost of mitigating those impacts relates to workplace parking spaces and those employers who would benefit the most from new bus routes and other measures funded by the levy.
Why have you set the levy at £400-£600?
This is a current working assumption based on the need to fund new bus services, and cycle & pedestrian infrastructure which is estimated to cost between £60-£100 million. We have used the levy in Nottingham as a guide and also considered the cost of an annual SmartZone bus pass (£565) in Oxford. The actual figure will need to be established as part of the development of a business case and directly relate to the investment needed to improve alternatives to car journeys.
What type of workplace parking will be exempt from paying the levy?
Operational parking, such as for delivery and maintenance vehicles (which are not used to travel to and from work) is exempt from a WPL as are fleet, visitor and customer car parking spaces.
We are also proposing that employers that provide 10 or less commuter car parking spaces for their staff are exempt.
Other exemptions could apply – at this stage we want to get feedback on who should be exempt.
What about disabled people who need to drive to work or for work?
We are proposing that any workplace parking places occupied by registered disabled Blue Badge Holders would not be in scope of the levy. In Nottingham, these parking places need to be licensed but get a 100% discount from any charge.
Will the new bus services be cheaper for employees of organisations paying the WPL?
It is proposed that employees working for organisations who pay the WPL would be offered a range of benefits which could include discounted bus tickets, discounted and reserved Park & Ride parking and discounts on bike purchases.
We want to better understand the transport needs of employers and their employees which will help shape proposals and the package of benefits that could be funded by the WPL.
Why haven’t you extended the WPL to cover the major employers outside the ring road which also provide a large number of workplace car parking?
The proposed WPL area follows the path of a proposed ‘core’ route for new high frequency bus services. To be attractive, particularly to commuters, the new bus services must be quick and direct linking those employment sites in scope to Park & Rides and the larger towns in Oxfordshire. If the core route was to also serve employment sites beyond the ring road then it would not be direct and journey times would be much longer and less attractive. The bus services would also likely require more upfront investment as more buses would be required to cover the longer route.
Other work is underway to improve connectivity to employment sites beyond the ring road, including the Cowley Branch Line, and future development will also provide funding and additional patronage required to support bus services in these areas.
No final decisions have been made about the WPL area and we want feedback on the ideas put forward.
Why is the city centre excluded from the WPL?
Out of around 18,000 workplace parking spaces in the city there are estimated to be only 2,070 spaces located in the city centre, i.e. just over 10% of the total spaces available across the city. Whilst people driving to the city centre for work contribute to the city’s congestion, they are not the main cause.
We have tried to come up with a scheme that provides direct transport benefits to those employers and employees in scope of the levy. To provide similar benefits to all employers and employees across the city including city centre would be too costly, and unlike Oxford’s eastern arc, the city centre is already highly accessible from other parts of the city and all the major county towns of Oxfordshire, and so does not require the same kind of public transport investment.
No final decisions have been made about the WPL area and we want feedback on the ideas put forward.
Will the money raised by the WPL be enough to fund all measures proposed?
The WPL will not be able to fund all supporting measures and additional funding will have to be sought from other sources including from central government depending on the final business case. This will be considered further if the decision is taken to proceed to the next stage of developing the proposals.
This is similar to Nottingham with the WPL funding about a third of the investment required to deliver their tram extension and the remaining funding coming from central government.
Will the new public transport measures be in place before the WPL starts?
Some improvements will need to be in place before the WPL starts. Phasing of the bus routes and supporting bus, and cycle and walking infrastructure will be considered as part of the next stage of work on the proposals. As set out in government legislation, we must prepare a general plan relating to the application of the net proceeds of the scheme during the first 10 year period together with a detailed programme for the application of the net proceeds during the first five years