VISITORS will get a 'world class welcome to a world class shopping centre' once the Westgate opens but need to make 'smart travel choices' to avoid congestion.

The city's two major bus companies, the Westgate Alliance and local authorities have unveiled their plan to encourage shoppers to ditch their cars.

The colour branded buses introduced by Oxford Bus Company earlier this year will be matched with colour branded totem poles to make it easier for people to catch the bus.

Some double decker buses will even have sofas on them to give passengers the best possible experience and keep using the bus.

A new 'river rapids' Thames Travel route will service Henley and Wallingford to lure shoppers who usually visit Reading to come to Oxford instead.

Electronic signs could also be installed on the A34 and M40 to warn drivers against bringing cars into the city if congestion boils over.

Oxford Bus Company managing director said focus groups revealed that city council signs at Park and Rides warning people they would be fined if they stayed beyond ten minutes, were making people anxious.

He said: "The research gave us an insight into people's experiences on their way into the city.

"The first thing people were seeing were these signs warning then they would be fined.

"We have changed things to create a world class welcome for a world class shopping centre."

He added: "If people have a good experience they will continue to uses the buses."

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The company has also trained 80 drivers to have in-depth knowledge of the Westgate itself to aid shoppers.

A new single ticket for parking and bus travel - costing £6.80 - has also been introduced.

The county council's director for infrastructure delivery, Owen Jenkins, said: "The main message is that people will enjoy the city and it's new facilities and new shopping centre but it's about making some smart travel choices and utilising what's there - the Park and Ride buses.

"If they do, they will enjoy their day even more."

Mr Jenkins added that the annual Christmas ban on major roadworks around the city was being brought forward to the opening of the Westgate on October 24.

But Stagecoach managing director Martin Sutton said: "It's going to a take a bit of time for things to settle down, as with any major changes to the city.

"It's a bit of an unknown quantity as to what the traffic will be like - and it will be more of an opening season than an opening day.

"What we have been working really hard on is giving people effective options to get to Oxford."

He added that the firms had a 'contingency plan' in place to deploy more buses at short notice if necessary on the opening days.

The city's Liberal Democrat leader Andrew Gant said the 1,000 car park and cheaper parking fees, compared to the rest of the city, would scupper hopes of people ditching cars.

He said: "Westgate have provided a large car park on site and the city council has given them the power to set parking charges there.

"Those charges, in general, are lower than the council's own - this will encourage car use into the city centre."

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