NEW buses in Headington are running nearly empty and failing to slash congestion, it has been claimed.

The £1.5m scheme – which includes £1.2m of taxpayers’ money and £300,000 from operator Stagecoach – extends services and adds two more routes to hospitals and Oxford University’s Old Road Campus.

Bosses hoped the September 23 introduction of the “Headington Connect” services would cut congestion along London Road.

But travellers commenting on the Headington Neighbourhood Forum said the services had not proved a hit.

Bus and council managers last night said they expected usage to increase, particularly when university students return next week.

Forum user James Halinson said: “I spoke to one of the drivers on the 800 route. He confirmed that more than 90 per cent of buses are running completely empty. Yesterday the 800 had approximately 10 sets of passengers the whole day.

“With a £1.2m subsidy over three years, this works out at almost £1,000 a day per bus.”

Fellow forum user Alex Lalvani wrote: “Unfortunately, both times I was the only person on the bus.

“I haven't seen a lot of publicity for the new routes and wonder if people are aware of them. With a subsidy of over £30,000 a month, they’ll need a lot more passengers on them soon to survive.”

The services extend the 700 from Gosford and Water Eaton Park-and-Ride to the Headington hospitals including the John Radcliffe, and the Old Road Campus.

Two new minibus services have been added from Thornhill Park-and-Ride – the 800 to the JR and the 900 to the Churchill Hospital.

City councillor for Headington Ruth Wilkinson said: “Residents are telling me that the new services have very few passengers. This comes as no surprise.

“It’s early days yet, but if the passenger load doesn’t improve, the county council will be hard-pressed to show this is good value for money for council taxpayers.”

Chairman of Headington Transport Group Charles Young said members had reported low usage, but more time was needed for people to know about them.

He said: “I hope people use the new services because we need to get people out of their cars to reduce congestion in London Road.”

Stagecoach Oxfordshire managing director Martin Sutton said it was “early days”. He said: “We didn’t expect that there would be a sudden surge of people and for the routes to be full at this stage. We certainly have plans for greater publicity.”

County council spokesman Marcus Mabberly said a “significant” number of university staff and students will use the services from Sunday when they return.

He said: “It is anyway far too early to draw conclusions about a service that is only two weeks old.

“We would encourage people to use the new Headington Connect bus services as it provides another option for those wanting to commute, study or attend hospital appointments in an easy and efficient manner.”